For public sector workers – often on the front line when dealing with unexpected emergencies – constant communication is vital. 

This has been even more essential during the coronavirus crisis, where fast-changing, critical information had to reach employees wherever they were working. 

The nature of the pandemic meant councils needed staff to respond rapidly, and to keep up to date with changing advice about preventative measures like social distancing and face coverings.

Like many other local councils in the UK, Cardiff had been struggling to persuade staff to download their communications app. A bespoke solution, it was not available to download on Apple’s App Store, making it hard for staff to access.

On the move

In what now looks like an act of foresight, Cardiff City Council decided last autumn to upgrade its communications by developing a new app that could be accessed through the App Store, as well as the Google Play store.

“We could not have foreseen the situation we would face just a few months later, but that work has really paid off during the pandemic − particularly the success we had in making it available on the App Store,” says Jeremy Rhys, the city’s Assistant Head of Communications.

Before the app, the council relied on email to reach all their staff members. Source: Shutterstock,

“Since the beginning of lockdown, the number of active users has doubled, and more than half of Cardiff Council’s workforce are now using it,” adds Jeremy. “That just shows how much staff value it.”

Before their smartphone app, the council relied on email to reach staff. But more than half of the council’s 16,000 employees are not PC users, according to Jason Carlson, HR People Services, Customer Services Delivery Manager.

The nature of their jobs − many of them working hands-on providing public services for residents of the Welsh capital − meant that they rarely logged on, except during occasional office visits.

So, the council’s HR, Communication team and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), worked together and developed the Working for Cardiff app which connects directly to the council’s DigiGOV solution.

“The Working for Cardiff app is particularly important for these employees as it enables them to access DigiGOV services such as viewing e-payslips and the communication messages sent out,” says Jason.

“The main driver for last year’s relaunch the staff app as Working for Cardiff was to make the app available on the App Store. The number of downloads has been impressive and vindicates the effort involved in this relaunch.”

Keeping in touch

Jeremy agrees, pointing out that the new app “is an important internal comms channel for us. It allows us to quickly reach colleagues that are often working away from the office and colleagues that don’t have regular access to emails and the intranet.”

Available in English and Welsh language versions, the app is already being used by more than half of the council’s workforce. The number of active users doubled when the Welsh government imposed a coronavirus lockdown on the country.

Jeremy says having Working for Cardiff accessible in the App Store and Google Play was a major breakthrough. The previous app, developed by the council, required users to download new versions every time it was updated. 

“The next step is to use the ability to update the app with new functionality,” adds Jason.

Working for Cardiff is not the council’s first venture into app technology. In 2018, it launched an app to help residents access council services and report anti-social behaviour like fly-tipping and graffiti.

The apps are part of Cardiff’s ambitious ‘Digital First’ initiative which also includes a chatbot to help residents find services and a new digital fleet management system.

The council has previously used an app to let residents report graffiti so that It can be removed. Source: Shutterstock

Driving engagement

Even before COVID-19, employee engagement was seen as a top priority by business leaders. Almost three-quarters rated it vital to achieving organizational success, according to research conducted by the Harvard Business Review.

A study by Gallup found that organizations with high levels of employee engagement experienced lower absenteeism and higher productivity. TCS’ own experience confirms that digital employee engagement lifts productivity and morale.

The immediacy and directness of app-based communication is a major factor in its success, according to TCS. Communicating late is just as harmful to employee engagement as failing to communicate at all.

Delivering real-time communication through mobile apps ensures that employees feel part of what the organisation’s objectives are − which is especially important in a time of crisis when tactical goals may need to change rapidly.

“There are exciting developments and additional functionality in the pipeline, and I’m looking forward to seeing those being released, and adding to the growing number of Working for Cardiff app users we have,” says Jeremy.