Why Employees Shouldn't Be Worried About Location Aware Apps

Amanda Darcey /

There is a great scene in Season 4 of Parks and Recreation when Ron Swanson learns about “cookies” and Aubrey Plaza’s character winds up showing him Google Earth (spoiler alert: he throws his computer in the trash).

Most of us are more tech-savvy than Ron Swanson. We know that a lot of our personal data exists on the internet. We accept that fact because we get huge value from online services and communities. We actively allow mobile apps access to our location for a huge range of services:

  • Navigation (Google Maps, iMaps, Uber)
  • Social Connections (Find My Friends, Tinder)
  • Finding Services (Yelp, OpenTable)
  • Accessing Promotions (FourSquare, Facebook)

But when it comes to our work lives, should employees be worried about location-aware apps?

The key to location awareness is this: improve experience by reducing effort. In all of the above cases, location is providing real value to the consumer: improving safety, saving time, providing choices or saving money. Google Maps was so enormously successful because it made printing and studying physical maps obsolete. Uber took the guesswork out of finding an available taxi and removed all effort from payments.

So when employers are considering implementing location-aware apps, they need to ask: does it pass the What's-in-it-for-Me (WIIFM) test?

Overcome objections by focusing on WIIFM

In the workplace, the most common objections to location awareness stem from a fear of micromanagement. If my employer knows my location, does that mean they are tracking my every movement? Will I get in trouble for a long lunch break? How exactly are they using this data?

While these are genuine concerns, workplaces are increasingly recognizing the important of outcome based measurement. The trend in workplaces is towards recognition of the importance of workplace engagement to building and retaining happy, effective employees. The emphasis is shifting from metrics like minutes spent on deliverables (legal & accounting) and calls answered (contact centers) to outcomes like customer and employee satisfaction, loyalty and retention.

In consequence, the rise of location-aware workplace apps more commonly supports the employee value proposition: providing tools to protect and empower workers. At Lighthouse.io we see 3 key value propositions for location-awareness in workforce apps:

1. Safety and/or Security: workforces have long deployed solutions to protect worker safety or security - security guards posted at entrances, access cards restricting entrance to a building, face recognition cameras, etc. So, tracking for safety and security purposes is a value that is well-understood by workers in many industries. Location-aware apps are an extension of existing solutions using newer, potentially more effective technologies.

2. Convenience: we love things that make our lives easier and, in today’s on-demand society, the definition of “hard” can simply come down to too much time spent searching or too many clicks. Location-aware apps make workers lives easier by presenting information at the right time and place.

Take for example office hoteling apps. Just 5 years ago, hoteling involved booking a desk or office in advance, checking-in on a computer terminal and searching for your assigned desk. With location-awareness, hoteling now involves simply walking in, seeing an open space and sitting down. Check-in and phone routing can happen without the employee ever needing to do a thing.

3. Experience/ Engagement: according to a recent Gallup poll, 70% of workers say that they are not engaged at work. But when they are, they are 87% more likely to stay with the company. Common drives for engagement include flexibility, training, collaboration and strong community. And, with workforces that are increasingly distributed, mobile apps provide a huge opportunity to promote flexibility and collaboration while maintaining a sense of community.

Location-aware apps extend the mobile proposition to employees by reducing the effort to collaborate and access company services from their mobile. Location-based messaging to connect with nearby colleagues, employee feedback surveys and at-your-desk services are just some of the ways innovative companies are using location-aware apps to attract and retain talent.

Avoid miscommunication when making the change

Best intentions aside, companies can often fall down in implementation through miscommunication and misunderstanding. The quickest way to incite a backlash among employees, is to make a change without telling them. The Daily Telegraph discovered this when they installed sensors to detect space utilization in their offices. While the expressed purpose of the sensors may have been to create a better work environment (and the value to executives was well understood), the fact that employees were not notified in advance created the sense of something more sinister.

It is easy for a board member to understand the value of knowing employees location, but communicating value to the employee requires bridging the context gap between executives and the front line. For example, an executive at a facilities management company may understand the value of tracking janitorial workers for protection against slip and fall. But how well is that same risk understood by the janitor who is using the app?

When communicating value to the janitor, the company must not only make sure that the magnitude of the slip and fall risk is understood, but also, focus on features that make the janitor's job easier - like the removal of cumbersome forms and check-in procedures.

Ask for permission

The best thing about mobile apps is, installation can be a form of requesting permission. Good location-aware apps communicate the value proposition to the employee during the install process and get express permission from users to know their location.

If the app is not optional, make sure you have a good process for communicating what it does, what are the benefits and why it is needed. Address concerns about privacy outright and have an open discussion about program goals and what tracking really means.

Engage employees in the process

Acceptance comes from participation. And like any change initiative, the person who best understands the value (and potential objections), is the one you’re asking to use it. Involve employees in the design process and incorporate their feedback. Better, now that you’re using a mobile app, deploy it as a means of gathering feedback from your employees.

Final Thoughts

Employees shouldn’t be worried about location-aware apps, because the apps themselves should be explicitly tailored to their needs, helping them do their jobs more easily, safely and efficiently. And if employers can effectively deliver on those goals, they need not worry about adoption.

Amanda Darcey

I deeply believe that really great experiences come from simple, intuitive products and great teams delivering them. That is why I am so excited to drive the growth of the Lighthouse.io product in US.