Why you need more than an employee app to engage employees

Employee experience mobile apps help to connect global workforces and engage employees no matter where or how they work. They are a crucial part of the modern employee experience, but is an app the only answer to improving employee engagement, and can it stand alone as your sole communications channel? We’re debunking some longstanding myths to help enterprises find their place in the digital workplace.

Employee engaged using mobile intranet app on the train

Are employee mobile apps the only tool you need?

Employee apps offer internal communicators a direct channel to employees’ pockets, even those working remotely and on the frontlines. Adopting a mobile-first approach to enterprise communications has brought solutions to frontline engagement challenges that have persisted across industries for decades. For this reason, apps have grown into a crucial tool for internal communications, particularly following the COVID-19 pandemic and mass transition to hybrid work. But can enterprises rely entirely on employee mobile apps for all their needs?

Employee mobile intranet app

Why are employee apps popular?

In recent years, employee apps have risen in popularity as a key enterprise communication channel with Microsoft finding that 67% of employees now use apps for work-related activity.

For internal communicators, employee apps offer a compelling solution for increasing engagement with key communications. A Gallup study found that employees check their phones more than emails, with over 50% checking their smartphones several times an hour. Meanwhile, Salesforce state that sending push notifications to mobile devices increases readership by up to 50% more than email. For these reasons alone, having a mobile strategy is an important part of any enterprise communications plan.

Employee apps give enterprises the ability to meet people where they work, driving engagement across the enterprise, particularly for frontline and remote workers without desktop access. They make it easier for employees to stay up to date on the go, no matter how or where they work, and satisfy our craving for information.

With promises of increasing employee engagement supporting inclusive culture, many enterprises will consider doubling down on employee apps, doing away with other tools in the process. But before relying entirely on a mobile app, it’s important to understand where the true value of this technology lies and debunk the claims that are too good to be true.

'Discover the power of a mobile intranet' - Unily guide flat pages


Discover the power of a mobile intranet

2.7 billion people work away from a desk. That’s 80% of the global working population. These employees need more from their organizations, from their technology, and from the employee experience. This in-depth guide details everything your enterprise needs to deliver a consumer-grade mobile experience that connects and engages everyone from head office to frontline.

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Debunking the employee app myth

To understand the place of an employee app within the digital workplace and show where best to leverage its strengths, we’re debunking some longstanding myths surrounding employee mobile apps.

#1. The myth: "Employee apps can replace our intranet"

A common claim of mobile-only proponents is that a standalone employee app is a capable replacement for the company intranet. With hybrid and remote work now standard, and over 70% of the global workforce consisting of ‘untethered’ workers, it may seem that employee apps benefit more people than intranets can. Relying on an employee mobile app as your only digital hub implies that your users will find everything they need in one place. However, standalone employee apps lack much of the functionality needed to tackle the breadth of employee experience challenges enterprises face today.

The reality: Mobile-first beats mobile-only

If you purchased a suite of tools that looked slick and impressive on mobile, but then discovered the desktop experience felt stripped back, you’d likely have buyers’ remorse. Global enterprises risk this becoming a reality when they hedge their bets on mobile-only strategies. A lack of parity between desktop and mobile leaves employees lacking useful features. User targeting can’t be as precise, so individuals miss out on highly relevant experiences. Search features suffer too, becoming more standardized and less targeted. Without access to developer frameworks, enterprises will find any unique use cases out of reach, as they are forced to accept the standard out-of-the-box experience or look elsewhere to fill in the gaps.

"A mobile app is an essential tool for any enterprise, but that doesn’t mean it should be the only tool. Intranet platforms offer features that apps can never truly replace. Trying to shoehorn functionality into an app designed for a different use case isn’t the right path to take – you shouldn’t shoehorn the employee experience."

Kaz Hassan - Product Manager at Unily

'Zaxby’s unites retail franchises and corporate employees with an intranet' case study flat pages

Case Study

Zaxby’s unites retail franchises and corporate employees with an intranet

Zaxby’s restaurants serve thousands of customers daily across America with fresh, high-quality chicken. But with more than 1.9k corporate and franchise owners spread across more than 900 locations throughout America, Zaxby’s needed a way to unite its stores under one cultural initiative to ensure employee happiness and a set model for business standards.

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A siloed app compounds the problems

Intranet software offers the power to shape your work however you like through a full range of tools you can define to your needs. They offer a more seamless experience of the digital workplace, integrating full experiences instead of shoehorning light-touch integrations into an app.

From an accessibility standpoint, mobile apps only cover one use case. Employee experience platforms cater to everyone and maintain flexibility by respecting the range of access your people have. This gives users a choice of optimal experiences across devices, instead of allowing the rigidity and singularity of an app to define how you work.

Even where mobile apps specialize in communications, they lack key features of an intranet. As time passes, the role of governance increases. Maintaining the accuracy and freshness of content becomes a strategic imperative to keep things from going stale. Intranets can deliver richer content management experiences, like content review lifecycles, that spread accountability and ensure the content users see is accurate and engaging. 

Cathay Pacific: Launching an award-winning mobile intranet' case study flat pages

Case Study

Cathay Pacific: Launching an award-winning mobile intranet

Built on a passion for flight and a commitment to achieving the unthinkable, Cathay Pacific has secured its status as a leading airline for more than 75 years. To connect its workforce of 26k+ employees who are mobile by design, Cathay Pacific launched a redesigned employee experience platform that has earned a spot among Nielsen Norman Group's best intranets.

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#2. The myth: "Employee apps are going to save frontline workers’ time"

Frontline workers are notoriously difficult to engage and putting tools in their hands to boost productivity proves even harder. A standalone employee app may claim to offer access to everything frontline workers need, but, if they need more than communications, a standalone employee app can’t deliver.

Standalone employee apps create as many siloes as they combat, as mobile access to tools asks users to install even more applications to work properly. Forbes report that the average employee switches between applications up to 10 times an hour, which can cost companies up to 32 days of productive work a year per employee. An employee app that doesn’t integrate with other tools or offer features that go beyond communication only amplifies this problem.

Case Study

Shell powers employee experience with a Unily intranet

Discover how Shell is transforming employee experience for 82k employees with Unily, driving savings of over $42m a year in productivity gains.

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The reality: Only an intranet can offer everything

Standalone employee apps are predominantly static, meaning enterprises cannot stray outside of the out-of-the-box offering. Modern intranets allow enterprises to develop their platform and cater to complex use cases with access to developer frameworks and integration opportunities.

As a true one-stop destination portal, a mobile intranet app links with its desktop counterpart to support frontline and office-based employees with access to everything they need in one place.

Without granular user targeting, the ability to personalize experiences beyond the superficial, and the flexibility to solve unique use cases, an employee app isn’t saving time or making work easier for frontline employees. A mobile-only employee app may give users access to communications, but only a mobile-first intranet can give you a comms and productivity platform that works for everyone, from frontline to head office.

Unily Flight Centre Intranet Case Study

Case Study

Flight Centre powers productivity for 19,000 employees with a Unily intranet

Flight Centre is one of the world’s largest and most successful independent travel retailers. Download the case study and discover the secret behind their award-winning intranet.

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Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

While standalone employee apps can assist enterprises looking to reach employees in a world of hybrid work, organizations should be wary of allowing the pendulum to swing entirely toward mobile apps. As part of a wider suite, employee apps connect disparate workforces and build stronger relationships with frontline employees. Taken alone, enterprises lose any antidote to the pitfalls of mobile-only communications and miss out on the engagement and collaboration opportunities that their desktop counterparts offer.

Unsure on employee app best practice?

Employee apps are a valuable part of the wider digital workplace, but implementation is key to gaining the benefits they have to offer. If you’d like to learn more about how to use an employee mobile app to engage your employees, speak to an expert today.

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