How a communication app increased workplace interactions by 59%

Intervention Employment and Work Performance

Abstract

Work can be lonely. This is especially true when we work remotely or in massive organizations, where it’s harder to meet people in a close setting. Now, the pandemic has accelerated an already existing trend towards more remote work. Organizations need ways to allow remote workspaces to facilitate the teamwork, casual communication, and positive work culture that in-person spaces offer. 

Bonfyre is an app used to tackle this issue. It combines features of social media with traditional business communication software, bringing individuals across different teams, departments, and work locations together.  In 2016, the massive pharmaceutical company Express Scripts tested this software out across their various workplaces. The program was massively popular, resulting in a total of 44,000 page visits, with 99.5% of the employees using it, and 59.5% actively posting in it. 

Rating: 3/5 (Unclear impact on employee wellbeing, unclear if sustainable participation rate, easy to implement)

How an online socialization app spurred employee interaction
Condition Results
Control Pre-intervention measurements were not provided
Implementation of Bonfyre 59.5% of employees participated multiple times

Key Concepts

Social Norms: The unwritten rules of a group’s social interactions. Social norms dictate what type of behavior is acceptable or promoted within a community. 

The Problem

Where’s the community in WFH?

Over the past year, the trend towards remote work has accelerated. For many, this shift has been both a blessing and a curse. Gone are the long commutes and uncomfortable suits, but also gone are the pleasant water-cooler conversations with coworkers. Especially at large organizations, the pandemic has robbed many of the community that a workplace is supposed to provide. 

Consequences of isolation

This lack of community can be highly detrimental to an organization’s well-being. A lack of trust, camaraderie, and community can lower worker enthusiasm, decrease productivity, and make teamwork difficult. Furthermore, our emotions play a key role in our decision-making. Fostering a supportive environment that promotes positive affect is key in developing an effective organization.

Express Scripts, a massive pharmacy benefit management organization, was struggling with workplace alienation back in 2016. Due to its sheer size, its 25,600 workers were spread across various departments, office spaces, and remote locations in the United States. They felt that they needed to build a centralized platform where employees could network and share personal or  important information.

Design

Bonfyre: Online water cooler chat

Express Scripts decided to partner with Bonfyre, an online platform designed to build welcoming digital communities within organizations. Delivered through an app, Bonfyre is designed to support workplace culture initiatives by allowing the sharing of personal and professional information. Think of Bonfyre as a social media site where you can comfortably share your work projects and your dog’s birthday with your coworkers. Working together, the two companies organized digital community spaces for Express Scripts’ six Employee Resource Groups. 

Prioritizing socialization

Why does using Bonfyre work? Well, it is largely due to the behavioral science underneath its hood. As humans, our behavior is largely a function of the various systems and social norms that we live under. Therefore, by normalizing and encouraging socialization within the firm’s communication software,  Bonfyre extends this preferred behavior unto the firm itself. 

Results and Application

60% of employees repeatedly engaged with each other

After the intervention, data from Bonfyre revealed an incredibly positive and productive result. Express Script employees used the online community more than 44,000 times. A whopping 99.5% of employees showed up at least once to interact with their coworkers. This resulted in more than 3500 shared chats, pictures, and videos to associates within the organization. Even the less vocal employees showed their support for the initiative, liking posts over 4500 times. All in all, almost 60% of the employees who joined the Bonfyre community engaged with the program by liking, sharing, or chatting with each other. 

Does social media improve wellbeing and productivity?

However, we need to exercise caution here:  it is unclear how social media engagement correlates with genuine workplace camaraderie. So, while it is clear that Express Scripts employees liked using Bonfyre, it has yet to be shown that it led to increased productivity or an improved work culture. 

Industry

Application

Development & Social Protection Organizations like charities or cultural communities could use similar apps to connect like-minded individuals for support, company, and COVID-safe interactions.
Health & Wellbeing Mental health organizations could set up similar communication tools to encourage interaction amongst isolated youth.
Education BonFyre, or a script like it, could also be used to increase interaction among students in e-learning environments.

Ethics

  • The intervention increased the number of ways a diverse set of employees could choose to socialize.
  • It is unclear whether increased engagement leads to employee productivity or wellbeing.
  • Data and meta-data went directly to the employer. While there is no evidence Express Scripts misused this, it is nonetheless a privacy concern.
Yes Room for improvement Insufficient information/Not applicable
Welfare
Does the intervention demonstrably improve the lives of those affected by it? While platform engagement increased substantially, it is unclear how this correlates with company growth or employee wellbeing.
Does the intervention respect the privacy (including the privacy of identity) of those it affects? Most of the data Bonfyre collects goes directly to employers. While there is no reason to think Express Scripts used this data to infringe on employee privacy, it is a potential risk.
Does the intervention have a plan to monitor the safety, effectiveness, and validity of the intervention? It is unclear how the metrics used show that the intervention was effective. It is also unclear whether safety and validity were measured.
Autonomy
Does the intervention abide by a reasonable degree of consent? It is unknown whether employees consented to the introduction of the Bonfyre script.
Does the intervention respect the ability of those it affects to make their own decisions? Employees could choose whether and how to interact with others in the Bonfyre platform.
Does the intervention increase the number of choices available to those it affects? The intervention increases the number of ways employees can choose to engage with each other.
Equity
Does the intervention acknowledge the perspectives, interests, and preferences of everyone it affects, including traditionally marginalized groups? One of the main goals of the intervention was to allow diverse groups of people to interact in the ways they saw fit.
Are the participants diverse? The intervention covered all of Express Script’s employees, in various workplaces and regions in the United States.
Does the intervention help ensure a just, equitable distribution of welfare? It is unknown whether increased engagement leads to more equitable community building. 

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Sources

McDonald, C. (2021). Express Scripts Builds Connections Among Employee Resource Groups with Bonfyre. Retrieved from: https://bonfyreapp.com/blog/employee-resource-group-bonfyres-help-employees-feel-included-connected