Internal Communications Best Practices: Reaching Employees Who Do Not Have Email Access
Written by Elizabeth Castro
Throughout my career I’ve had the opportunity to implement internal communications programs for a variety of corporations that have large numbers of employees who do not have email access. While many of us in internal communications have moved towards relying on digital channels in order to reach more people, faster, for less cost and across geographies, there is still a need for corporations to connect with large groups of employees the old fashioned way— verbally through their supervisors and on paper. The biggest internal communications challenge for legacy companies or newly formed parent companies with satellite locations is to ensure corporate messages reach, and are meaningful to, employees who are in the field.
Even in 2011, the United States still has 12 million manufacturing jobs in industries like furniture, automotive, large-scale bakeries and utilities that rely on a workforce that is either mobile or located in a plant setting. Especially today, these employees face a unique environment, especially for those whose individual companies have become part of larger corporations, and sometimes even global companies.
These employees overwhelmingly feel left behind, especially in terms of how they believe they are viewed by the nameless and faceless parent company. They’ve seen their numbers shrink. They’ve seen their benefits change and likely cost more. They’ve seen whole processes go digital. Yet while many of their co-workers may be the same, just about everything else, including goals, values and principles, have been redefined for them. They believe the “family feel” is gone, they mourn for the old days and they resent their new parent company.
The Communications Gap
Companies that fit this profile struggle with how to remain connected with their offline remotely located employees. In fact, very often, internal communications pros back at headquarters lack two important things that hinder their abilities to effectively reach this employee segment with the corporate message:
- Some companies don’t have the proper communications infrastructure in place. I’m talking about processes that allow them to easily translate materials into simple flyers and talking points that could be used in the field. Another piece includes communications contacts within each facility whose job is to help distribute the materials (e.g. hang flyers, hand out one-pagers, etc.).
- Managers within these facilities have historically never been formally taught, or asked, to cascade information outside of the day-to-day work at that particular location. Nor do they know where to find the right central information that would be appropriate to communicate.
The irony is that the “old ways” of communicating, such as face-to-face, almost need to be re-learned. There are a couple of different reasons for this. First, internal communications as a distinct function is still somewhat new in the field of communications, which really evolved in an exclusively digital age. Second, internal communications today includes spreading a central corporate gospel across previously autonomous groups of employees who are located all around the world.
One of the most valuable experiences has been talking directly with plant and field employees about what’s important to them from a communications perspective. If you find the right employees who don’t mind speaking their minds, they’ll gladly tell you what they want to know and the best method for delivering it to them. I’ve heard similar suggestions across numerous industries:
- Facilities often have time set aside for in-person meetings. Managers will likely share information if they know what to say and are asked to say it. If managers give verbal direction to read something, employees likely will.
- Bulletin boards are in every facility, but some employees don’t have the time to read posted items especially if they’re too long. Posted information needs to be succinct and relevant and employees need to be told about it.
- If you give employees something to read such as a handout, that’s ideal. If handouts are available in places like lunch rooms where people congregate for breaks they’ll likely take them and read them later.
As I already alluded to, internal communications efforts to employees who do not have email access requires you to create opportunities for in-person dialogue with managers and to distribute materials that are succinct and easy to read. Here are best practices for implementing each component within your organization:
Manager Cascading Program:
Helping managers share information down to employees, verbally and at regular team meetings is one of the most important communications channels you have available within your organization. Remember: plant and field employees like the personal touch. They want to directly connect with the number one person that matters to them– their supervisor.
By and large, managers have a lot on their plates and may view communications as another added pressure. But if you offer them the right information in the right form with instructions on how to share it, their communications efforts can literally add just a few minutes to their existing team meetings. Items like a script with bullets of information are a great and simple way to start the communications process.
Materials Development Process:
Back at HQ, internal communications professionals are very connected with the corporate messages and business strategy. They often have nice newsletters, blogs and the company intranet that allows them to share loads of information. Now imagine that all these items are not accessible to a segment of employees, not meaningful to them or too complicated. So how do you use them?
The solution does not require you to reinvent the wheel. You simply modify it. First, review your existing content and determine what’s appropriate for your satellite employees. Develop a one page template that acts like a script. There’s an introduction with a series of bullets of top line information. The scripts can be emailed to facilities with other handouts and flyers that contain more detailed information. Your facility communications contacts distribute the scripts to managers and print out the other handouts and flyers. This is of course a simplified and general approach, but you get the idea.
Before you implement a tactical approach and process to reach your offline employees, it’s important to identify the unique challenges and opportunities within your organization. The best way to accomplish this is by conducting an internal communications audit. The audit includes these three steps:
- Identify individuals within your organization to interview about your existing and potential communications processes. Ideally you should select employees from all functions and levels, then schedule a half hour of their time to talk.
- Develop a series of questions that allow you to get feedback on how information is shared, what they want to know and how they should receive it.
- Analyze your findings and develop a recommended approach. This will also allow you to identify what resources, staff support and processes are needed to effectively implement the recommendation.
Finally, I cannot stress the importance of creating opportunities for two-way dialogue with offline employees. For those of us who spend our work days in front of a computer or sitting next to our managers or executive leadership teams, we take our direct access to meaningful information for granted. Our job as internal communicators is to help all employees feel connected to their organization.
Elizabeth Castro is a vice president at O’Malley Hansen Communications (OHC) in Chicago (www.omalleyhansen.com) and the editor of TheCommunicationsBlog.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @Eliz_Castro and @thecommsblog.