Frontline workers frequently turn to unapproved messaging apps for work-related communications, unbeknownst to HR


Internal communications is a tough nut to crack, especially when companies employ a globally dispersed workforce of non-desk employees. 

The need to stay informed, cut out irrelevant messages and empower staff to be more efficient is greater than ever. But more often than not, frontline workers in the retail, hospitality and entertainment industries are turning to unapproved messaging apps and social media sites for work-related communications, without HR’s knowledge, according to the “Bridging the Internal Communications Gap: What Frontline Employees Really Want & Need” research study released by Speakap.

In particular, over half (53 percent) of global frontline workers said they use messaging apps up to six times daily for work-related communications. Yet, 16 percent said their HR departments are unaware of such usage. On top of this, 38 percent of the respondents admitted to using social media sites between one and six times each day for work-related matters. Once again, the respondents said their HR/internal communications departments aren’t aware (20 percent) this is occurring. 

According to Patrick Van Der Mijl, co-founder of Speakap, “The fact that this disparity exists is just the tip of the iceberg. Just because these tools are popular or preferred doesn’t mean they are the right choice. There are two serious problems with using tools like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger for employee communications – digital wellbeing and data security. This is reinforced by the data from our study, with 30 percent of the respondents saying that the 24/7 nature of messaging apps and social media sites make it difficult to maintain a work/personal life balance and 12 percent expressing concerns that sensitive data could be left exposed and susceptible to data breaches.”

With the EU General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR) going into effect as of May 25, 2018, many businesses are now banning the use of messaging apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat in order to comply with EU GDPR. Deutsche Bank, for example, has banned the use of SMS, WhatsApp and other messenger services as of January 2017 due to the stringent documentation obligations that fall on banks for regulatory compliance. Additionally, Volkswagen restricts its employees from using chat apps for business at all and BMW only permits authorized apps on company phones (of which, WhatsApp and Snapchat don’t make the approved list). 

Key findings from the study include:

  • Maintaining a healthy personal and work life balance impacts employee satisfaction. 
    When asked to clarify the most important aspect of how their company connects with them, 24 percent said finding a good balance between their personal and work lives is most important.

  • Increased product/promotion knowledge and better job performance are where the value lies. 
    When we asked respondents about the most important criterion for how they want to receive internal communications from their company, the top answer was to learn about new products, promotions and offers (weighted score of 9.31).

  • Targeted messaging, access to learning & development content and regular feedback are keys to converting unengaged employees into brand advocates. 
    24 percent of the respondents said an enterprise social network would make it easy to access interactive training and development content to increase their awareness and knowledge of the company’s purpose and vision. Plus, 22 percent said an ESN would enable them to participate in polls/surveys regularly to shed light on their knowledge level.

  • Lack of collaboration and information sharing can hamper two-way communications. 
    27 percent of the respondents said their biggest frustration with how their company delivers two-way communications is the lack of collaboration and sharing of relevant company/product information and learnings with their fellow colleagues, teams, office staff and management.
  • Move over AI and voice recognition: clear timeline, organization groups and document management are the most beloved ESN features. 
    The top four features that non-desk workers care about are, in order of importance: clear timeline (weighted score of 14.92), news (weighted score of 14.63), organizational groups (weighted score of 13.38) and document management/access (weighted score of 13.13). But what we found more surprising is that the types of features most often categorized as innovative, such as artificial intelligence (weighted score of 2.60), voice recognition (weighted score of 3.22) and video (weighted score of 4.05) ranked lowest on the list of desired features.

Patrick Van Der Mijl concluded, “One key to solving these problems is implementing a single technology platform that can replace all of the unapproved messaging apps and social media sites used by non-desk workers. Essentially, an internal communications platform that acts as a one-stop shop and can integrate with hundreds of CSM, HR, payroll and workforce management tools will make things run a lot smoother within your organization – and make it easier to minimize this huge gap between what HR believes is occurring and what actually is occurring among your employees.”

Survey Methodology

Speakap surveyed over 1,000 non-desk employees in the US, UK, Netherlands, Spain and Germany to understand their existing internal communications practices as well as their needs, frustrations and preferences for employee engagement. The survey was fielded in December 2018 and targeted non-desk employees (i.e. retail store associates, front of house staff, customer service staff, etc.) across a variety of business categories, including retail, hospitality and entertainment.

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