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With new apps and services, IT connects deskless workers to biz

Matthew Finnegan | Nov. 11, 2017
Messaging apps and mobile services from companies like Zinc and Crew are springing up to help connect workers not bound to a desk with colleagues in the office.

Microsoft, too, has strengthened its focus on the same audience in a bid to expand the reach of Office 365 with the launch of StaffHub. The scheduling app contains its own simple chat function independent of other Microsoft tools such as Teams, as well as document-sharing capabilities. Meanwhile, Facebook’s Workplace enterprise social network uses a different tack to target entire workforces.

microsoft staffhub screen compilation Blair Hanley Frank

A compilation of screenshots shows the Microsoft StaffHub interface.

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Keeping it simple

While there is no shortage of enterprise messaging applications on the market, Epstein argued the technology has “lagged behind” when it comes to catering to the full spectrum of job roles. “Most enterprise technology vendors are busy making apps for the desktop workers and then they haven’t really realized the huge opportunity that exists with deskless workforces,” she said. 

According to Castañón-Martínez, many vendors overlooked this area because it doesn’t fit with their sales strategies. “It was not that clear that there was a business case for them that was very relevant or compelling,” he said. “They are used to doing all of their go-to-market based on the workers that are already provisioned with existing software applications.”

That’s beginning to change, in part because of the proliferation of smartphones in recent years. Most U.S. workers have either a company-issued (or their own) mobile device for communicating with colleagues.

“The mobile penetration is also helping because right now you can safely assume that most workers will have their own personal mobile phone, which they can use for these types of communications,” Castañón-Martínez said. “But that was not the case just a few years ago.”

Ensuring widespread uptake of collaboration tools across an organization is a challenge in itself; Epstein said that the while enterprise messaging apps such as Slack have seen huge success with many professionals, they are not suited to all roles. They can be too complex for workers who don’t see complex collaboration apps as needed to do their job.

“So they just literally stop communicating at all,” she said. “Or worse, they turn to consumer apps, like WhatsApp or texting, that are easy to use, real time and somewhat effective, but … limited to the people that they know.

There are a number of drawbacks to relying on consumer tools, said Epstein. “There is no enterprise control, no IT administrative tools to help manage the implementation, [and] there is no visibility to what is going on in those conversations that might help the company.”


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