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6 Things to Look For When Buying a Workplace or Step Challenge - the Ultimate Guide

6 things to look for when buying a workplace or step challenge - the Ultimate Guide

So – you’ve been tasked with creating an event to improve staff culture/ connect and engage staff/ boost staff’s physical, social or mental wellbeing (delete as appropriate). Maybe your staff survey came back showing gaps.  Either way, someone mentioned ‘step challenge’ or movement app and you’ve been tasked with looking at the market.  

The problem is, there are so many products out there – ranging from “step counter apps” to workplace challenges and more wider, all-year round workplace wellbeing products.  

So, where do you start?

We’ve laid out some of the key questions you should be thinking about/ looking at when sourcing a provider for a workplace challenge, based on our years in the market speaking to HR professionals...ranging from 20-strong offices to 240,000 employee global organisations.

1. Steps?  

There are so many types of workplace challenge app (ranging from (in our view) quite gimmicky quiz apps to full on, all-year round movement challenges).  The most common is a ‘step challenge’ app (or step counter app, if you’re in the US), so that’s what we’ve focused this article on.

The big thing about step challenges is....well...they’re based on steps.  

As a fact, we can guarantee that the mention of ‘step challenge’ to your organisation will automatically exclude a significant portion of your employees straight off the bat.  These include people with disabilities, cyclists, swimmers, gym-bunnies or generally anyone who is immediately turned off or bored by this phrase.

So, how do you deal with this?

Well, most of these apps allow users to manually input activities like cycling and swimming (which then ‘convert’ to steps), but beware – whilst manual input is important (i.e to allow everyone to engage, not only those with wearables), over 73% of the employees we’ve worked with are ‘put off’ by having to input manually.  

This will therefore hurt your engagement (more on that below) and put off the people that are most into their movement and fitness.

Ideally, you want to see a range of wearables integrated (as a minimum the big boys such as Apple, Garmin and Fitbit – with others being a plus).  

An in-app GPS tracker is an absolute must-have, and of course the option of manually entering is important to capture all the stragglers who either don’t have wearables (or who go for a swim without their waterproof phone!).

2. ROI/ Engagement

The bottom line here is that you’re investing in something that will engage your employees, give them a great experience and – ultimately – make you look good to colleagues/ your Board. It’s therefore critical that your investment delivers genuine value and return on investment.  

You’ll soon hear about it if it doesn’t.

There are so many products on the market, and often it’s tempting to go for the cheapest out there. The problem is, all of them will claim to deliver high engagement.  Beware this claim (or, at least, interrogate it).  

How do they measure engagement – is it simply the number of people who ‘sign up’ to the challenge?  What’s the app’s ‘drop off rate’ (i.e. how many people sign up and never use the app again?).  Quite often, this question will cause blank faces to stare back at you (red flag).

Finally, on cost, if you expect to deliver a positive experience to employees over, say, a 4 week period for the price of less than a cup of coffee, then you should probably question the quality of that product.

Similarly though, you don’t to be paying through the roof.  Most apps offer volume discounts, and ask for capped fees as well for budget certainty.

3. No Cheaters!

Speaking of engagement, once employees have signed up to your workplace challenge, the second most-common reason people disengage (behind poor user experience) is because of cheating.

There is nothing more off-putting or de-motivating to your employees than the thought of their hard-earned efforts being diminished by someone cheating and rising ahead of them in the app.

However, you might be amazed/ surprised that over 95% of the products that we’ve seen on the market do not have any mechanism for preventing cheating on their apps.  

Ask about or look for this in any sales materials.  What algorithms or measures are in place to detect cheating?  How is it dealt with?  You’d be surprised at how few products deal with this.

4. User experience

This is, in our view, the absolute 100% most important consideration when thinking about running any workplace fitness or step challenge.  Ultimately, if the app is a bit naff, unreliable, not slick or glitchy, your employees will swim away faster than you can say “engagement”.

A good place to start, therefore, is the app store reviews.  And on this front...beware bought reviews.  Look at the overall app star rating, but then dive into the written reviews to get a sense of what people are actually saying.  If an app has only 5 star reviews, this is a huge red flag (no app will ever only have positive reviews – there are too many people in this world with an axe to grind).  Similarly though, anything under 4 stars is a worry.  

Read what users are saying, and how the developer is responding.  This will give you a good sense of the people behind the app.

Finally, it’s critical to download the app before you buy – and if the app isn’t downloadable until you buy – this is a massive red flag.  Get a demo or trial and play with the app.  Work out if it’s something you would genuinely use and what features it offers.

5. Engage everyone

We’ve talked about engagement in a general sense, but how do you engage the 20 year old triathlete AND the 70 year-old dog-walker in the same event or challenge?  

Ask the provider for case studies of this, and what features they have in their product which will make sure that the keenos will get the same from the event as people who struggle to get motivated (the ‘ordinary joes’ 😊).  

Most often, this is through personalisation – so how does the app personalise comms? Notifications?  Achievements?  Trophies?  Any app worth its salt should have a sophisticated and time-tested mechanism which should include most or ideally all of these things.  Some (not plugging anyone here) now use artificial intelligence to learn about users and deliver high engagement.

Your investment is worth nothing if only the fittest or the fastest get something from your campaign or event.  That’s not really the point, is it?

6. Physical, mental and social

We’ve all heard about the pillars of wellbeing.  Maybe you’re only focusing on the physical, but of course the physical, mental and social now typically go hand in hand.

Does the app focus on the mental and the social side?  How so? How does it connect staff – is there a chat feature?  What types of content can be shared, and how are staff incentivised to engage?

What is done on the mental side – is there a focus on mental wellbeing and is there content for employees to read or watch?

The more it can do in these respects, the better you will look internally, and ultimately the more effective your ROI will be.


There are so many products on the market right now that you’d be forgiven for being overwhelmed with the choice.

Ultimately though, the above is hopefully a reasonable guide for the types of questions to ask or look out for when looking for any corporate wellbeing product, staff engagement app or step challenge app.

We hope you enjoyed reading and, if you’re interested in requesting info or pricing from GoJoe about our challenges – or booking a demo – we’d love to hear from you.