Building Effective Internal Communication With Speakap’s Erwin van der Vlist

Businesses know that achieving effective internal communication is tough. Apart from 60% of businesses not having strategies at all for spreading critical information to their workforce, those with a strategy struggle with effectiveness.

You’ve probably felt confident that you passed a message to all your employees but found out that more than half of them were unaware of that information. No doubt, effective internal communication is a challenge across organizations, but it’s pervasive among non-desk workers.

With up to 80% of the global workforce being non-desk workers, you want to tidy up any loose ends in this part of your business.

Lots of non-desk or frontline workers, consultants, and freelancers—drivers, factory floor works, cooks, repairpersons, cleaners, field workers, supply chain agents, copywriters, and the like—miss out on internal communications from the companies that hire them.

At times, these people miss out on critical information that might help business growth or be uninformed of important operational changes.

Engaging Non-Desk Workers

Most companies do not create company emails for their non-desk staff or contractors, resulting in this category of workers missing out on important memos. But this group should have firsthand information of operational changes and other internal communications.

Oftentimes, non-desk workers interact directly with your customers, representing the organization—for instance, restaurant waiters are usually the first line of contact with a restaurant.

In this interview, Erwin van der Vlist, Speakap’s Founder and CEO, shares ideas on how you can engage and share important updates with your non-desk workforce in real-time, using advanced technology.

Why Internal Communication Matters for Engaging Non-Desk Workers

The upside of carrying everyone along in your organization is that you can boost your employee engagement by 21%. Improved employee engagement has been known to drive tangible business growth and KPIs. Here are some reasons why you must apply your non-desk workers. 

One Channel Doesn’t Work for Everyone

Emails are immediate, personal, and direct means of communication in the workplace. On average, employees send and receive 122 work emails daily.

In most organizations, non-desk workers have to rely on direct messaging from their managers. As people vary in their level of communication, the message becomes dilute or lost in translation.

You Lose More Money When Your Team Doesn’t Understand Your Plan

A Coca-Cola director, Steve Soltis, once said no business could generate sustainable value and growth without its employees understanding

  • Where it’s headed, and why?
  • What it’s going to take to get there, and
  • Why each employee matter

And his statement is backed by the statistics that large enterprises of over 100,00o employees lose $62.4 million to mismanaged communications yearly. 

Small businesses. Aren’t exempted. Although the size should help them communicate better, they still lose $420,000 per year on average.

Today Suffers When We Focus On Tomorrow’s Disruption

It’s hard not to think of what new disruption will result from technology. For now, it’s how AI and automation impacts work. And the non-desk workers are most at risk of losing their position.

Since automation is yet to spread as far as anticipated, you can’t afford to stop engaging with deskless workers.

Non-Desk Workers Feel Left in the Dark by Their Organizations

Although it’s difficult to connect non-desk workers to explicit corporate messages, they want to be part of the company’s priority.

A recent survey showed that 74% of non-desk workers see messages from top management as important. However, 84% say they don’t get enough information from senior management.

Key Takeaway From The Interview

This interview will enlighten you on effective internal communications practices and how to engage your non-desk employees.

Here are some key points to note:

  • For effective internal communication, you must share detailed information about your product and services with your employees
  • The speed of adoption of internal change is an important criterion in measuring employee engagement
  • Effective information dissemination is important to engage employees productively
  • Employees’ performance review helps you understand your team’s weaknesses and strengths
  • Make your business operation flexible, so that you can consistently iterate and improve on them
  • Use your customers’ feedback to build and update features, not to create what they don’t need
  • To fix your internal communication problems, start with few features to reduce the time you’ll spend on training and instructions.

My Conversation with Erwin van der Vlist

Founder Speakap, Erwin van der Vlist.

1. Please introduce yourself and tell us briefly about your company?

My name is Erwin. I founded the company called Speakap about ten years ago in Amsterdam, where I’m from.

At that time, I was still studying, and I had a part-time job in retail, and I experienced how difficult it is to communicate with people behind the desk. 

So, we used a lot of paper and bulletin boards and phone lists to communicate. 

And I thought, well, if we can make a mobile technology that enables communication, it’s much better; that was the starting point.

Internal communication

So, what Speakap delivers is a communication platform. Employees can install it on their device, which typically is a personal mobile device, or they can use it behind a computer. 

And with that technology, they can communicate with their peers, their manager, and the head office.

2. Let’s talk about Speakap. Why did you choose the name Speakap?

Internal communication

The name Speakap was decided after a rainy Sunday brainstorm. We were looking at domain names, and we didn’t want to have a name with the dash, and Speakap at that time was still available as a domain name. 

So, we decided to make it And of course, the word “speak” was needed to relay back to some piece of communication. 

So, that’s why we started looking at the word “speak.” And Speakap was still available as a domain name, and “speak” was our most important requirement. 

3. So, what’s it been like so far since you started this business?

Internal communication

Well, that’s a very wide question. It’s a lot of ups and downs. Although, we have attracted very good talent. We also have great teams that work for Speakap on different continents. 

For instance, I work in New York, and I have a team here. We have a team in Europe, in Amsterdam, in London and Barcelona, and so on. That’s definitely a thing to be proud of. 

Those employees are great colleagues, but of course, it’s also very important to have great customers.  

So, we have been able to attract more than 500 customers in the world, ranging from IKEA to Nike, to McDonald’s, and many more. 

We help those companies improve their frontline employee communications.

4. What makes Speakap different from competitors who are in this space? What makes Speakap the right option if a customer has an alternative?

Internal communication

Yeah! There are definitely alternatives. It’s a crowded category with a lot of solutions out there. 

But what makes us stand out is that we really focused on connecting with frontline workers who don’t have a company email address and are typically very difficult to reach out to. And typically, those to whom the manager relays the information from the head office.

What makes us stand out is that we’re really focused on connecting with frontline workers that don’t have a company email address and that are typically very difficult to reach out to.

So, we created the product and an approach that is aimed at connecting those frontline workers. In our approach, there are some differences from other competitors.

Number one is, we offer a branded app, so you don’t install the Speakap application on your personal device. You just have to install the Ikea or McDonald’s branded app on your device, which leads to higher adoption.

Internal communication

And next to that, what we do is we connect with an HR system. And if you work in retail or manufacturing, or hospitality, you typically work from a location. 

And as a frontline worker, you work in a department, let’s say, kitchen in a McDonald’s location, or the front desk in a hotel location, or on the manufacturing floor of a manufacturing site. 

Once the information is stored in the HR system, we can connect with any HR system and replicate that hierarchy in our solution. And that’s something also very unique. 

5. Seeing that about 80% of the global workforce are non-desk workers, you made it your goal to help organizations reinvent Communication with these employees. So, is the trend growing? Are we having more non-desk employees now than desk-focused employees? Especially now that everything is ‘work from home.’ Why is there no other way to reach them except through Speakap? And what makes these roles so important in that space?

Yeah! So, number one, the non-desk workforce, we call them frontline workers, is growing. I guess that’s because the population is still growing. I’m not sure if it is a higher percentage, but there are just a lot of non-desk workers.

Imagine that you work at McDonald’s. McDonald’s alone already has 5 million employees. People who work at Amazon as truck drivers or in order picking are also non-desk workers, right? So, it’s a huge type of workforce, and it accounts for 80% of the global workforce.

What makes Speakap unique is because we were born in that setting. We were born in retail. We understand what a non-desk worker needs, and that’s what we tailored our solutions and approach on.

All our clients have a majority of non-desk workers. And that’s also setting us aside from tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, or Facebook Workplace because those are aimed at the workers that are behind a desk.

But those tools are typically not rolled out to people without a company email address, company phone, or company desktop. If they work in the kitchen in a McDonald’s, why would you give that person a Slack account, right?

So, that’s the gap that we’re filling, and that’s the challenge that we solve. Those workers in McDonald’s or Ikea, or any of the other companies that we work for, can get instant information.

They can get push notifications on their own device like “Hey, open enrollment is about to start.” Or, “Oh, this is the new HR handbook for 2021.” Or “this is the latest COVID-19 policy”. Please read it now.

6. A reviewer said that tools like Slack, G-mail, WhatsApp, and Discord all pale in comparison to Speakapp. So I was wondering, can you tell us how your product can cover every aspect that businesses might want to use the product for?

You already started talking about how users don’t need to send special messages for people when there are new policies and things like that. So what other things do you think that your product can cover?

Imagine that you work in retail, right? And you have to sell shoes. Maybe Nike just launched new shoes. Then our product can be used to share a video and some additional information that an employee can use to sell to customers.

So, I can see product information or promotions, like “what are the coming promotions for the next month?”

But also for me as an employee, what is the latest HR handbook or COVID-19 policy? How do I deal with that?

So, the Head Office can instantly inform everybody in the frontline using Speakap. 

But without Speakap, they have to inform the regional manager. The regional manager then informs the store manager. And, the store manager then prints it out and puts it on the bulletin board.

He might decide to discuss it during the daily standup, but half of the employees are not available in the daily stand-up because they are mostly part-time workers.

7. Okay! When I analyze data in Speakap, what should I be looking out for?

I’d say the speed of adoption and engagement by the employees, like: 

  • How fast are they going to activate their account and install the app on the phone? 
  • How active are those people from that moment on?  
  • So, how often do they log in per day? 
  • When they log in, what type of information are they looking for? 
  • Are they reading news messages that are sent out from head office? 
  • Do they like and interact with those messages? 
  • What type of information is being shared in general that can spot certain trends? 
  • How do people feel today? 
  • Are they happy or not happy? 
  • Are they stressed or relaxed? 
  • Are they excited to hit their goals? 

There’s a ton of data in a solution like this that you can use for your own decision-making as a company.  

Other than that, what are the best-performing regions or stores, and what is the least? So that you can help them by providing examples to get better? 

What are the best performing departments, and what are the least like? 

It’s like showing benchmark data to improve yourselves because, in the end, our solution is a channel. If you don’t add any information on that channel, it’s worth noting. 

It’s the same as if you have a company page on Facebook, but you never post, then you better not have a Facebook page for your company, because there’s nothing to find anyway, same here with our solution. 

So, it will work if you use it to distribute important information to the business.

8. I find your language-translation tool quite unique. You support over 100 languages. In terms of accuracy, how effective is it in breaking the communication barrier within a multilingual organization? Are you getting any feedback on the language translation?

Well, it’s never perfect. It’s getting better and better. It’s much better than a year ago, and it’s much better than five years ago. 

We translate into over a hundred languages, and the benefit here is the speed. 

If you’re a global company active in multiple countries, you’ll have to communicate in multiple languages. So, you could post a new COVID policy and ask each of your branches to translate that policy. one in French, one in German, one in Dutch, one in Chinese, whatever it is.

But that’ll take time for people to translate.

Now you have the ability to post it, and people can just tap, and with one click, translate the internal policy into their preferred language. This is great, especially for companies that are widespread over multiple countries, if not continents.

9. Some of the reviews on Capterra commend your product for being effective for employee collaboration. However, few users feel it’s not flexible enough for personalization. One even said you wait until more people request a feature before you make it available.

Is there any way to solve this problem? Is there a way you could create features for groups of companies that are probably more concerned about certain things? Or do you always roll out features to everyone at once?

Ok, that’s a great question. Based on feedback, we have increased and improved the flexibility of our platform, with the ability to turn on and turn off features based on a customer’s preferences. Because indeed, some customers don’t require certain features, and others do. But that’s something that we have launched in the last couple of months.

When we decide on our technical roadmap, we listen carefully to what the general consensus is of our customers, else it will go in any direction. 

And we focus on the non-desk worker industry. So typically, the requests are similar. The more customers would benefit from a certain feature, the higher the priority.

One of our priorities is making Speakap more flexible by allowing people to turn on and turn off features. 

Because we don’t have thousands of developers that can just create thousands of features, right? 

So, we have to make choices, we have to set priorities, but one of those priorities is indeed making the platform more flexible by allowing people to turn on and off features. 

If that’s not enough, there’s even flexibility to be found in our third-party integrations capabilities because we are built on an API, and that API you can use to add additional features exactly however you want it to be.

10. So let me just think that Speakap reporting options are limited. Do you think that the metrics you provide are all that an organization needs? As you said, you have an API. Do you think people can extract more data and analyze it further with some other tools?

We have different versions of reporting; we have basic reporting at no additional cost. And it provides you adoption levels and engagement levels that tell you if people use the app or the desktop? Like overall analytics. 

But we also have more advanced analytics that will come at an extra cost, but that will go very granular. Then you have a lot of options.

If that’s not even enough, you can connect it with your own BI solution by utilizing our API endpoints too. Like retrieving that information over our API. 

So, there are different tiers, maybe this feedback came from somebody that’s in the first, like the basic reporting, but there are more advanced reporting capabilities that are available.

11. How would you advise organizations dealing with internal communication crises to use Speakap?

Okay, I would say start small, don’t use too many features because more features mean more training and more instruction for the employees. 

Tools like WhatsApp are so great in what they do because they solve one specific challenge. 

So, what I often advise is to look at your challenges and take the three most severe challenges and fix those with the solution but don’t do anything more.

Start small, don’t use too many features because more features mean more training and more instruction for the employees. 

Then we go live, and we get to adoption levels. And then phase number two, let’s also tackle the second tier challenges, and then phase number three. 

So, then you build it out over time, and that is very beneficial for you to get it live very fast. You get up and run super fast in a couple of weeks. 

You don’t need to train people too much because it’s very intuitive. It’s easy to the point and later on, you have a highly adopted channel that you can leverage to further build it out. 

Now, if you have that channel, of course, it’s important to regularly post information on it and also get the buy-in from different departments. 

So, then you not only have the communications department posts, but it would also be nice if leadership would post and maybe the operations team and the HR team and the marketing team in there, from their own perspectives.

12. What should users of Speakap expect from you in the next few months?

A couple of new features as always to get new customers to join. 

We’re launching a pretty big feature soon that is called task management. You have our employee communications platform, but now also with the ability to add tasks.

So, you can choose to create tasks for all store managers in this specific region. And then you can get back whenever you like to see if they did their tasks or not.

So, that’s a great addition that we will soon launch.

And we’ll keep listening to our customers and keep working our ass off to make the best possible product.

13.  What was the best thing anyone ever told you about Speakap?

It’s funny. You’ll never forget that.

While I was in the Netherlands a couple of years back, I met a person randomly. I introduced myself and explained what Speakapp does. He also introduced himself and told me “well, we have something like that.”

When I asked where he works, he told me about the company and I said “Well, then you use my product.”

And then he’s like, “Oh, this is great. I love it because of this and that.”

And that authentic type of expression where the end-user of your system really sees value in it and is talking about it very positively. Those are the greatest things ever said to me.

14. Is there something in a Speakap that is very powerful, but you’ve seen that a lot of users are not making the most of it?

Internal communication

 I think it is those third-party integrations. 

There’s a lot of flexibility, a lot of capabilities, but of course, you need to invest a little bit of time in tying that up, connecting those integrations that require some investment. 

Of course, it’s not per se for us. But if you have a developer, they can do it themselves. 

I think that that feature can be so much more powerful than most of our customers are currently using. 

15.  Are you working to educate your customers on some of these things? And maybe show them case studies where people used some of these integrations and how to use them? 

Yeah, absolutely. Our customer success team does that. 

So, we have business reviews. We have a newsletter where we also showcase our technical partnerships and integration capabilities. 

We definitely do have that, but we can, of course, always improve.

About Speakap

Speakap is a platform that enables organizations of all sizes to reach and engage their frontline employees. Erwin and Patrick founded Speakap in 2009 to help businesses strengthen all lines of communication with targeted content shared across groups, locations, and departments.

Their tools allow companies to build a centralized internal communication hub to connect, inform, and engage non-desk workers in real-time.

The platform receives 500, 000 daily users from more than 300 brands in over 120 countries. And with over 100 language translations, Speakap also helps users optimize their internal communications and keep track of success with powerful analytics. 

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Nicholas Godwin

Nicholas Godwin is a technology researcher who tells profitable brand stories that tech buyers and businesses love. He covers technology topics on his website, and has worked on projects for Fortune 500 companies, global tech corporations and top consulting firms, from Bloomberg Beta, Accenture, PwC, and Deloitte to HP, Shell, and AT&T.

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