Walmart's Big News, and What it Means for the Future of Workforce Communications

September 29, 2017

Facebook recently landed a major coup when Walmart announced that its 2.2 million employees would be using Workplace going forward. Since Facebook opened up Workplace to the public a little less than a year ago, 14,000 companies have signed up. And Walmart isn't the only big name to be using the communication tool: 80% of Starbucks store managers already use the product on a weekly basis, along with employees from Lyft and Delta.

Facebook's entry and nascent momentum into the workplace communications arena highlights the demand that organizations have for tools that allow them to communicate effectively, especially given the growing trend for distributed and highly mobile workforces. Along with Facebook Workplace, there are already several other major players in this field, including Slack, Microsoft, and Dynamic Signal.

Ideally, communications tools should facilitate the flow of information not only from the top down but between team members as well. For large, multinational corporations with thousands or even millions of employees, it can be extremely difficult to ensure that people are getting the information they need, whether it's news of a product launch or a form that needs to be filled out in order to get health care.

The advantage of using tools such as Workplace, Dynamic Signal and Slack, then, is that they are able to reach people where they are. In the case of Workplace, most people are already familiar with Facebook's interface, and are comfortable with using Messenger to interact with others on the site. For Dynamic Signal and Slack, the fact that both are easy to use with mobile devices means that they are both able to reach employees where they spend the most time -- that is, on their phones.

"The way we consume communication has changed radically in the last five years," says Dynamic Signal CMO Joelle Kaufman. "Instead of going to multiple sources for information, people generally only go to one. People are consuming content on their own terms, often on mobile, and often in consolidated fashion." She also points out that the gap between company and employee has been growing of late, as there's "no enterprise that's moving as fast as consumers' media consumptions are changing." That's why it's encouraging to see that companies are finally starting to adopt technologies that will help them reach their employees with better, more relevant information.

While the partnership between Facebook and Walmart is indeed momentous, it remains to be seen how effective it will be. Dan Kneeshaw, senior director of digital strategy and brand engagement at Walmart, said in an interview that the company "brought Workplace in to complement other tools that are being used," including Slack. Use of Workplace is not currently mandated for Walmart employees, although they are given the option of downloading the app on their own devices.

It is completely understandable that Walmart should wish to experiment first before asking its employees to singularly commit to one tool. But the more clutter there is, and the more apps people have to use in order to stay in the know, the more complicated internal communications gets -- negating the effect of having those tools in the first place. A service like Dynamic Signal, on the other hand, which can be integrated into multiple platforms including Slack, Facebook Messenger and Chatter, can therefore help to limit the number of platforms in use at any given moment, which in turn keeps the communications process simple and streamlined.

With respect to workplace communications, right now it's easy to divide organizations into two camps: companies that communicate amongst their employees effectively, and those that do not. As Kaufman points out, "50% of workers in large companies don't even have a company email, which means they are not in the know." This makes those employees feel as though the company doesn't think they're important enough to be kept in the loop, which creates antagonism and disincentivizes them to perform well. In fact, according to one study, organizations with highly engaged employees had average 3-year revenue growth that was 2.3 times greater than firms with employees who are only engaged at average levels.

By teaming up with Facebook, Walmart is taking a step in the right direction. With the amount of noise that people have to tune out on a daily basis, it makes sense to use communications tools to streamline the process of information sharing. Not only will this make employees feel more connected to the organization at large, it will also create a feedback loop that ensures continued communication between leaders and the teams they're leading. Having an effective communications strategy could end up being the difference between success and collapse.

This article originally appeared at Inc.

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