H&M employees get chatty with new instant messaging app

Email is out, and corporate instant messaging is in at H&M retail stores, where sales associates can now communicate faster with the back office.

The fashion retail chain recently added a social collaboration tool for its 15,000 U.S. employees. The platform, from workplace collaboration company Convo, allows store sales associates to chat with each other on a mobile app, desktop or web browser.

The move is critical for H&M, says Convo CEO Osman Rashid, because most of the company’s employees don’t even have a corporate email address. Unlike Slack, another popular corporate instant messaging tool, workers don’t need an email address to sign up for Convo, they just need a phone number, he says.

Moreover, email isn’t useful for most retail workers who should spend most of their time interacting with customers.

“We can give employees the same collaboration and tools without requiring email,” he says. “Most of the employees are not sitting behind a computer at work.”

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An employee demonstrates a Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy S7 smartphone at one of the company's promotion booth in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, April 24, 2016. Samsung, the biggest maker of smartphones, is scheduled to report first-quarter results on April 28. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

H&M plans to use instant messaging to connect employees across more than 500 stores. Employees also can use Convo to create polls, share and edit documents and post information about employee benefits, according to a company press release.

"With a geographically dispersed workforce that is 80% mobile, it's crucial for us to connect in one place," says Luca Michelangeli, marketing manager for H&M USA in a statement.

H&M is among the first to use the retail focused software, which became widely available to employers in October. The retailer did not respond to a request for further comment.

Another function that H&M is using is a language filter that prevents employees from using derogatory words when they communicate in the app. Rashid says the company has a database of more than 1,000 words that are banned from use.

“From the company perspective, it’s about promoting good culture,” he says. “Let’s be respectful to each other. There’s a certain way you behave in the corporate world.”

Rashid hopes the function will prevent sexual harassment and other issues from arising between employees. So far Convo has not received employee pushback, although he acknowledges there may be instances where employees might, in jest, use an inappropriate word.

“What may be fun for you, might be abusive to somebody else,” and may violate corporate HR policy, he says. “You want to be careful.”

Convo is free for smaller employers and casual users, but costs about $9 per user, per month. The company also has a custom option that varies in price.

The platform can be integrated with HR systems, like payroll and timekeeping. Convo also has a non-retail focused offering, which the news network CNBC uses to communicate in the office, Rashid says.

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