Looking at apps on a mobile device
Great mobile access should now be a given in any digital workplace design PHOTO: Saulo Mohana

Many organizations have improved by leaps and bounds in optimizing their digital workplace experience for mobile devices. In recent years, this has been driven by a combination of responsive design, third-party apps for popular platforms such as Yammer and Workplace by Facebook and a new generation of internal communications mobile apps.

Meanwhile, some organizations have built role-specific apps, often to help employees who are either out in the field or on the road. In fact, great mobile access is now often a component of a digital workplace or internal-facing digital transformation strategy, meaning that fewer IT functions are going underground to develop mobile apps through skunkworks projects.

Despite these advances, there is a sense that most organizations are not exploiting the full potential of mobile experiences for employees. For digital channels aimed at employees, mobile still tends to be secondary to the desktop experience or is developed in isolation from the rest of the digital workplace.

The Mobile-First Digital Workplace

However, some companies are grasping the opportunities of mobile and developing a true mobile-first digital workplace, or are taking a more strategic view of developing mobile apps and integrating them into the existing digital workplace.

In Step Two’s recent Intranet and Digital Workplace Awards, some of the winning entries are either making a great start with their mobile digital workplace or have even developed a comprehensive range of employee services and channels that are primarily accessed through mobile devices. The Awards, now in their 11th year, celebrate innovative and leading-edge intranet and digital workplaces from all around the world.

Virgin Trains is a U.K.-based train operator that uses the iconic Virgin Brand, drives innovation and emphasizes customer experience. As a transport operator, most employees are not based at desks so it made sense for the company to follow a  mobile-first digital workplace strategy. This is focused on engaging the workforce as much as operational efficiency, both of which contribute to good customer service.

In the process of crafting a mobile experience, the team at Virgin Trains scrapped an underperforming intranet and instead of replacing with similar product, built or commissioned a series of custom apps and deployed third-party apps such as Yammer.

Some of the custom apps are innovative. They include a branded video player, an employee recognition app (IncREDible) and an employee-pulse-check tool called Vibe, which claims to use psychometric methods to understand how employees are really feeling. Most communications are delivered through Yammer, but the company also deployed alerting and news apps.

Amazing Apps
“Amazing Apps” are available through an appstore for Virgin Trains staffPHOTO: courtesy of Virgin Trains and Step Two Designs

Several operationally focused apps for engineers and training staff, branded as “Amazing Apps,” are available via a corporate app store.  What sets Virgin Trains apart from some other organizations is the range of apps available, the high levels of adoption and their contribution to good levels of employee engagement.

The Mobile-Friendly Intranet

Other organizations are also establishing mobile-first intranets to ensure that content and employee services can be effectively accessed. At Avon and Somerset Constabulary this is particularly important so police on patrol can access critical information to help them serve the community. The intranet is called Pocketbook, which is both a reference to the police’s note books, but also emphasizes its mobile-friendly nature. The intranet is also helping to improve efficiencies for call-handling staff, those changing shifts and others.

Visa also overhauled its intranet creating a beautiful user experience but also extensively reworking content so it works well for mobile, important for a workforce that travel extensively. The team at Visa opened up mobile access not only through responsive design but also by creating an app. The company also added a nice touch by allowing users to download a passbook list into an iPhone wallet, allowing offline access to key Visa contacts relating to travel and security.

Aligning Apps to the Wider Digital Workplace

Meanwhile other Intranet and Digital Workplace Award winners have created mobile experiences integrated with or aligned to the wider digital workplace. Both global engineering firm COWI and New Zealand-based port services company Port Otago created mobile apps that digitized what had previously been largely manual processes. While the efficiency gains were clear, they also ensured they were not standalone experiences from other systems and tools.

COWI's FieldNotes app allows site inspectors and engineers to make structural notes, take photos and make drawings on their smartphone when out in the field. The promotional video features a real-world example of the app in use halfway up a vertical dam.

Using the FieldNotes app
Using the FieldNotes appPHOTO: courtesy COWI and Step Two Designs

However, perhaps the most useful aspect is that the notes and photos can be exported into a Word document, which is auto-populated into the associated project space, a customized SharePoint team site that also contains other project data and is used by COWI for all projects. This means the report can then be easily completed by the site inspector and also comes complete with the correct metadata.

At Port Otago, the “washpad” area is used for washing and repairing ship containers. An intranet-based app used to monitor progress and record potential issues was an obvious improvement on the clipboard and paper process that preceded it, but it proved to have a greater impact. A dashboard relayed on a large digital screen connects the washpad to head office for better coordination, made easier by basing the app on the intranet so all can access, while better data accuracy is improving customer service. It's also delivering insights to improve capacity and has provided a blueprint for other related apps. If COWI has extended its digital workplace, Port Otago has discovered an effective pattern for future digital workplace evolution.

Making the Digital Workplace Mobile

Digital workplaces must be mobile if they are to serve the needs of frontline employees and those who don’t have easy access to desks. Some organizations like Virgin Trains that have established a true mobile-first digital workplace are already reaping the rewards of this approach, while others are earlier in their journey.

As mobile continues to evolve, we hope that more organizations — particularly where many employees are not deskbound — follow suit and don’t relegate the mobile experience below that of the desktop.