Information app creates connection; helps retains workers

Cris Collingwood//September 15, 2023

Flagger Force uses its ITZ app to keep in communication with workers - PHOTO/FLAGGER FORCE

Information app creates connection; helps retains workers

Cris Collingwood//September 15, 2023

A company whose workforce is located throughout the region shares the way it communicates with its employees to help other companies improve information sharing.

Hummelstown-based Flagger Force used BeeKeeper, a communications app, to create its ITZ app to stay in touch with its more than 2,000 traffic control workers up and down the East Coast.

Chris Byerly, director of strategy and brand, Flagger Force, said the app creates two-way internal communication in a format that engages employees and provides necessary information.

“With the labor market the way it is, employers need to retain employees, and this helps engage them,” he said.

He explained that being able to see how communication is received in real time allows employers to know what their workers need and what is missing.

Tamara Palmer, internal communications manager, Flagger Force, who was brought on to help develop the app, which was launched in the summer of 2018, said part of ITZ’s success is the whole company was involved in the process.

“This is all voluntary,” she said. “We do have apps that are required, but this is not.”

That said, Palmer said 98% of the workers across the company are engaged with ITZ and 94% say they are very happy with it.

In fact, since its launch, Palmer said there have been around 20,000 posts per year with 75,000 to 80,000 comments.

“We are a traffic control company with workers that go from home to the work site,” Byerly said. “They come in for training and events, but otherwise they are not in-house.”

In 2017, Flagger Force held focus groups in all of its regions to see what employees needed.

“We found several things, but it was clear that we needed internal communication,” Byerly said. “Email was not engaging, and we couldn’t measure our paper newsletter.”

ITZ, which stands for In The Zone, is a social media interface, he said. “It’s easy to use and it has value.”

Once the platform was chosen and the app developed, Palmer said her team identified champions, or field leaders in all divisions.

“We showed them how easy it was to use to communicate with workers,” she said. “The champions were hard to win over because they used to push information out to them.”

However, once the team heard what their workers thought in real time, they saw the value in it, Palmer said.

“This is a healthy channel of communication, but if it has no value, no one will use it,” she said.

Byerly added that that the two-way dialogue the app provides opened management to vulnerability, but “In any relationship, you need dialog in a safe space. It provides business value.”

The vulnerability came from employees being able to make their feelings known. Byerly said, however, that communication let management know what was going on in the field and allowed for corrections to happen immediately.

“Safety is our main concern,” he said.

The app provides training, company policies, the company handbook, announcements, and even paystubs. It also provides a place where employees can share about their personal lives in a chat called the “Water Break.”

One of the most important features, the two said, is the micro learning sessions that employees are required to take. Palmer said the three-to-five-minute courses provide training in all aspects of safety from how to use the escape route to how to handle a bee sting.

“We also encourage fun with trivia weeks where we give out prizes and promote kudos, which, when received, are published on the app,” she said. “We celebrate crews for a good job,” she said. “Praise begets praise.”

Palmer said they have found that the people who engage the most with the app are those who are promoted the most.

“We tell management that they should be looking for those people because engagement equals high performance,” she said.

The app has also worked well for peer reviews. Palmer said when someone complains about an issue, other workers will pipe in and offer ways they could have worked around it so it’s not coming from the company.

“Think Facebook which has different places for different interests,” Byerly said. “This has vertical feeds of information with links to whatever an employee might need.”

Byerly said Flagger Force is invited to events where they show how the app works and how safety in any company can be improved.

“This works for any frontline organization. Factories and warehouses can benefit from this. Safety consultants come in and do studies, offer training and videos and then leave,” he said.

With an app like ITZ, a company can keep performance, engagement and safety information out there.

“This helps keep you competitive in the labor market,” Palmer said. “Even in the recruitment stage, you can show that you are connected anytime. That touch point is impressive.”

In fact, Flagger Force has redesigned its referral program.

“We used the app to market it to our employees. Thirty percent of workers we hired were referred through the app,” she said. “Of those, 60% were retained which is important because we spend a lot of money on training and education for new hires.”

Byerly said that is of interest to companies they present to.

“This industry has a vast client base who are very interested in and heavily invest in safety,” he said.

“Everyone wants their employees to go home the same way they came in,” Palmer added.