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When Bengaluru-based Nikita Mankani was looking for a merchandiser in London, she was at a loss. Until she remembered the member network app, the internal social networking app of her company WeWorks India, a co-working company. “I posted a question on the app and quickly got responses from members in London," says Mankani. Within a day, she had found her merchandiser and is now working with them.

WeWork’s member network app is an internal social network created to connect its 400,000-plus members in over 27 countries. “Work relationships are essential to employee well-being and most of us need wholesome connections that help our personal and professional growth," says Ryan Bennett, co-CEO of WeWork India.

Bennett’s company invested in the networking app so members and employees could curate content, discuss ideas, list opportunities and book conferences while engaging socially with each other.

“While designing the app, our team’s primary motive was to emphasize and encourage collaboration," says Bennett, adding that they realized early on that it had to be a combination of professional features (employees and members can initiate meetings, see events, book conferences or meeting rooms) and social features (connection to a broader community, advice on health and wellness, and even retail).

Today’s young employees are used to a less formal and more engaging work approach, making it important for companies to do away with rigid hierarchical structures and engage them though informal social connections. Called enterprise social networks or internal social media, platforms like WeWork’s member network app, which offer tools for both professional and personal growth, are becoming common in companies to improve employee productivity and engagement.

In 2017, Sumit Puri, chief information officer at Delhi-based hospital chain Max Healthcare, launched Sampark, an internal communication app for Max’s employees. The app is an all-in-one solution for employees to find updated policies, approve internal workflows, train personnel, brainstorm, create hobby or interest groups or communicate with colleagues.

Puri, who worked on a similar social networking app in his previous company General Electric, says in-company social apps work beautifully to forge deeper cooperation between company goals, teams and people.

Quicker access to company benefits

When Puri joined Max Healthcare, only 35% of its 12,000 employees had email addresses through which they could find out what was happening in the company. The app changed it all as everyone could access the information via their smartphone and feel part of the company.

“Through the app our management can share policies, company updates and engage our employees in ideation, feedback and appreciation," says Puri, who has benefitted from it himself. Over a weekend, late in 2018, he had a family emergency and had to travel to Dubai. Instead of trying to get in touch with the HR department, he opened the app and quickly found the latest leave policy.

Saurabh Surve, head of customer service development at DHL Express India, uses his company’s internal social networking app As One for personal growth. That’s how he found his current role within the company. “Earlier, I travelled a lot and it was difficult to access internal job postings through email," he says. Surve, 45, followed As One’s internal job posting section and applied to his current position, and was selected—all while doing what his previous role required him to do, travel extensively.

Colleagues become extended family

As One links DHL Express’s 3,200 employees across 40-plus cities in India with sections like News Feed where employees can post photos, videos and quizzes for internal consumption. The company has kept the user interface like that of a social networking app so that people can easily engage with it. “An internal social app helps in communication, fuelling innovation and creativity through collaboration, and increasing employee engagement as it inspires our employees and gives them access to information and people," says Sunjoy Dhaawan, vice-president (HR) at DHL Express India. In 2018, the app saw 5,000 photo uploads and close to 60,000 engagement impressions on posts.

For Heta Shah, commercial planning and research manager with DHL Express India, the app keeps her up to date with what’s happening at the company across locations. “I feel like I’m part of a bigger family with my colleagues and know that I have a network of people to reach out to if I need help, both in my work or life," she says.

A veteran of DHL (she has worked there for more than 17 years), Shah has is a frequent visitor to the My Connect section that welcomes new joinees. She likes to guide new employees to understand the company’s policies, awards and more, and in the process, make new friends, all on her own initiative.

Combating stress collectively

Dealing with everyday stress is another benefit as Pune-based Urvashi Soni discovered. Twenty-seven-year-old Soni works with JetSynthesys, a digital entertainment and gaming company. In January 2019, her employer gifted her a year’s subscription to ThinkRight.me, an emotional fitness app they developed. The daily messages on the app have helped her be more positive in her interactions with colleagues.

“The app sends inspirational messages, success stories and guides me to manage stress and conflict within the office," says Soni. The app strengthened her relationships with colleagues, she says, and adds: “It’s powerful for the company’s culture, as all of us wake up to a shared goal or affirmation."

JetSynthesys CEO Rajan Navani introduced the app as he felt a need for something that could manage stress. “Over 70% of our employees are using it and we see a positive change in them as we feel they’re getting better at handling conflicts," says Navani.

One app to rule them all

Digital technology company To The New introduced an internal app Newers World more than a year ago to encourage collaboration and communication. “Our millennial employees are mostly on their phones or laptops, so an internal social platform was an obvious choice for us," says Satya Sheel Sharma, co-founder, To The New.

Instead of sending formal emails, the social app is used for seamless communication. Sharma says internal social apps not only bind people in the company culture, but also break monotony and create a sense of working towards a common goal.

Mankani also uses the WeWork member network app for social interactions. “The other day, I was craving chocolate and asked if anyone in the office had some," she laughs. Within minutes, she had a couple of offers.

Nikita Mankani uses the WeWork member network app to find suppliers as well as a quick fix of chocolate. Ramegowda Bopaiah/Mint
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Nikita Mankani uses the WeWork member network app to find suppliers as well as a quick fix of chocolate. Ramegowda Bopaiah/Mint
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