Bundling Features in an Employee App — When to Say When

by | Jul 18, 2019

One app for employees that does it all? It sounds better than it actually is.

 

Mobile Apps for Employee Engagement

At Shockoe, we’re fortunate to work on consumer and enterprise apps for clients ranging from entrepreneurs to fortune 500 companies. In the world of enterprise apps, we’ve seen increased demand from large organizations using mobile apps to reach employees, and not just office workers on the go. These companies are searching for greater connection to employees such as warehouse staff, factory staff, and drivers that are never in front of a desktop. Organizations want to leverage mobile devices that employees are already carrying to create engagement, helping them be more productive, safe, satisfied with their job, and likely to stay.  I think the recent uptick in demand for employee engagement mobile apps is due to a confluence of business and technical factors:

  1. Challenges finding and retaining skilled remote workers (e.g. drivers and warehouse staff) mean organizations are investing more than ever engaging remote employees
  2. The ubiquity and scaling of mobile means all employees have high-powered devices and the pace of hardware/software change has slowed so large organizations can catch up.
  3. Improvements in Enterprise Mobility Management tools and cloud authentication make it easier to deliver enterprise apps on personal devices.
  4. Organizations have been building mobile solutions for operations and can leverage that expertise for employee engagement apps.

It’s not new to use an app to foster employee engagement, but we see it picking up steam. It’s similar to the boom in intranets when the web was mature enough that we expected it enable collaboration across the entire organization. But that fell short when employees that weren’t in front of a PC all day never saw the intranet. So mobile has matured enough to solve the Intranet reach problem!  But this comes with a challenge: What mobile content and features will create employee engagement?

The One App Trap

Most employee engagement apps will include corporate news, leadership messages, operational and safety guidance, personnel profiles, and other info related to corporate communications and HR.  This is similar to the basics for an intranet and successfully extends that information to remote employees that may not have email or a PC. 

But how do you attract employees to that mobile information so that they see it and, even better, participate in it with their own information or feedback?  One way is to add features most remote employees need such as timekeeping, facilitates information, and payroll results. Adding transactional and operational capabilities to an employee engagement app can increase usage of the app and visibility of content. 

 

But it’s a slippery slope. We’ve heard organizations say, “I don’t want my employees to have to download multiple apps, I want one app”.  We call this the “Employee Hub App”. This an understandable approach because downloads are a point of friction and offering too many apps can be confusing. For example, you probably don’t want to go the Verizon app store route. You can strike the right balance by evaluating features with a few key criteria:

  • Do you improve the user experience by adding the feature?  Or does it degrade the user experience because it has a unique user interface or complex navigation?
  • What’s the technical effort to embed the feature?  Can it reuse existing design elements, authentication, roles, and business logic?   
  • What’s the release cycle for the core app vs. the feature?  Do all employees get an app update when there’s a change that only impacts a few?

There’s a good overview in the Google Play guidelines about unbundling. The guildelines are written for consumer apps, but many points apply to enterprise apps, especially:

 

“What is your app’s core experience? If your app has multiple pieces of functionality, unbundling can help streamline the app and make it more intuitive for users. Don’t let product roadmaps dictate decisions around unbundling.” Google Play Guidelines

 

Even if you can bundle features without too much technical effort, it may not create a better user experience or be useful to limit downloads. It’s not easier to use if it only moves the selection of a feature from the home screen into multiple clicks in the hub app. Imagine having one massive Google app where instead of clicking on the app I’m ready to use (e.g. Maps), I have to open a Super-Google app, click thru to the feature I want by wading through those I don’t.  It simply moves my selection from my home screen to a menu in an app and even though many of the Google apps share login and features (e.g. comments), they are obviously better unbundled. You also may not create too many downloads by unbundling because with enterprise apps, EMM tools such as Intune can push relevant apps to an employee’s device, even organizing them in a workspace.

The bottom line: don’t let fewer apps, or the desire for a single app, be a goal.  

 

Add to the Hub App vs. a Standalone App?

It’s not always an easy answer and each case can be different.  We’ve used the decision model below that starts by evaluating features for complexity and whether or not the feature is already available as responsive web or 3rd party apps.  From there, we consider the types of users, the breadth of the user base, and whether or not offline access is required. This can give you a starting point to determine if a custom app is right and whether or not to use a hub or standalone app, but make sure to adapt it to your specific technical environment, budget, and skill sets.

 

What Next?

Plenty of features can be added to an employee hub app as long as they meet user experience criteria and you don’t create technical hurdles. If it’s not obvious that a feature belongs with others, avoid the drawbacks of bundling such as complex authorization and role management, the inability to rapidly test new features, and long maintenance cycles.

If you do want to add features to your employee hub app, define the  business goal first (e.g. employee engagement, safety, quality, more efficient business processes), then prototype it and test with users.  That can help you find out quickly and cheaply whether or not it fits within a hub app or it works better standalone. And if you are ready to bundle features, think about patterns such as micro-apps where you can to minimize maintenance headaches. One way to do this is with cross-platform apps using React Native and CodePush.  But that’s a blog post for another day, and for one of our engineers that can explain it better than me.

 

If you’re interested in reading more about employee engagement, check out some of our other blogs:
3 Ways to Improve User Engagement on Your Mobile Solution
Customized Development vs. Out-of-the-box Software
5 Ways Shockoe Supercharged Mobile Workflow 

Stephen Baker

Stephen Baker

Engagement Manager & Digital Strategist

Stephen is a technology strategist with over 20 years of consulting experience. His background includes energy, retail, health, and transportation industries where he’s partnered with clients to deliver ERP, web, mobile, and service layer solutions. Stephen’s experience in wide variety of roles including strategy, architecture, project management, and development allows him to add value to all phases of projects from idea to go-live.