Reaching non-office colleagues; employee engagement

By Kristina Malther, Managing Director, Open CPT (April 2019).

What motivates office and non-office colleagues?

Why do people go to work? What makes them happy? Why do they stay? These are questions that we ask ourselves as internal communicators.

And we sometimes assume that there is a difference between our office and non-office colleagues.

But, we’re wrong if we think that the pay check is all that matters once you get out of the headquarter. Based on both the latest research and our experience from working with non-office workers across the globe, production workers also care whether they work for a successful company; technicians, who are always on the road, also want to feel part of a team; and the cashier in the supermarket also wants to know about the company values.

But for a lot of large organisations, reaching non-office colleagues – be that in production, frontline or mobile employees – is still a major challenge.

Infrastructure is a challenge

Reaching our colleagues outside of the office is not easy – we are often challenged by lack of infrastructure.

How do we reach the guy in the cold food production line where there are no computers or info screens? Or the nurse on the ward who is busy with patients all day? How do we manage multiple platforms, data costs and security?

Building the right infrastructure is essential and that may very well require a multi-platform approach as well as both digital and human channels.

Engaging employees

How well do you actually know your non-office colleagues?

But we are also challenged by lack of knowledge of the people who are not right next to us. We don’t really know what interests the guy in production or what channels works for him.

We presume, we simplify and we often don’t prioritise getting this insight.

Disengagement is a risk for business

And at the same time we know that we need to do something about this. We know that we are operating in a world where word of mouth, and therefore employee advocacy, is more important than ever.  And we know that crucial and sometimes elusive customer experience is mostly delivered by our non-office colleagues.

So its time to do something about it!

Engaging employees
In the 2019 Gatehouse State of The Sector survey on internal communications, 42% of internal communicators stated hard-to-reach employees as a barrier to success
5 steps on the journey to reach your non-office colleagues:

1. Start with ‘why’ – and be specific

Start by asking yourself: why do we need to reach non-office workers? Because if you don’t ask the question, someone else will – and then we need to have a good answer prepared. In many organisations, reaching non-office colleagues is still perceived as an unnecessary luxury.

Depending on your organisation and the types of non-office workers you need to reach, the ‘why’ could be about engagement and retention, or it could be part of a much bigger journey such as the digitisation of the production.

After a clear ‘why’ has been established, you can start defining your business case and return on investment.

Engaging employees

2. Remember that your non-office colleagues are not the same

They could be production workers, drivers, service technicians, sales, specialists, retail staff, etc. And the word non-office might be about the only thing some of these people have in common.

A production facility culture in China and a production facility culture in South Africa might be very different.

Differentiate and target your approach.

3. Get to know them better

  1. It seems obvious, but yet it is something that internal communicators often forget: go out and talk to people. Ask, listen and see what they do. Keep an open mind, you might be surprised.
  2. Get quantitative insights to match. Make a friend in HR/IT who can help you process available employee data.
  3. Create personas to help you bring the non-office people back into the office.

Engaging employees

4. Tailor your communication

Once you know your non-office colleagues better, you also know what is relevant to them. As a rule of thumb, we’ve found two things that work:

  • A glocal approach, with a heavier balance on local than global. Remember that what seems interesting and relevant in HQ, often is lower on the agenda further away.
  • Two-way communication; it’s not just about broadcasting, but also about establishing a line back. Ask for feedback and input and make feedback channels available.
  • And be ready to simplify when you’re reaching out to the non-connected. In this case; less is more. Go bite-sized. Go visual.

5. Build the infrastructure

These days it is often about a multi-channel approach, which could include:

  • Mobile messaging using a platform with limited data cost
  • Ensuring that your intranet is responsive for mobiles and tablets
  • Creating human networks, e.g. up-skilling team leads and supervisors to communicate and providing them with easy formats to communicate from

Start with a pilot – it’s the best way to test it out

Embarking on a project to reach all non-office colleagues in a large organisation can be daunting. Will it work? What is the cost? How do we make it operational?

That’s why starting with a pilot in a particular area of the business is often a valuable start. Here you can test approaches and channels, as well as get a better impression of what it will require in terms of day-to-day operations, cost etc.

Good luck! At the end of the day, it’s not about whether you should reach your non-office colleagues – but how and when.