Frontline workers and messenger apps; how to solve shadow IT

May 10, 2022
Element app

Around 2.7 billion people are frontline workers - that’s about 80 percent of the world’s working population. It covers a huge range of roles, spanning in-home support, hospitality, agriculture, logistics, construction, emergency services and much more.

Being on the frontline means that people are often operating from a mobile device. So it’s easy to understand why 53% of frontline workers end up using unapproved consumer-grade messaging apps at work.

That natural quick fix on the frontline has become a big problem. Because those consumer apps - the likes of WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram - are not suited to the workplace.

When you consider the control and oversight an organisation has over its email, for example, consumer messaging apps are a comparative Wild West.

A consumer-grade app doesn’t help a company ensure everyone has an account, or to manage new joiners and leavers. There’s no sensible way to structure discussions, or to allow secure access from a messaging app to company files and systems. Data can leak and decision-making can get lost. The frontline workforce ends up splintered across siloed messaging apps, and often out of touch with their office-based colleagues.

The fact that very few companies authorise the use of consumer messaging apps is precisely because those apps cannot support business use. A company can’t endorse staff communicating through a system over which it has zero control.

What companies tend to do is ignore the problem. Consumer messaging apps remain unauthorised, or might even be banned, but with no alternative in place nothing changes.


Enterprise messaging apps

What companies should do, of course, is offer an alternative messaging app. Mobile app versions of traditional collaboration tools is an obvious route, but they lack the easy usability of consumer messengers and therefore rarely replace the likes of WhatsApp.

Collaboration apps also tend to cost a lot to roll out and manage at scale, and lack the flexibility to support the complexities of a frontline workforce that can include outsourced teams, supply chain partners, contractors and seasonal staff.

To help companies figure out a good solution we’ve released a new report. ‘Keep the Frontline Connected’ asks five important questions to help address the shadow IT issues caused by consumer messaging apps in the frontline workplace.

From our experience of working with large enterprises, the two most effective approaches to addressing frontline workers’ use of consumer-grade messaging apps are:


  1. Let frontline workers stay in whatever app they prefer, and use Element to bridge work related conversations into the primary office system (typically Microsoft Teams, but not necessarily).
  2. Migrate the frontline to Element - a free to download consumer-style messaging app that has enterprise-grade functionality, and can be integrated to your office systems.


1) Let frontline workers stay in whatever app they prefer

It might feel counter-intuitive, but letting frontline workers stay in the consumer grade messaging app of their choice can be a reasonable solution - particularly as an interim step.

This option sees the Element platform operate as the integration glue between multiple systems.

Element securely connects the frontline and desk-based workforce.

It’s an effective first step as it doesn’t require any behaviour change from either frontline workers or office-based staff. Even if frontline workers are using a variety of messaging apps, they can all be bridged to the company’s Element platform.

Office-based staff can either use Element directly, or they can also stay in their existing system (Microsoft Teams, Slack or whatever else). With Element providing interoperability between multiple messaging apps and office-based collaboration, the whole workforce can easily communicate and the company can ensure it’s capturing all the information it needs.

The downside is that those consumer apps are still big centralised systems that are owned and managed by the service provider. For as long as staff are using consumer grade apps, the company they work for will have an issue with data ownership and management.


2) Migrate the frontline to Element

This is the more appropriate solution for security-conscious companies, particularly if the office-environment also adopts Element as its primary collaboration platform.

From a frontline perspective, the major advantage is that Element is a messenger style app so it’s quick and easy to use. So although people might have to get used to opening a different app, it feels quite familiar and that helps natural adoption.

It’s also free for frontline workers to download, so it’s ideal for a frontline workforce that includes supply chain partners, outsourced teams, freelancers, contractors and the like.

Depending on the company’s deployment choices, it’s perfectly possible for there to be no additional ‘per frontline worker’ cost for the company (although many will opt to add frontline workers to their overall MAU cost so that all employees’ data is hosted by the company). Partners, freelancers and others also don't have to be an extra cost if they join the discussion from their own deployment.


Perhaps best of all from a security-minded company point of view, Element is end-to-end encrypted so when both frontline and office-based staff are using Element absolutely everything remains protected by E2EE.

Of course if a company is already using Microsoft Teams or Slack presumably it’s comfortable without the protection of end-to-end encryption. But adopting Element for the office environment extends the benefit of E2EE to all conversations across the company.

Solving the frontline messaging conundrum and getting E2EE across all company conversations is a double whammy benefit. Throw in lower total cost of ownership, and it’s a triple whammy that makes Element the most sensible way forward.

📱 Download the guide to help shed light on how to address the frontline’s shadow IT issues by choosing an interoperable and compliant workplace messaging.

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