Reaching offline employees in a 3.0 world

Social and multimedia are great . . . but what about all those employees who don’t sit at computers for a living? Cindy Crescenzo explores a menu of options to reach non-wired staff and employees on the go.

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Social media and multi-media have changed the way communicators do our jobs. We’re no longer here to just “publish and push” information out to our audiences. It’s now about creating content that engages and educates our audiences while creating communities and conversations.

These are exciting times for internal communication…but what if you are one of the many communicators out there who works at a company where a big portion of employees are not online to use these new tools?

How do we apply these new best practices to audiences like call center staff, field workers, nurses, truck drivers, retail and warehouse employees?

Here are some useful tips on how to grab the attention of offline staff while getting them the information they need.

Know your audience

This is relevant any time but it’s especially true for non-wired employees. The nature of their jobs demands them to pay attention to the customer (as it should be). That means we can’t waste their time sending them everything we create just because we created it.

Non-wired employees need messaging tailored to them. If it’s not relevant, quick and easy, they’re not going to take the time to read or watch your communications.

Think about what they have to know and why. Make sure they know why they need the information and that your communications answer the “why should I care” question no matter what vehicle you use to deliver the message.

If you want employees to respond or interact, how can your audience realistically do this given the nature of their jobs? It could be as easy as a suggestion box – but you have to make sure the vehicle makes sense and is easily accessible.

So be smart about what you send to these groups and make sure it counts. Once you’ve got that mastered, here are some additional tips to get your messages delivered and received:

Never underestimate the power of print

That’s right. I said it. Print. A dirty P word at most companies, because it (gasp!) costs money (as if online tools don’t). Just because you have a slew of new online tools doesn’t mean print should be obsolete! Done correctly – it works. And the most important thing is knowing how to use print the right way so that your messages get noticed and read.

Don’t have money in your budget? Well, calculate the resources and time you use towards all the online vehicles that aren’t getting used by these audiences. How much money are you wasting there? Get more bang for your buck and use vehicles that work for your audiences. That’s how you justify the extra expense.

This means of course, that you have to measure – something we’ll get into later. But, if you know your audiences aren’t using the online tools because of the nature of their jobs – you’ve got to come up with a different solution to communicate to them.

For example, a major retailer we worked with uses “table talkers” to communicate with their warehouse and retail employees. These clever multi-sided plastic displays sit on top of the tables in the break room.

After talking to offline employees in focus groups, we found out that everyone noticed the table talkers and looked at them; however, the information wasn’t relevant enough and, at times, was outdated.

So we adjusted the vehicles accordingly:

• We established communication contacts in the retail centers and the warehouses. They’ve been instrumental in helping us keep the content up-to-date and relevant. Instead of being updated once per month, they are now updated two times per month so that the information is more current.

• We kept the copy short and sweet. This retailer does a great job at writing and designing in a consumer style – everything is presented via short bits of information so it feels like you are reading pages right out of a magazine. Tidbits include, “5 ways to help the customer,” “Top 10 products we’re featuring this month,” “What you need to know about ‘Dollar Days’ promotions.”

Our focus groups provided the necessary feedback to continually improve the vehicle. For instance, the same information was going to retail employees and warehouse employees. Warehouse staff didn’t care too much about the “Dollar Days” promotions; they just needed to get the goods delivered.

Therefore we now have two versions of the table talkers – one for retail staff and one for warehouse employees; all with targeted messages relevant to each audience.

Each table talker contains a panel for any news pertaining to people’s specific locations (fed by our contacts in each region).

We use the remaining spot on this display for a feature story such as an employee recognition piece or a Q&A with a leader or colleague (both topics had been sorely missing according to our focus groups).

Employee magazines

These print publications aren’t meant to be newsy and timely, but a way to dig deeper and explain strategies in depth. Many organizations are switching to a quarterly or even a twice a year format so they can take their time and create messaging the right way.

It is also an effective way to provide detailed information that your audiences can’t get from table talkers or posters. What’s best is that they can take a magazine with them and read it at their convenience. Again, content is crucial. If you make it interesting and relevant, people will read it.

A pharmaceutical company we work with publishes a year magazine that focuses on the business while tying employees to the goals of the organization. The result? Employees feel they are a part of the business and know how they contribute to the organization’s success.

Audio & video

Just because you have employees that are offline doesn’t mean you can’t use innovative tools to communicate. You just need to plan better. Audio is great because it’s portable. Video is great because it really helps showcase the “people” behind your communications.

But, let’s be honest – it’s very likely employees won’t absorb these channels consistently on their own time.

A government agency we recently worked with was struggling with their call center communications so we came up with a plan for managers to give up three minutes a week during one of their daily huddle meetings.

When appropriate, we used this time to play a podcast or video for the group since the agency leader needed to talk to staff about challenges they were facing and their impact on the community they serve.

We’d then follow up with managers with a quick three-question poll:

1) Did your employees understand the message?

2) Did they like the format?

3) Do they have any questions?

The feedback we received helped us identify what we needed to communicate in the future and how.

Signs of the times

Digital signage is another effective way to reach non-wired audiences with video and audio.

This growing technique has moved way past posting plain, bulleted messages. The best systems (which are not as expensive you might think) offer the flexibility to easily create dynamic communications that use graphics and multi-media tools. Organizations like Lockheed Martin are using digital signage in various locations like break rooms, elevators, hallways and warehouses to reach employees who aren’t in front of a computer all day.

Since digital signage systems are wireless, you can feed content right from your computer—including blogs, videos and articles – content that used to exist only on the intranet.

Face-to-Face

Most employees appreciate face-to-face communications, but this old-school channel speaks volumes to front-line employees. It helps people feel recognized, valued and connected to the organization.

If possible, try to schedule an event on a quarterly basis, or even two times a year. A major consumer electronics company we worked with learned that many of their contact center employees felt as though they couldn’t keep up with new product launches.

Therefore, we came up with a quarterly “Lunch & Learn” series where employees at designated locations were invited to bring their lunch to a specified room and learn about the new products. (Attendance was completely optional).

As a result, employees loved the opportunity to experience the products first-hand, ask questions and connect with their colleagues.

Mobile apps and home access

Already growing in popularity, mobile technology will be the standard for internal communications in the future. Companies like UPS and Walmart have created mobile aps for their intranets made accessible to offline employees and that are smartphone-friendly.

Walmart has created a popular internal social media network, myWalmart, that thousands of employees can access at home or when they’re on the go – all on their own time.

Why would any sane person access a work site from home, you might ask?

Two words: Superior content. If you’re just rehashing boring press releases and stale executive PowerPoints, don’t even bother making the intranet available away from the office.

However, if you’re creating relevant content that employees care about – and allowing them to contribute their own content, which is what Walmart does, — employees will spend some extra time on the site.

Just listen

Ready to implement some of these new and exciting channels to reach your non-wired employees? Before you do, make sure you listen to them.

As I demonstrated, conducting focus groups is a great way to understand people’s needs and wants. So are surveys.

Once the feedback comes in, cut out what’s not working for employees and spend more time creating content and tools that are relevant and accessible.

Be sure to measure along the way so you can continue to deliver what your offline employees need. It may take more time and effort to communicate to these audiences, but once you’ve mastered the process, you’ll have a much better chance of engaging, informing and motivating them.