Have trouble connecting with your mobile workers? You might have a thing or two you can learn from the original remote workforce.
When you think of getting internal communication to remote workers, what sort of workers do you think of? We’re willing to bet you think about telecommuters; full-time, white-collar workers, who work some or all of the time from home, usually on a computer.
If that’s who you pictured, it makes sense. Remote work is on the upswing. According to Globalworkplaceanalytics.com, the number of employees who work remotely has grown by 115 percent since 2005, nearly 10 times the rate of the rest of the workforce.
Those workers represent a communication challenge for companies. As with any employees, they need to be updated on important company information, but because they’re not all physically in one place, a manager can’t just walk over to them and follow up with them.
How can organizations make sure their remote team members are in the loop and aligned with their co-workers? They can learn a lot from industries that have always employed a remote, mobile workforce.
Employees in the service, tourism, food, retail, and transportation industries are members of the original remote, mobile workforce. These workers don’t sit at desks, have constant access to a computer, or work in one location. Their jobs require them to be on a factory floor, in one of several retail locations, or even in the sky.
The active nature of these workers’ jobs doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t need to be getting (and reading) internal communication.
Keeping employees updated at 30,000 feet
Businesses like airlines have always faced a special challenge when it comes to managing remote, mobile workforces: many of their employees are mobile by definition, and often not near a computer and unable to use a smartphone, especially while they’re working. Those employees do, however, need to read and understand critical internal communication to keep themselves and the company’s customers safe and comfortable.
The air industry has been solving the problem of communicating with remote workers in innovative ways for decades. One of the old ways of making sure everyone read a memo was a “read book,” a three-ring binder with memos and announcements in it. Staff had to initial each page to show management that they’d read it. That was back in the 1980s and ‘90s.
Now, however, there are several tools at the disposal of the Internal Communication Manager: SMS, compliance software, and of course, email is used at various airlines to push content out to the workforce and to make every employee in the company feel like part of a cohesive group.
Apps are the latest version of the read book. Many airlines use apps to control the schedules of cabin crews or to report safety issues. While cabin crews are obviously not checking their smartphones while they’re flying, they must check in before their flight so that scheduling knows if they’re flying on a given day (if they don’t check in, the scheduling staff starts to look for them), and then they can read the announcements.
Some of those apps are also used as a virtual bulletin board, a portal where crews can read announcements, notices, memos, and other important internal communications, like videos, images, or even podcasts from management. Like the read book, those apps track and measure who has read what announcements.
Mobile tech for a mobile workforce
Measuring the read rates on internal communications is important in every industry, but particularly crucial for industries that employ a large mobile workforce; employees in the field might not come into an office for months, and may not read emails from the company at all. (Even if they are reading company emails, how would management know?)
That’s why apps and collaborative workspaces have become so important for companies with remote workforces; these platforms can deliver messages to employees where they are: on their phones. And they can show managers and internal communication directors who have read what.
Retailers, for example, have used apps to keep app store employees updated. Gresvik AS, a company which owns and operates a chain of sporting goods retailers in Norway, uses a mobile app to update its retail workforce on weekly campaigns (the app asks employees to confirm when they’ve read and understood a sales campaign). Rather than just updating store managers and hoping the managers will keep all of their employees updated, this app reaches everyone who works for the chain.
The service industry also uses mobile technology to communicate with employees in the field. Nelbud 360 Services Group in the U.S. is a fire prevention company whose employees are always on the road, traveling to clients’ locations to clean and maintain ducts. Because their employees sometimes don’t come into a field office for weeks at a time, the company provides its employees with smartphones pre-loaded with all the apps they need to communicate with the company, including campaign information, internal communications, and human resources.
A virtual breakroom for mobile employees
Sometimes when it comes to internal communications, a virtual message board isn’t enough. Companies with remote workforces also need a virtual breakroom; a platform that allows workers from across a company to communicate with one another in real-time.
Several companies (including airlines) have been using collaborative platforms like Workplace by Facebook to manage their internal communications. Workplace connects staff with senior management and employees in different departments or locations. Everyone gets a voice. And, like the airline read books of the ‘80s, Workplace offers a portfolio of information for every employee to read, and it also shows the manager who’s read what announcement.
There is a drawback, however, Workplace is a network, not a physical book, and because everyone can post in it, it can be noisy and inappropriate for important announcements that everyone must read.
Fortunately, there are tools like chat and chatbots that interface with Workplace. Chat is a natural way to deliver important communications directly to remote employees. Many employees (especially younger workers, who grew up with chat programs) communicate via chat in their daily lives. It makes sense to deliver important work-related information to them that way as well, rather than using email or SMS, or some other interface that takes them out of a collaborative platform like Workplace.
Chat also elevates internal communications over the noise of Workplace because important notices are delivered directly to an inbox, rather than in the platform’s newsfeed.
Think of it like a noisy airplane cabin; there may be a lot of chatter, people might be watching videos, reading books, or talking to their neighbors, but once the captain’s voice comes over the loudspeaker with an important announcement, everyone is forced to pay attention.
Remote workers are untethered by desks and computers, but they shouldn’t be untethered by internal communications. If anything, companies with a large remote workforce must have a better internal comms platform than companies with traditional workforces.
To be successful those companies must reach their workforce where they are, no matter where they are, even if they are in the sky.