In this age of digital media, it feels almost ironic that internal communications teams are faced with the challenge of reaching non-wired employees. Yet according to Google, non-wired or “deskless” employees make up 80% of the global workforce – that’s about 3 billion people! These are the warehouse, factory floor, distribution center, retail, and other workers who are typically not issued a laptop, phone, or corporate email address. They’re on the front lines doing vital work for their company, but difficult to reach with timely company news and information compared to their ‘wired’ counterparts. As a result, this segment of the workforce can often feel overlooked and disengaged.
Recently, one of our clients tapped Blue Beyond for counsel on the best practices for reaching “non-wired” employees. These are our key findings based on conversations with HR leaders, managers, and field representatives inside their company – as well as highly-respected communication professionals in other large manufacturing or retail companies.
Distinguish the “nice to know” information from the vital, and focus your efforts around a few key channels. Find your way into already-established work routines, processes, and forums for conversation. Establish a better process around those existing channels so they truly work for you, and be sure to only share information that’s relevant and of interest to them.
When your goal is to create understanding and buy-in, live face-to-face conversations are the way to go. Creating opportunities for employees to ask – and for managers to address – questions is hugely beneficial. (See our next tip around the role of the manager, as well as tip #7 about the power of peer connection.)
Non-wired employees generally rely on their manager to inform them of what they need to know. Relying on managers as the primary communication channel typically means a focus on face-to-face venues such as daily huddles, staff meetings, MBWA (Management By Walking Around) or Gemba Walks, all-hands/town hall meetings, etc. Of course this means managers themselves need to be informed and engaged, just as they need to inform and engage their teams. Engaging and equipping managers requires distinct strategies, resources, and guidance for leading conversations with employees. Keep in mind that there’s a dramatic difference between cascading information versus delivering tailored information through meaningful conversation. The latter is the goal and often requires coaching and training, particularly for front-line supervisors.
Large, digital screens to broadcast company news and information have become a staple communications channel in many workplaces. However, our research found that high-tech channels can be costly, labor-intensive, and time-consuming to keep populated with fresh, relevant content. Plus, after the novelty wears off, it’s apt to become as unnoticeable as wallpaper. While these are a viable option, be sure to weigh the pros and cons to determine whether they will deliver sufficient value for you.
“74% of deskless employees say consistent messaging from senior management is important to them…but 84% agree they don’t get enough information from top management.”
— Source: Tribe, Inc.
Many of your non-wired employees are actually connected outside of work. Your company’s presence on social networking sites – such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – can be an effective way to weave your messages into their world outside of work by using company-specific hashtags. Just be sure they are not hearing about important company news from an outside channel that they should hear internally from their manager first. Additionally, mobile devices can be a means of reaching employees who don’t sit at desks. Our research tells us that text alerts should be reserved for critical (aka safety) information, and use of company “apps” during off hours must be optional.
Publishing lots of great content on your intranet? Forward it to site managers or “ambassadors” to print and distribute to non-wired employees. While posting on bulletin boards is a common habit, our research tells us that handing information directly to employees boosts visibility and readership tremendously. At-home mailings for need-to-know information can also be worth the cost of postage. There are lots of out-of-the-box ways to approach print communications. For instance, one of our clients posts flyers inside their restroom stalls and finds it very effective! Another global company uses ‘learning cards’ to help employees learn to help themselves. Placed at site kiosk stations, these are highly visual – making the learning process less cumbersome, intimidating, and reliant on computer access.
As communication aims to inform and influence, keep in mind that employees themselves are well-positioned to do both. This tends to happen organically, but it’s also smart to be intentional about this everyday natural occurrence. Consider developing an “employee ambassador network” in which these key influencers receive guidance, resources, recognition, and even rewards (financial, visibility among leadership, career development opportunities, etc.) for ensuring company messages are being disseminated appropriately and positively.As internal communicators, we’d be remiss if we did not keep a constant watch on cutting-edge, high-tech ways of reaching and engaging our employees. But “knowing your audience” is also a core communications rule. With a large population of employees working outside the wired office environment, a combination of tried and true traditional methods, innovative communications channels, and a thoughtful and intentional approach will enable you to successfully inform and engage workers everywhere.