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German company funded to become the WhatsApp for employee messaging

(TECH NEWS) Chat apps have been a staple for online communication, and a new one from Germany is hoping to take the top spot from WhatsApp.

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chat app Flip

It’s insane how many chat programs there are out there.

There’s iMessage/texting, Slack, Facebook Messenger, Instagram Direct Messaging, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and so much more. But one thing I think is pretty comical is chat trends within businesses and how this kind of software has affected the market.

To give some background, about 2 decades ago, chat was incredibly popular. You probably remember AIM (AOL Instant Messenger). This was the first online chat tool I used to stay in touch with friends, family, and colleagues.

In the late 90s all the way through the 2000s, chat was the thing – all the cool kids did it. Of course, most programs were pretty primitive in the early years, only offering group chat and direct messaging.

Despite their popularity, though, chat systems had a brief moment where they faded into the background, which lead to an eventual closure of otherwise popular chat software. Most recently, AIM, which had been holding on by a thread for years, closed after 20 years.

Now, it makes perfect sense why AIM closed. They weren’t able to compete with other devices that had similar built-in programs, like Apple’s iMessage. Eventually, desktop chat’s popularity became a thing of the past. But now we’re seeing a mass resurgence of chat features as businesses and marketers-alike realize the immense power chat software has in a variety of applications.

For example, in the newest wave of online retail selling (eCommerce), which has quickly become a flooded market, companies are looking to differentiate themselves by not only providing your average support (email and phone) but also by including customer-facing chat software, like Zendesk Chat (previously Zopim) and LiveChat, for their customers.

eCommerce is growing in popularity pretty quickly, and given recent trends where businesses are focused on immediate assistance, it only makes sense why they’d consider utilizing chat to assist their customers, and in turn, earn more sales.

But, although this background gives you some color to the history of chat and messaging software, that’s not exactly what this story is about.

In recent years, especially during the explosion of startups, it has become incredibly clear that companies can easily become tangled in their own company structure.

Sometimes companies hire off shore, sometimes they hire remote workers, and sometimes they simply have departments that are so separated, they never communicate with each other. For example, when I worked at Apple in Austin, Texas (2013-2014), in a large building with 4 floors and thousands of employees spread out all over, it was critical that I kept in touch with my immediate co-workers and other departments.

Apple’s solution (an elegant one at the time) was to suggest we use their native messaging software, iMessage, but even then, I noticed some serious drawbacks. Aside from the many missing valuable features, such as the ability to connect productivity applications (or any applications for that matter) and create more robust, specific group chats, the tool just didn’t feel like something we should be using in a corporate setting, let alone a startup.

And that’s around the time I started to notice new chat software, like Slack, enter the world – software that would improve communication between departments and co-workers, as well as offer the ability to connect important tools via API and, eventually through “app marketplaces”. The shift to app marketplaces was a great one, too, because before it existed (created in 2015), you had to be a developer to make apps work with the tool.

Because of all of this functionality, and the extreme need to stay in touch with all sorts of people that relate to your company or job, Slack has quickly become the chat provider. So much so that it’s now basically a household name and is being expanded to support like-minded communities, like what’s shown on the Medium.com site. In fact, I can confidently say that chat has come full circle in its popularity, for all sorts of applications.

But with Slack growing at an exponential speed (it’s in Silicon Valley’s hall of fame as the fastest growing business app), I’ve often wondered if there are any tools out there that could compare. So far, I’ve not found one, but a recent announcement by Tech Crunch proves that there are other companies out there who are trying to enter the company communication market. One such company, Flip, who is run by CEO Benedikt Ilg, is a Germany-based employee communication application that may fit the bill.

The company was founded in 2018 and received a whopping $4M in funding. They aim to connect employees and teams through their robust application, which offers features such as a personalized business-related news feeds, employee-specific profiles, cross-platform support, personalized branding, and of course, chatting via their messenger tool. They also brag about their security features, an ever-growing concern amongst most business owners.

According to their website, the company employs 19 people and a pretty adorable dog named Hazel (Chief Happiness Officer). It doesn’t look like the app is readily available to the public yet, but I can only hope it will be soon, as they start to use their funding, which was meant to hire more employees and to expand in general.

According to Tech Crunch, “The startup has now secured customers including Porsche, Bauhaus, Edeka, Junge IG Metall and Wüstenrot & Württembergische. Parts of Sparkasse and Volksbank are also among the customer base. Deutsche Telekom is also a partner.”

Needless to say, once this application becomes available, I’ll definitely test it out to compare to my current toolset, which mostly consists of Slack and associated apps/connections.

With any company, communication between departments is crucial to keep all aspects of it working like a well-oiled machine.

Rachael Olan is a Texas-based Staff Writer at The American Genius and jack-of-many-trades. She's well known for her abilities in Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service, with a focus on SaaS and eCommerce businesses. Outside of writing, Rachael spends much of her time with her swarm of pets, including a 70 lb tortoise named Frankie.

Tech News

Google is giving back some privacy control? (You read that right)

(TECH NEWS) In a bizarre twist, Google is giving you the option to opt out of data collection – for real this time.

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Open laptop on desk, open to map privacy options

It’s strange to hear “Google” and “privacy” in the same sentence without “concerns” following along, yet here we are. In a twist that’s definitely not related to various controversies involving the tech company, Google is giving back some control over data sharing—even if it isn’t much.

Starting soon, you will be able to opt out of Google’s data-reliant “smart” features (Smart Compose and Smart Reply) across the G-Suite of pertinent products: Gmail, Chat, and Meet. Opting out would, in this case, prevent Google from using your data to formulate responses based on your previous activity; it would also turn off the “smart” features.

One might observe that users have had the option to turn off “smart” features before, but doing so didn’t disable Google’s data collection—just the features themselves. For Google to include the option to opt out of data collection completely is relatively unprecedented—and perhaps exactly what people have been clamoring for on the heels of recent lawsuits against the tech giant.

In addition to being able to close off “smart” features, Google will also allow you to opt out of data collection for things like the Google Assistant, Google Maps, and other Google-related services that lean into your Gmail Inbox, Meet, and Chat activity. Since Google knowing what your favorite restaurant is or when to recommend tickets to you can be unnerving, this is a welcome change of pace.

Keep in mind that opting out of data collection for “smart” features will automatically disable other “smart” options from Google, including those Assistant reminders and customized Maps. At the time of this writing, Google has made it clear that you can’t opt out of one and keep the other—while you can go back and toggle on data collection again, you won’t be able to use these features without Google analyzing your Meet, Chat, and Gmail contents and behavior.

It will be interesting to see what the short-term ramifications of this decision are. If Google stops collecting data for a small period of time at your request and then you turn back on the “smart” features that use said data, will the predictive text and suggestions suffer? Only time will tell. For now, keep an eye out for this updated privacy option—it should be rolling out in the next few weeks.

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Tech News

Looking to refresh your virtual rooms? Check out Zoom’s Immersive View

(TECH NEWS) Zoom’s new Immersive View feature will help you feel like you’re back in the workplace or classroom again – or wherever you want to be.

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Zoom's new Immersive View allows users to be creative and place participants on landscapes, like this field of flowers.

If you’re tired of feeling separated from your coworkers, friends, or classmates, Zoom has a new feature that will make you feel like you’re all in the same place once again. At Zoomtopia, Zoom’s annual user conference, the company announced its Immersive View feature that they say will allow for a “more engaging and collaborative way to meet”.

With Immersive View, video participants can all be arranged in a single virtual space. Hosts can choose from one of Zoom’s immersive virtual scenes and embed video participants within that scene.

To make sure your scene is as natural as possible, hosts can move around and resize a participant’s image so they can look like they are sitting on a chair in a classroom or conference room. For added fun, you can even set a custom background. So, if you’d rather be part of the Galactic Senate Chamber, you can create your own scene.

Up to 25 video participants can be in the same virtual space. Any additional people after that will show up as a thumbnail strip on the top of the screen. And, at any time, you can change the view back to Speaker View or Gallery View if you want to.

How to get started with Zoom’s Immersive View
Immersive View is available on Windows and macOS for desktop. By default, all Free and single Pro accounts using Zoom 5.6.3 or higher will have the feature enabled.

To use the feature, first start your Zoom meeting or webinar on your desktop. In the top-right corner, click “View” and select “Immersive View”.

To place participants into the scene, choose between automatically and manually. By choosing automatic, as many participants as the layout will allow will be added to the scene. If you choose manual, you can add and remove participants as you’d like. Since Immersive View will use the first 25 participants, manual works well for larger meetings. If participant No. 26 needs to speak up, you can remove someone and add No. 26 in.

After you’ve made your choice, select one of the provided virtual backgrounds or upload your own image. If you choose to use your own custom background, make sure to follow Zoom’s virtual background specs for the best results.

Finally, click “Start” to launch your scene, and, now, you’re all set!

Those that aren’t using Zoom 5.6.3 or higher will not be able to see the Immersive View. Instead, they will see either the Gallery View or Speaker View with a black background.

Currently, Immersive View isn’t available in breakout rooms yet. Also, recordings of Immersive Views aren’t supported. Depending on your recording settings, recordings will appear in Gallery View or Speaker View.

Considering all the video call fatigue going on right about now, the timing of Zoom’s Immersive View feature couldn’t come at a better time. It will be refreshing to see a video call without just heads inside boxes.

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Tech News

Create a pandemic-friendly sign-in with this touchless technology

(TECH NEWS) In an era where touchless communication is paramount, Wellcome brings touchless employee and visitor sign-in technology to the workplace.

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Logo page for Wellcome, a touchless technology sign-in.

Touchless technology is becoming more and more common these days and for good reasons — health and safety. Due to the COVID pandemic, social distancing is crucial in helping decrease the amount of positive coronavirus cases.

Unfortunately, some work environments require in-person employees, contractors, and visitors. And now, some businesses are even starting to bring more of their workforce back into the office. While we can hopefully assume they all have some safety protocols in place, the front desk interactions haven’t changed much. This makes it difficult to manage and see who’s in and out.

But to fill in that gap, meet Wellcome. Wellcome is a touchless sign-in platform for employees and visitors. According to their website, the app “helps you manage the workplace effectively, making it safe and easy for everyone” who’s in the office.

And the platform does this by implementing the following features in its tool.

Employee Touchless Check-in
By uploading a list of employees to the Admin, employees automatically receive an email with a one-click “Wellcome Pass”. This pass can be added to their Apple or Android digital wallet.

Once at work, employees scan their pass on an iPad at the reception desk. Then, they will see a customizable confirmation screen with the company’s health and safety guidelines messaging. This reminder can help ensure everyone is following the rules and staying safe.

Visitor Touchless Check-in
For visitors without a Wellcome Pass, they can still scan the QR code on the iPad using their device. The QR code will direct them to a customized check-in form where they can select their host and fill out a health questionnaire on their mobile device.

COVID-Safe Visitor Screening
Based on how a visitor answers the health screening questionnaire, it will grant or deny them access to the office. This health COVID screening will help HR managers “protect the office by restricting access to visitors that might be infected.”

Host Notifications
Via email, Slack, and/or SMS, Wellcome will immediately notify the host when they have a visitor and send them the visitor’s contact details. It will also let them know if their visitor was granted or denied access based on the health screening. If a visitor is denied access, the host is instructed to not meet the visitor, but contact them another way.

Contact Tracing
If there is a potential or confirmed COVID-19 case at work, Wellcome makes it easy to identify and notify anyone who may be at risk. To do this, the HR manager just needs to search by a person’s name and date range in the Admin. Search results will pull up anyone that could have come in contact with the infected person.

The Admin will also notify all employees and visitors that need to self-isolate and get tested. If needed, Wellcome also lets you download and submit a tracing report.

Manage Office Capacity
Wellcome tracks workplace capacity and occupancy data to help maintain social distancing. If occupancy reaches the capacity limit, the Admin will be notified to “take steps to reduce occupancy in order to stay within the required limits.”

In the Admin Dashboard, reports are available to view the status of current capacity. It can also predict what the occupancy will be each day so companies can plan ahead.

Book Workdays
Employees have the option to pre-book when they want to come into the office. The app displays how many slots are available for each day, and it can send out a calendar reminder. Through the Admin, HR managers can see who will be coming into the office. This is Wellcome’s other way of making sure capacity limits are always within range.

Also, setting up Wellcome is pretty simple. All you need is an iPad. You install the app on it and leave it at the reception desk for employees and visitors to check-in.

For companies who have employees and visitors in and out of the office. Wellcome does sound appealing, and it looks like they will benefit a great deal from the platform. And, if you’d like to check it out, Wellcome lets you use the app free for 14 days. Afterwards, you can select a plan that works best for you.

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