For internal communicators, non-desk employees are a population perennially classified as hard to reach.
The old adage for succeeding in internal communications is to “go where your audience is,” but non-desk employees are everywhere. Unlike traditional white collar employees—who you can count on being at a desk for 40 hours a week—non-desk employees are on their feet and on the move. In service and hospitality positions, these employees are often dealing directly with the business’ customers. In manufacturing roles, these employees are operating heavy machinery and working the production line. In the transportation industry, these employees literally move about cities, states, and the country getting people or products where they need to be, on time.
Any organization that has deskless employees should understand how essential they are to success. In many cases, these employees are the reason an organization even has product to sell. In others, they are the face of the business, the first and sometimes only point of contact customers have with the organization. Simply put, these employees are handling real money-making work.
Yes, it can be harder to reach these populations, but internal communicators, as drivers of strategic business objectives and workforce outcomes like employee engagement, should already be working harder to connect with these employees. If you have non-desk employees and your communications strategy isn’t doing all it can to reach them, here are four reasons why you should reassess your approach.
1. One size doesn’t fit all, and traditional channels aren’t working
Not too long ago, email became the dominant method of workplace communication—the average employee sends and receives 122 work emails per day. For communicators, email is a handy tool to quickly distribute important messages and keep their workforce in the know. After all, why wouldn’t you make use of an immediate, direct, and personal line of communication with your employees?
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But unfortunately, one size does not fit all. The IT revolution that made email possible did not make its way to non-desk employees. According to a recent study, 83% of deskless employees have no corporate email address. In other words, the primary communications channel for 95% of internal communicators is a flat out non-starter for this population. In lieu of accommodating this digital deficit, many communicators opt to continue to rely heavily on a channel they’ve always used to reach this population: updates from direct managers.
And while face-to-face interactions, especially with managers, are undeniably important, every person has a different communication style. When you make in-person communication your primary messaging channel, your communications strategy will only be as strong as your worst communicator. As Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin, CEO of Tribe Inc., notes, relying on direct managers for communication works better in theory than in practice. “For one thing, some supervisors are better communicators than others, so important messages can get lost in translation. There’s also a frequent problem with inconsistency in timing. Some employees get the word about big changes before others do, simply because some bosses haven’t told their people yet.”
2. The cost of miscommunications is higher than ever
Steve Soltis, group director of employee and leadership communications for The Coca Cola Company, spoke to the unique influence of internal communications when he said, “A business cannot generate sustainable value and growth without employees understanding where it’s headed, why, what it’s going to take to get there, and why each employee matters.”
The numbers back Soltis up. Today, the costs of miscommunication today are climbing. In large enterprises of 100,000 employees or more, the average loss per company due to mismanaged communications is $62.4 million per year. Even at smaller organizations of 100 employees, where communications is ostensibly easier to handle, miscommunications cost average $420,000 per year. And the population that’s most prone to be caught in the middle of this disconnect? Deskless employees.
Soltis calls out the importance of understanding the company mission and vision, but if these messages are supposed to come from the top, non-desk employees aren’t hearing them. In a survey of 1,000 non-desk employees, 58% report they hear from corporate only a few times a year or hardly ever, and nearly half can’t articulate their company’s vision for growth. These messages may come across clearly in “wired” office environments, but don’t resonate as strongly when the only channels communicating them is a direct manager or break room signage.
3. Changes of tomorrow shouldn’t halt you doing more today
Disruption from technology has been so frequent and radical that’s it’s hard not to think about what the next inevitable change will bring. In particular, there’s a lot of chatter about AI, automation, and the potential impact they’ll have over the future of work, and with good reason. One particular forecast estimates 47% of all U.S. jobs are at risk of computerization in the next 20 years. The roles most at risk are manual and routine labor, which encompass much of what’s considered deskless work.
But widespread automation has yet to fully occur, and the jury is still out on its scale and scope when it does. The potential effects of automation in the future is a flimsy excuse to not do more to connect with your non-desk employees today. According to Google, deskless employees make up 80% of the global workforce (about 3 billion people). That’s a population too big to ignore, and too vital to organizational health to leave disconnected.
4. Non-desk employees want more out of communications
Many communicators who struggle to connect with deskless employees will resign to the belief that these populations simply do not care about communications. Per a Gallup study on factory worker motivation, communications teams will grow frustrated seeing that print messaging and talking points delivered by corporate spokespeople isn’t inspiring them they way they hoped.
While the study acknowledges it is more difficult to connect factory employees to explicit corporate messages, the reality is the situation is a little more nuanced. Factory workers, and other deskless employees, do want these forms of communications, they just feel left in the dark. Per a recent survey, 74% of deskless employees say consistent messages from senior management are important to them, but 84% agree they don’t get enough information from top management. It’s no surprise then, that when communications do come, nearly 40% of these employees take the information with a grain of salt. The truth is, deskless populations want more communications than they’re currently receiving, and the low frequency of messages mixed with a lack of substantive information is placing a strain on communicators’ trust with this audience.
To successfully establish trust, communicators need to deliver frequent print, digital, and face-to-face communications, but engagement over these channels needs to do more than deliver transactional corporate information. Employees want to feel a connection to the company, but they also want to feel connected to their colleagues on a personal level. Gallup attests that employees who feel their managers are invested in them as people are more likely to be engaged. For deskless employees, that means taking the time to build relationships in those face-to-face managerial interactions, and also seeking out digital channels that can do the same.
For as long as non-desk employees continue to perform vital work, there will always be a need to communicate with them beyond just the bare minimum. Reaching this population may be difficult, but it’s a challenge worth overcoming considering the invaluable contributions these employees make to organizational success.