A year to launch a digital workplace app? Try two months


After generating goodwill with employees for its communications around COVID-19, a large US rail transportation firm wanted to continue that momentum with its digital transformation and create a true employee engagement platform for its 20,000-person professional and unionized workforce (80 percent of whom are spread across 22 states). The company did not have a viable intranet or mobile app, meaning the primary communications method was email.

The Challenge

The company wanted to launch a new employee engagement app with full-functionality and company-specific content within an eight-week timeframe – unheard of during most circumstances and monumental during a pandemic (no previous technology deployment had ever happened so quickly at the firm before). This meant bringing the right groups to the table, determining their requirements, and fast-tracking with procurement to secure an appropriate vendor and creating go-live content, among other elements. 


The company brought together the right working team from the very beginning, including people across IT, HR, Communications, Employee Experience, Employee Relations, an Agile program manager, and Gagen MacDonald, it’s employee engagement strategic partner, among others. All participants understood the need to meet the compressed timeline and agreed to help break down prospective barriers to ensure on-time completion. One key advantage was that all the Digital Workplace Steering Committee executives reported to the company’s head of transformation – meaning collaboration was already built into the system. However, with proper governance, you can bring this same team together with positive results regardless of your reporting structure.   

Gagen MacDonald helped the steering committee and core project team develop an interactive approach that would move the company beyond email to a mobile communication app to serve as a real-time source of company information and enable two-way communications. Since the timeline was so tight, the project team researched and developed personas to describe how various employee groups would use the app. Gagen MacDonald designed these personas to create a digital employee experience to shape UX, channel and content strategies.

The app was launched through the newsletter, emails, team meetings and the app itself — encouraging adoption of features and recruiting colleagues to join.


  • In the month following the launch, more than 3,500 employees downloaded the app and a few months later they reached their target for the year of 6,700. With these levels of adoption there began a demonstrated mindset shift from one-way to two-way communication, with an average weighted engagement rate of 22 percent across all posts in 10 channels. There was significant concern that hourly employees would push back and not use the app during or after work hours (the app was not going to be mandatory). Instead, the appeal of connecting and having real-time access to news compelled a large portion of the employee population to use the app. 
  • The app was a visible, observable “proof point” in transforming not only how the company operates, but also how it communicates.
  • Leaders are now on the app with videos, posts and comments.
  • In addition to using metrics built into the app, the team developed a post-launch adoption strategy to pinpoint key areas of resistance and optimized adoption campaign elements and communication to drive reach and sustain engagement. 


Things others can learn from to achieve similar results:

  • Executive sponsorship is vital.
  • A clear set of requirements for a minimally viable product (MVP) helps accelerate the project.
  • Bring the right team together from the start – with a collaborative mindset to get to completion and a clear definition of what the ideal end-state is.
  • Have established relationships with groups like procurement to prevent bureaucratic bottlenecks.
  • Recognize that when you establish a Digital Workplace Steering Committee, they can oversee many projects over time. Use this team to go beyond the launch of the app to create a comprehensive Digital Workplace. 
  • Each application is part of a broader architecture fueling the employee experience. You need to think broadly and then tighten the scope to complete the first project successfully. As you think broadly, acknowledge investments that have been made and how this project fits into that ecosystem.