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Workplace by Meta has announced plans to roll out an integration with WhatsApp this year to better support frontline workers whose technology needs often take a back seat at many companies.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, many companies found it hard to reach their frontline workforce because they did not have traditional lines of communication within their wider organisation.
According to Deskless Not Voiceless: The 2021 Frontline Barometer — which examined the views of 7,000 frontline workers and 1,350 C-suite executives in seven countries — only 55 per cent of frontline workers surveyed felt connected to the company headquarters. And 75 per cent of the respondents said they don’t completely trust their organisations to be transparent about company news and updates.
Ujjwal Singh, chief product officer at Workplace, said that most frontline workers don't get an email address or a laptop when they join a company, meaning phone-based messaging apps are usually their own way of staying connected with colleagues.
"If a good collaboration and community platform is not provided by a business, workers will find their own way to communicate, feel connected, and drive productivity," said Wayne Kurtzman, IDC research director of social and collaboration solutions. "One of those solutions found frequently, especially among frontline workers, is WhatsApp."
The research from Workplace found that 84 per cent of frontline workers believe that access to communication tech should be standard, with 56 per cent saying they plan to move to another frontline role for better tools that support their day-to-day work. Meanwhile, 92 per cent of IT and business leaders said they need to prioritise frontline tech the same they've focused in the past on office and desk-based technology.
Additionally, Singh said that 61 per cent of frontline workers said they wanted access to additional tools that would keep them better connected with the rest of the organisation and allow them to share information and data.
Workplace’s planned integration aims to do just that. It will allow organisations to share posts from their Workplace environment directly into WhatsApp, allowing frontline workers who may not have time to scroll through multiple posts find relevant information.
“We believe that by connecting frontline workers and empowering them with information, businesses can help improve their ability to engage with these folks to make the employees happier, and actually deliver a better service to consumers,” Singh said.
“Part of why the WhatsApp integration is so important is that we already know frontline workers are using WhatsApp in many countries around the world. We want to meet workers where they already are, with the tools that they're already using.”
WhatsApp is primarily known and used as a consumer product; throughout the pandemic, many IT professionals warned that WhatsApp is not a suitable back-up tool when official collaboration platforms fall offline, as it is rarely compliant with company policies.
Singh said these issues are being worked on. Fundamentally “we want to give companies control over the information and control over how they use this particular integration,” he said. “A lot of that functionality that you're talking about — around control and how what actually goes out to WhatsApp, how do people access that information — is still being baked,” he said.
The integration is expected to arrive in the first half of the year and roll out after that. "It's not something that we are rushing out and doing because we want to do this carefully, given some of the constraints that ... using consumer tools that exists," Singh said.
Kurtzman also noted that WhatsApp is something frontline workers already use, especially when no solid community or collaboration software has been provided. He believes that when the new integration is released, IT should find it easy to match their compliance and governance needs with it within Workplace.
“The WhatsApp integration will meet workers where they already are, but within the confines of the Workplace enterprise product," he said. "Using integration with the familiar WhatsApp product will help drive adoption through ease of use and keep core communications within corporate governance and security."
Kurtzman noted that IDC research shows that 55 per cent of all collaborative applications start as an unauthorised application. “The need to work from anywhere promoted many of these to company-approved solutions. This has not always been the case for frontline workers,” he said.