Street Culture: Multi-Location Brands Connect Employees With Beekeeper

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For brands whose operations are on the move and spread across multiple locations, the pressure on managers to communicate with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of employees can be intense. Not all companies assign email addresses to hourly employees, a practice that effectively cuts those worker bees off from the pulse of the organization, and relies on managers to be the only link.

“Think about it,” said Michael Berman, vice president of Beekeeper North America, a Zürich-based firm that enables real-time connections. “Getting information out to hourly employees is not easy. They’re not connected via email; they come in for their shifts, clock in, clock out, and leave. They’re not connected to the organization the same way a knowledge-based or salaried employee would be.”

Beekeeper’s internal communications software platform connects all employees using a concept like a social media feed. Employees can download an app to use on their smartphones, use the web-based program, or view live feeds in company common areas such as break rooms. Launched in 2012, the company is a spin-off from a community network created by students at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich). Then, a pilot program with hospitality company Swissôtel Hotels and Resorts connected 50,000 employees across 110 properties, a success that began drawing new clients.

The Beekeeper team grew five-fold in the last year, expanding into new offices in Zürich, its headquarters, and a shared office space in San Francisco. The platform can disseminate last-minute information on a time frame many organizations have never experienced, a disconnect that causes mistakes and headaches and costs money.

The platform also helps streamline day-to-day communication to and from employees, creating a more efficient workflow. Its concept empowers companies to capitalize off employees who are already on their mobile devices at work anyway.

“A lot of employers are becoming okay with non-customer-facing employees using their cell phones at work,” Berman said. “They know [employees are] going to do it, so they might as well own a big piece of real estate on their cell phones. It engages the workforce and gives them ways to communicate that can ultimately make them better at their jobs.”

The social media-type communication model gives each hourly, potentially high-turnover employee his or her own company profile, and a link to other employees. The employees can post, like, and comment on each other’s content, creating the company’s Beekeeper feed and reaching employees on multiple channels.

“A more engaged employee is typically a more loyal employee,” Berman said. “So an employee who feels part of the organization and valued will tend to stay. It helps with the annual turnover rate by keeping employees who tend to be somewhat volatile in a high-turnover position.”

One way to combat high staff turnover is a more personalized approach to employee recognition, but many companies don’t have the ability to communicate with employees to achieve this. The Beekeeper company feed can contain tips and training information from an invaluable source – veteran employees – that otherwise might never be communicated to new hires in any capacity.

“Recognition in most organizations is very retroactive,” Berman said. “Someone does a good job but it was three weeks ago, and you read about it in the company newsletter or are notified about it on a bulletin board. With Beekeeper there’s instant recognition. A manager might see that the employee did something great and they can post a picture with a comment, and then the employee gets that recognition right away.”

Berman said that the adoption of this work-focused social media profile can be difficult for employees at first, but that most companies report their employees genuinely enjoy using the platform. Berman compared Beekeeper’s engagement rates with the Internet culture “rule” that indicates only 1% of an online community network actually creates content, while 9% reacts to it and 90% consumes it but doesn’t interact at all.

The technology also works for management and human resources to connect personally with employees, and with automating onboarding processes for new hires.

“It’s just about communication in general,” Berman said. “People want to be in the know. People want to understand what’s going on; they want information that’s going to help them be better at their jobs, impress their bosses, and help them get promoted.”

April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.