How to Choose a Communication Platform that Engages Employees
By Dave Calnan.
A communication platform is a water cooler, a town hall, and a sounding board. It’s a classroom and a think-tank. It’s a community. Whatever you call the place where your employees gather to chat, to think, to formulate plans, and get key information to help them to do their job better and feel part of a team, your choice of communications platform to tie all of these things together could be the most important decision you’ll ever make for your company.
Why Invest in a communication platform?
Communication platforms allow companies to fuse real-time communication areas like voice, video, and messaging, to business operations that can help bring your workplace culture to life.
Because of the benefits that a digital comms and engagement platform or app can deliver, it’s worth making sure you get the right product for your organization. Everyone has different needs and priorities and taking time to evaluate any potential solution is important. This can be time-consuming. There’s a lot of choice out there and there are numerous areas to consider, but focusing on the details can make all the difference.
What are the most important factors to consider when choosing a communication platform?
Every IT organization will have their own formal (or less formal) way of evaluating products. Here’s our unbiased view of the major criteria you need to consider when evaluating a platform such as Workvivo (or one of our competitors!). This is based on key queries we receive from new customers and our conversations with organizations we work with.
To help you, we’ve also put together a related list of questions to consider in a product evaluation checklist for you to download.
Here’s our view of 16 key areas to consider when evaluating a communication platform. Ready? Here we go!
#1 Does it align with your strategic goals?
We find that most companies investing in either employee communication and engagement apps or digital communication platforms have more high-level strategic goals, such as driving a better employee experience or increasing collaboration. There could also be quite specific goals too, for example communicating with frontline staff for the first time, reducing email or WhatsApp use, or even just reducing costs. It always pays to refer back to your strategic goals – will the app in question tick the high-level and the more specific aims? It should.
#2 Does it fit into your digital comms landscape?
Your existing digital workplace and portfolio of apps is likely to contain a number of communications and engagement tools that have different patterns of use. Additionally, there may be shadow and unapproved solutions that employees are using for work purposes ‘under the radar’. Any platform you evaluate needs to be considered in relation to this ‘digital communication landscape’. Does it fill current gaps, for example meeting communication, engagement or collaboration needs not met by other tools? Does it provide opportunities to consolidate and streamline the number of tools already in use, saving on costs and reducing the number of applications to support? Or does it add to user confusion by duplicating tools that employees are already using? For more thoughts on the digital communication landscape, you can download our free book: The Digital Communication Landscape: Getting it Right.
#3 Does it have the key features I need?
You will likely have a list of features and capabilities that you want in an employee app, some of which will be essential and some just “nice to have”. Many organizations use a MoSCoW scoring method to compare the strength of different solutions. Often, the feature set of different communication platforms and employee apps does overlap, but can also be different, so it’s always worth reviewing the detail. In our free book Employee app: Finding the right one to connect your workforce we covered a list of 20 of the most essential features and capabilities, but they include:
- Targeted news and activity feed
- Open accessibility and contributions
- Social networking and directory
- Public peer recognition
- News and blogs
- Teams, groups and communities
- Add photos and videos
- Reference pages and information
- Celebrate success
- Polls and surveys
- Employee advocacy
- Analytics and insights
- Tailored branding
- Desktop and mobile-ready
- Integration potential
#4 Does it have powerful in-built analytics?
We’ve highlighted this capability because it can get missed. In the rush to focus on communication features it’s all too easy to miss the in-built analytics capabilities of a tool. This is really important for various reasons including the ability to get a sense of which communications are working well, to check the pulse of employee sentiment, to help drive adoption, and to plan improvements.
#5 Can it perform your critical business use cases?
Related to strategic objectives and list of features, you will have critical use cases that your team will require. Some of these may be quite general, and others quite specific. For example, one might be focus on ‘collaboration’ which is quite high-level, while another might be around employee onboarding, which is more specific. Here there may be some overlap with your strategic objectives, mentioned above.
Here at Workvio, we’ve defined a number of use cases that our platform delivers including employee engagement, internal communications, remote working and culture amplification. In evaluating a digital communication product always consider your critical use cases and how well a tool can deliver them.
#6 What are the potential hidden costs?
The costs of any platform or app is obviously going to be a major factor in any buying decision. You may have criteria for any investment, but it’s always worth considering the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of a platform over, say, three years to ensure true comparability with other platforms. Costs need to take into account licensing and usage fees, but also implementation and consultancy fees, ongoing maintenance and support, required customizations, potential infrastructure or additional software investments (ideally none!), training and support headcount, and the impact of any potential uptick in the number of users. Always ask a vendor about potential hidden costs!
#7 Does it offer a great user and admin experience?
Everyone wants a tool or app that is easy to use and well designed. The truth is that most solutions have pretty good design with intuitive interfaces that users should be able to use effortlessly, particularly via mobile. However, less attention is given to the admin and publisher interfaces used to set up and manage the platform, as well as create compelling content. Here experiences tend to be more variable and it’s always worth ensuring that employees and admins are able to easily use the tool you choose.
#8 Does it support access via personal mobile devices?
The device support is important, particularly if you are rolling out a mobile app to employees’ own devices. It is a simple question – is access for both Android and iOS devices supported? And will you be able to roll out an app to both corporate and employee-owned devices?
#9 Does it offer reliable security, privacy, and governance functions?
Security and governance are big-ticket items, particularly for IT functions, and are likely to be a focus area for any product evaluation. However, sometimes the more detailed due diligence and check of security features happens between selecting the product and signing the contract. Any security “deal-breakers” should be identified at the evaluation stage. Typical areas to focus on include:
- Ability to execute IT policies, such as authentication and password policies
- Governance controls over admin roles
- Controls over access for external parties, restrictions on document sharing, etc.
- Alignment with Mobile Device Management software
- Support for GDPR, HIPAA, and other data privacy policies
- Ability to restrict content and groups within the platform
- Certifications such as ISO27001 and SOC2
- Security measures by the vendor, including penetration testing
- Encryption policies
- Backup and recovery capabilities
- Cloud hosting platform, such as Azure, AWS, etc
- Support for any other legal or regulatory requirements
#10 Where is the communication platform on its development roadmap?
Product maturity and stability is important. A platform that is effectively in “beta” can include bugs and issues and may also have a thinner feature set. However, it is also too easy to dismiss strong solutions that may be at an earlier level of maturity. Viewing the product roadmap is also a good clue to the investment and approach being put into a solution and also whether any gaps in your feature list will eventually be met.
#11 Is there chemistry between you and your vendor?
We all rely on suppliers and we know how important the relationship with a vendor can be. The features in your software are critical, but you also need to make sure that you have a good working relationship with your supplier – a great partnership can be amazing but a bad relationship can be toxic and draining. Many things can contribute to good “vendor chemistry” including team dynamics and alignment with organizational strategy and values. As a supplier of software ourselves, we always enjoy working with clients and we love forming great working relationships.
Vendor size can be key. The support you get from a smaller vendor might be more personal and responsive. A larger vendor might be less tailored to your needs but they may have more resources to draw upon. Again, it’s about getting the right fit for you.
The financial independence and strength of your vendor is also important. Software has a lot of start-ups and not everyone has the ability to keep on investing in their product. Is your provider financially robust? Have they received any funding? It’s also good to know that your vendor isn’t likely to be taken over imminently by another company and put a question mark over the longer-term future of the solution you have invested in.
#12 Is the vendor ready to support your launch?
It’s worth considering the support offered by a vendor across different scenarios, including during the launch and set-up, issue reporting and resolution, and how upgrades are organized. It’s also good to evaluate the resources available such as the documentation available, non-technical resources such as launch plans and help videos, support for users (if available) and user communities. The business hours that are supported and how these relate to your time zone, and your ability to talk to a named individual can also be important.
#13 Is the app easy to launch?
The set-up and launch process for any app can be a really important consideration, particularly if you are working to a tight release deadline. What are the steps you need to take to launch the app and how involved does the vendor need to be? User groups are also a factor to consider in the launch process, particularly if a solution is being used by front-line employees for the first time. Here, the individual user onboarding experience is key – can employees download the app and set it up themselves? The method for distributing non-corporate ID details may also be a factor.
#14 Can the platform integrate with other applications?
A digital communications platform is a good place for employees to access other information that might come from other applications, helping any tool become an entry point into the wider digital workplace. Employees may even use it as a launch pad to reach other apps. Here, integration with common applications such as SharePoint, ServiceNow, and Dropbox can really add value. Some integrations may be available out of the box. The ability for a solution to have a truly extensible API architecture to allow for any integrations will be a factor here.
#15 Can it handle Single Sign-On, identity management and user provisioning?
Single Sign-On (SSO) and identity management are both critical for ensuring a user experience that is smooth and secure. The questions you need to consider will depend on your current set-up and also whether your employees have corporate digital identities. For example, if you use Active Directory, Azure Active Directory or Okta for SSO (or any other SAML2 solution) you’ll want to know if these are supported out of the box. You’ll also want to know the options for registering employees who don’t have a corporate email address. Related to this are approaches to automatically provision users from your identity management solution or directly from your HR system using SCIM 2.0 compatible APIs, or even through trusty file imports.
#16 Is the communication platform scalable and flexible?
The Communication Platform Checklist
We’ve created a free checklist that covers the key questions to ask when you’re evaluating a digital communications platform or employee communication app.