Thought Leadership

Using WhatsApp as an HR tool to drive digital inclusion

Formalising WhatsApp for HR purposes elevates the app into a powerful tool that gives an employer an easier way to communicate with their workforce.

Whatsapp South Africa
Simon Ellis

Simon Ellis

Simon is the CEO of SmartWage, an African technology company that is making HR & Communication easier for deskless workforces.

The digital disconnect

Communicating with dispersed employees who typically don’t spend their work days behind a desk (termed “deskless” employees), is a problem faced by most of South Africa’s largest and most respected organisations.  There are currently no communications tools suited to deskless employees in South Africa, and as a result, employee engagement remains low. If employers are unable to communicate with employees digitally, how are they meant to digitally transform their businesses?  

Moreover, employers inability to digitally connect with their workforce means that most HR processes are still done manually. Payslips are still printed and handed out at the end of every month. Leave requests are paper based, completed by employees in pen, and returned in person. Employee onboarding is only complete after multiple paper based documents are printed, initialled, and signed. The same, print, copy, sign and return process applies to disciplinary procedures and employee surveys. All of these processes, from hiring to disciplinary procedures and distributing payslips, can be done digitally and if done properly, can allow employers to consistently and reliably connect with their employees. 

Transforming the workplace through digital inclusion

Digital inclusion is the first real step in ensuring equitable access to information and communication, so that employees can fully participate and engage with their work.  

The pace of digital inclusion to date has been slow because there has been no solution that caters to the needs of all employees, whether they are deskless, remote, or in-office. For a deskless workforce, the question is how to successfully replicate the interactions employees have over email, Teams, and Slack?  Organisations in South Africa and elsewhere have gone to great effort and expense to create company apps that deliver HR services to these employees. And while many of these apps are slick and beautifully designed, they all face the same problem: they don’t meet employees where they already spend their time and attention.  

No matter how engaging the experience, the reality is that half of South Africans don’t have space for more than five apps on their phone. Where organisations do use apps, employees frequently install the app to receive their payslip only to uninstall it again to make room for other preferred apps.  Compounding the problem is the country’s exorbitant data costs.

So what could be used as a solution to accommodate all employees? The answer is Whatsapp. 

95 percent of employees across South Africa use WhatsApp. WhatsApp is intuitive, familiar, and fast. This gives employees the ability to do virtually anything via the app, whether it is signing a document, acknowledging a new policy, accessing payslips, receiving and querying documents, completing a survey, or applying for leave.

Elevating WhatsApp from a communication tool to an HR channel 

WhatsApp continues to transform the way we communicate. It’s already extensively utilised throughout workforces in South Africa as a basic communication tool, whether that is via direct messages or group chats. 

Formalising WhatsApp for HR purposes elevates the app into a powerful tool that gives an employer an easier way to engage with their workforce, giving them a simple and accessible way to drive two-way communication with employees. It’s the next step in our communication journey. Since the printing press in 1448, we’ve progressed from letters, fax and telephone to email. Utilising WhatsApp is the logical next step. 

WhatsApp meets employees where they are with no learning curve or change management training to navigate. Offering HR services through a company-created app is a non-starter when 27 million South Africans already use WhatsApp every single day. 

Counting the cost of manual processes 

Manual processes are costing businesses millions. 

Take payslips for example. Printing paper payslips is unnecessary, costly, and time-consuming for organisations. Moreover, distributing these paper slips to dispersed workforces is incredibly expensive, and it’s a process that can be easily improved, digitally. 

There are a myriad of solutions that promise to automate these manual processes to save time and money, like company apps. But without real reach and engagement, those solutions only pay lip service to digitisation and digital inclusion, and at worst, risk becoming an expensive failure. 

Formalising WhatsApp for HR enables reach and engagement in a way other channels and apps can’t: it meets employees where they are. Harnessing the power of WhatsApp is a simple yet effective way to digitise HR processes, helping businesses save time and money by giving employees without email the ability to receive company-wide communication, access their payslips, request leave and get access to financial wellness products. 

A digitally included workforce is good for employers and employees. For employers, it’s an opportunity to not only improve the bottom line by digitising costly processes, and communicating more effectively, but to unlock more value in their workforce. For employees, digital inclusion allows individuals to fully understand and engage with their role within the organisation. It creates a sense of purpose, job satisfaction and professional fulfilment. Full digital inclusion is vital, but it’s only possible through a platform with the right reach and engagement.

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