How do we communicate with and engage our employees who don’t have access to the intranet, don’t use emails and can’t be quickly and easily reached with technology?

This isn’t a new challenge but it’s risen to the top of some people’s agenda during the Covid pandemic. Often these employees can’t work from home so have had to continue working throughout the crisis and the face-to-face manager briefings we’ve previously relied on have been severely curtailed. An increase in work pressure and a reduction in communication has seen engagement in these teams drop in many companies.

So what do you do if you have a large group of employees who don’t have access to online resources? The drivers, the shop floor workers, the warehouse or factory workers…they’re all critical to business success, they want information and we want to keep them engaged. Here are some questions to consider when building your plan to engage these teams:

What’s important to your hard-to-reach employees?

Listening before you communicate is what we advise our businesses to do, so we should take our own advice. We should ask these employees what’s important to them, especially now when they may still be concerned about spending time together but want to stay informed. They can give you the best insight into what communication they want, how they want to receive it, what they will look at / listen to / read and when is a good time to give it to them. Do a quick survey and have focus groups and you’ll get incredible insight into what it will take to inform and engage this group of employees.

What are the work patterns of your hard-to-reach teams?

When do they get time to receive information or be part of a discussion? Where do they get time? Once you know the answers, you can adapt your content and channel to fit what works for them.

  • If they’re driving – can you record messages / ‘radio shows’ that they can listen to while they are on the move? We‘re always putting together podcasts for online, so let’s adapt the format for those on the move.
  • If they walk past notice boards every day – can you put together engaging, impactful, clear information that catches their eye and they can read quickly? Bite size message – we are used to this in digital content.
  • If they have a break room for coffee or lunch – provide interesting and engaging newspapers or magazines they can read. They can pick up business and local news as well as see pictures of people they know and do a crossword or enter a prize draw.

Are your line managers communicating well?

If you can’t rely on digital channels to reach your employees, then it’s even more important that they’re getting information from their managers. You can help by making sure your line managers have the tools and information they need to cascade – this could be templates to use, content provided every day / week / month to include in shift change briefings or stand-alone team briefings – and also by giving them training on how to be a good communicator.

Can you use digital and external channels?

Even though this group doesn’t use digital to do their job, you may be able to get them to use their personal devices or provide devices in canteens etc. to get them online. They’re more likely to use an app or access digital channels in their spare time if there’s something in it for them. Can they use the app to check their work hours? Is it where they can book their holiday? Can they use it to access their benefits?  Explore how you can adapt your digital channels to their needs.

You should also be maximising your external channels. Think about how you can build employee stories into your external comms to tell the story, especially on channels that are also targeted at potential employees so will align to your values and culture. Work with your external communications team to ensure content and messages are aligned internally and there isn’t a credibility gap between what employees see and hear at work compared to what they may see and hear on external channels. But remember that any external communication will be seen (and is often aimed at) other audiences too.

Which channels are most effective?

Lastly, don’t forget to measure what you do. That will tell you which channel is working and how much your hard-to-reach employees are actually getting to know. And, like with all employee communication and engagement, one channel in isolation won’t work. You’ll need to have a combination of ways employees can receive information and are engaged.

Helen Humphreys is an experienced strategic communication director with expertise in culture and behaviour change. Having advised large, global organisations on employee communication and engagement, Helen provides support and advice to Kademy members to help them successfully navigate times of significant change.

Kademy members get access to our team of certified, expert coaches, who all have extensive practical experience as senior-level communication professionals. Get in touch to find out more.