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Connecting with Nonwired Workers

Don't count on the Internet. About a quarter of U.S. adults never even use it, reports the Pew Internet and American Life Project (2008). This reflects the unsexy reality of corporate communications: New technology can be exciting, but many employees still don't work in front of a computer and couldn't care less about the corporate blog.

So, organizations shouldn't throw out those tried-and-true methods of communication. The break-room bulletin board and the small-group meeting with immediate supervisors are still the staples of communication initiatives. Even those who are turning to new technologies often blend them with more traditional channels such as newsletters; they use payroll envelope inserts for high-priority messages (Babcock 2008).

Good old face-to-face communication can also work wonders. Putting leaders in front of employees is often the way to get employees' ears. Workers are more likely to trust and to remember messages communicated by their immediate supervisors. A visit by the CEO or another executive to the shop floor is also a surefire way to get attention (assuming that the CEO is personable and gives a good presentation).

Because managers' communication skills vary and are all too often lacking, effective internal communicators keep managers supplied with talking points and up-to-date lists of frequently asked questions. Watson Wyatt has found that few employers give their managers needed support or training in how to communicate. A short, regular meeting time dedicated to internal communication—such as a 15-minute morning briefing by the supervisor—can keep employees informed. But employers should build in listening time as well; managers will lose their audience if all communication is top-down (Melcrum 2007; Watson Wyatt 2006).

Visual communication, whether via the paper-and-push-pins bulletin board or electronic displays, is also a common communication channel to nonwired workers. The key is to make sure that displays convey necessary information and are changed frequently. Otherwise, they become wallpaper. Good design matters as much here as in external advertising. Some employers have found that using actual employees rather than models in photographs grabs employees' attention (Babcock 2008).

Then there's the good, old-fashioned corporate newsletter. The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (2007) found that 71% of surveyed organizations use a newsletter to communicate; more than half of those distribute it by mailing it to employees' homes. But how to ensure that it doesn't hit the garbage once the letter carrier brings it? The same rules for display boards apply: Design it for visual impact and readability and include employees' input. Catchy headlines and lead paragraphs will help, of course.

Computer kiosks are another widely used solution, and they can serve internal communicators well in many instances. However, training or search help might be needed for employees who do not use a computer at home either. Also, kiosks might engender resistance among hourly employees who work a strict schedule. Some employers have encountered resentment and refusal from employees who have been asked to use their break time for corporate communications (Anthoine 2008).

On the other hand, employees might be willing to spend nonwork time on communications about subjects—such as health benefits—that affect their personal lives. FedEx has had success sending postcards home with a Web address as a reference for additional benefits information. It also conducts employee surveys through a combination of media that include both mail and home computers (Kenyon 2006).

Broadcast messages are mentioned less often in news about internal communication but can be very effective. IKEA's North American office produces IKEA Radio, a short news program that is played over public address systems before or after store hours and at staff meetings (Babcock, 2008). Podcasts or other personal-device audio can serve as an effective delivery channel for communications in a work environment where most employees have personal MP3 players, music-enabled phones, or iPods (Cohen 2008).

The bottom line, though, is that many organizations should spend considerable time thinking "outside the Net." In one of today's modern paradoxes, it could be the best way of bringing everyone online in terms of communication.

Documents referenced in this TrendWatcher include the following:

Anthoine, J. (2008, February 18). The never-ending quest for the silver bullet. Plaintalk 2.0. Retrieved February 19, 2008.

Babcock, P. (2008). Sending the message: By blending technology and tradition, retailers get the word out to workers on the sales floor. HR Magazine. Retrieved February 19, 2008.

Cohen, R. (2008, November 18). Technology can be a blessing for bored workers. New York Times. Retrieved February 19, 2008.
International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. (2007, March 19). Majority of organizations use newsletters to communicate information on employee benefit issues.

Kenyon, A. K. (2006). 2006 Macro-trends in internal communications. Retrieved February 19, 2008.

Melcrum. (2007). Delivering successful change communication: Executive summary. Retrieved February 19, 2008.

Pew Internet and American Life Project. (2008). Demographics. Retrieved February 19, 2008.

Watson Wyatt. (2006). Effective communication: A leading indicator of financial performance—2005/2006 communication ROI study. Retrieved March 20, 2006.