(Illustration by VictoriaBar/iStock by Getty Images)

Especially for remote workers, quality communication is king these days. Most of us don’t have the luxury of popping our heads around our computers to ask our coworkers a question or pause at the snack bar to update them on the coming and goings of our lives. Instead, we turn to our screens, and our colleagues behind their own screens, for guidance.

There’s no shortage of digital work tools these days, but which platforms stand out from the pack? Are there tools to actually help us get our jobs done while staying connected, but don’t just add to our digital distractions? How can these digital spaces better engage our employees and leaders?

From Day One talked with Shaun Slattery, director of change management at LumApps, platform for workplace communication, community, and collaboration. Among our questions for him: how can leaders leverage technology to keep employees both engaged and productive? Some highlights:

From Day One: Why is effective communication such a priority right now?

Slattery: [Managers] have to execute communication well and thoughtfully. And in order to execute well, you really need to know what's going on in your organization. And so that bottom-up communication is important to have, to be aware of, and to mine for insights into new market opportunities and new cost-saving measures. Across every organization there's a wealth of knowledge in the minds of all the employees. Yet they lose a ton of time fishing around or asking six different people, ‘Hey, do you know where the latest X is?’ Or, ‘Is this the most recent version of Y?’ If we can serve up a platform where that's very findable, and easy for a company to manage its own content, that can really bring a lot of benefits.

The other thing is, once you've found which direction you're going to go as an organization, how quickly can you align employees with that direction and get them engaged and involved? I always talk about strategic alignment like this: It doesn't happen when you issue a decree. The alignment happens through dialogue. I experienced a great example of that several years ago, when I was part of an organization that had just gone public. I think we had a bad quarter. And the CIO explained what the call to Wall Street would be like. And it was an opportunity for us to discuss through commenting platforms. We were able to ask questions. And it was through that dialogue that we bought in [to the company’s position]. And even if not everybody agreed with all the messages, we at least had heard what the rationale was. And in terms of achieving actual alignment with strategic objectives, there's nothing more powerful than that.

What are some communications challenges that organizations face? And how does LumApps help to alleviate those concerns?

When an organization has an office, they put a lot of effort into the front-door experience of how you come into work and what that office environment is like. Organizations need to be every bit as mindful of how they build the digital employee experience as they do the physical employee experience. Too often organizations don't put enough effort into that. If my front door to my organization is my email inbox, or a Slack channel, or what have you, the organization themselves have very little control over the look and feel of that experience.

But if it's a social intranet, or a very customizable portal, my company can put a lot of attention and detail into what my experience is when I land on that LumApps homepage. What information is coming to me and how does it look and feel? Having a digital front door to my company can be a very powerful thing in terms of crafting an employee experience. It's a one-stop shop to get to all the 30 different applications I might need to get to in the course of a workweek. In some cases, I no longer have to go to two, three, four different applications in order to answer one question. Sometimes that information can be pulled together for me in one place through integration capabilities, and that's something that's very exciting. In LumApps, it’s easy to make that collaboration more public and discoverable, if you want, which can go a long way to improving company-wide coordination.

[Another] challenge that organizations face is the silo-ing of information. And that happens if collaboration is happening primarily via email–or even phone and Zoom meetings if there's only a handful of people on that call. How does anyone else become aware of what went on in that meeting, unless notes are posted or something like that? Same with chat-based applications like Slack, which does great at supporting very local collaboration or team-level collaboration. But there's a real need to disseminate what happens at that level out to the wider organization and increase visibility.

What is your role at LumApps?

My role is director of change management. But what's important to know is that our change management is focused on helping our customers deliver LumApps into their organizations. My focus is to help our customers maximize adoption, employee engagement, and therefore maximize the value of LumApps to them as they roll out an exciting new technology to their employees.

Shaun Slattery, director of change management at LumApps (Photo courtesy of LumApps)

What unique services does LumApps provide?

As a platform, we offer the ability to target communications based on user's profile information. So that's always a challenge for organizations: How do I get the right information to the right person at the right time? And our content-targeting capabilities really help there. We've also got a good balance of push and pull communications. So it's easy to target communications to specific audiences. But we also have capabilities where employees can select what they want to follow and be notified of. And then finally, there's great bi-directional conversational capability. Through commenting and discussions, we can flatten some of the hierarchy and break down silos so folks can hear from disparate members of their employee population.

Has the usage of this platform changed during the current coronavirus pandemic?

There's this capability in our platform called ‘Communities,’ where teams or communities of interest can set up their own area for discussion and collaboration that can be as open or as closed as they wish it to be. So there's opportunities for private collaboration or sensitive information. For example: an area for the New York City office to share ‘Hey, how are folks sourcing groceries?’ Or, ‘How are we approaching the possible return to the office and making that safe and manageable for employees?’

Most of our customers have popped up communities for remote-working best practices, as many people have been thrust into new work situations by having to work from home. There has just been a real hunger for information about how to do it well and how folks are coping. And these kinds of collaborative places where employees can share and post pictures and things like that have really given them an opportunity to feel it together. And that's also important for an organization's ability to move through this, is for their folks to feel banded together as an organization.

A lot of companies are supporting social advocacy right now, especially with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Excitingly, LumApps has a social-advocacy module that can be purchased as part of the platform. It gives owners the ability to post written content that they would like employees to share on social media. And how this works best is when organizations populate that with content from their community-engagement programs. If they are participating in social-advocacy events out in the community and are creating content around that, it would normally just go through the organization’s official channel. But the social-advocacy module provides an opportunity to say, ‘Here's something else we're doing. We'd love it if you would share that with your personal social networks on Twitter or LinkedIn,’ for example. And that does two things really well. One, it helps employees have an easy way to help spread the message, especially those messages that they're proud of. And so if my organization has Diversity and Inclusion Employee Resource Groups, and they have activities going on, and I wish to support that and push that out, great!

Another powerful thing about that is employees can be an organization's best brand ambassadors. If they're invested in those messages and the social-advocacy activities of their organization, they have an opportunity to amplify that. And that expresses their personal values as well. That's the best marketing that you can get: an invested and engaged employee who's proud of the work their company is doing.

What’s your advice for companies wanting to take advantage of the LumApps platform or reorganize their “digital front doors”?

They [may] have a ton of digital information, and that’s part of their challenge as well. You should do a digital spring cleaning every year and kind of make an event of it at your company, and encourage all employees to go and clean up and update and get rid of stuff, just as we do in our homes each spring. It can be useful to do that in your digital environments as well.

I would encourage organizations to give themselves plenty of time to do this. To really have a successful social intranet you're going to want to involve employees. It takes a village to come together and make some decisions and agree upon how you want to manage information. And that has little to do with the platform itself and more of how to manage information in large, complex companies. And that takes some coordination. It's important for organizations to really get moving on these conversations and be very thoughtful in how they are going to organize their information, as well as how they are going to get employees aligned and engaged so that they can deliver a great employee experience.

Mimi Hayes is a New York-based author, comedian, and assistant director of content at From Day One. You can read her work at mimihayes.com, check out her podcast "Mimi and The Brain," or find her first book, a comedic memoir about her traumatic brain injury on Amazon.