Are your frontline employees out of the loop? Communicating with employees sitting in front of computers is easy compared to reaching their non-wired colleagues. It requires more effort, and sometimes more creativity, to reach all those frontline employees in manufacturing plants, hotels, restaurants, stores, hospitals and other work environments where people work on their feet or on the move.
These non-wired employees are often overlooked, or at the very least, underserved, by their company’s internal communications. According to research from Opinion Matters (via Engage Employee), only 12% of HR and internal communications respondents said they prioritized deskless workers.
Even when frontline employees are included, they don’t rate their internal communications very highly. A recent survey from Safety Culture covered in HR Dive indicated that 40% of frontline workers found communications from management revealed they were “out of touch,” 44% said communications from corporate were often “irrelevant,” and 30% said internal communications hindered their ability to do their jobs.
Why Frontline Communications Matter
Those employees who are serving the customer, delivering the service and manufacturing the products are the ones who deliver on the company’s brand promise. If they’re not in the loop, they’re much less equipped to do that well. Those frontline employees can have a direct impact on the company’s reputation and operational success.
So the first hurdle is to make sure your internal communications strategy is inclusive of the front-line audience. And the second hurdle is to do that well—which is not easy. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the best and worst channels for non-wired workers.
Best: Cascades And Town Halls
Human channels seem to work better than print or digital ones. In a recent benchmarking survey with communications professionals from 10 large companies, we asked how effective various channels have been with their frontline employee audiences. We have so much technology at our disposal now for internal communications, yet the person-to-person channels were deemed the most effective with the non-wired audience.
The manager cascade, in which corporate provides managers with information to share with their teams, was reported to be one of the most effective means of reaching these frontline employees.
The cascade typically takes place in a pre-shift huddle, safety meeting or some other in-person group interaction. One way to execute them successfully is to provide communications toolkits to help managers present the information clearly and answer questions accurately.
But frontline workers may not find the cascade as helpful as their internal communications departments think it is. Each manager is filtering the information through their own lens, so managers across the company often provide their own versions of the message. Also, not all managers actually get around to sharing the cascaded information that corporate provides, so some employees may be left in the dark.
The channel our survey found was the second most effective, the town hall, can alleviate those concerns by giving front-line employees a chance to hear directly from their company’s top leadership. This is particularly important for helping non-desk employees understand how their roles support the success of the company overall and for aligning their day-to-day actions with the vision of leadership.
For major news or change management initiatives, one tactic is to have the CEO or another top executive make the announcement at a town hall and add that their individual managers will share more details. Preparing those managers with talking points, FAQs and possibly videos or presentations can help ensure that the manager cascade delivers a consistent message across the organization.
Worst: Communications That Require Computers
For office workers, email can be one of the most direct ways to deliver communications. But frontline employees aren’t sitting in front of computers, and they aren’t usually provided with company email addresses. Over the years, we’ve worked with several companies that asked non-wired employees to provide their personal email addresses for internal communications, but this solution tends to be unpopular with frontline workers. Many likely feel their personal email is for personal communication, not for the company to reach them after work.
Another channel that may be better in theory than in practice is the computer kiosk. This is a shared computer located in a public area of the workplace that frontline employees can access for company communications such as the intranet or emails.
The success of this channel is limited by a few major hurdles. First, the kiosks are sometimes located a long walk away from where most frontline employees are working. Secondly, the kiosk puts the onus on frontline employees to seek out internal communications. Companies are asking them to take the initiative to go find their internal communications.
Other Useful Channels
Digital signage is a minimal-effort channel with the advantage of requiring absolutely no action from frontline employees beyond noticing a monitor as they walk past it. A frequently updated deck of slides with short messaging can communicate a wide range of topics, such as culture and values, employee recognition, company news, benefits, wellness and more.
Another channel to consider is smartphone applications. Although several respondents to our survey warned that apps can be buggy and present technological challenges, they’re also a much more effective means of harnessing employees’ personal devices than asking for personal email addresses or phone numbers.
No Single Solution
There’s no perfect solution for communicating with all frontline employees.
It’s important to consider the physical realities of your frontline audience, which can help you find unexpected touch points in the workplace. For instance, you could develop rearview mirror hangtags and floor mats for delivery fleets, oversized magnets for walk-in freezers to reach kitchen workers in restaurants, and midnight barbecue events for those healthcare workers on the graveyard shift at hospitals.
This is where a creative approach can result in unique solutions that work for your specific non-wired populations. By walking in their shoes, understanding where frontline employees enter the building, where they do their work, where they take breaks and whether they’re sitting, standing or driving, you can find new ways to communicate with this important audience.
Interested in new ways to reach your non-wired employees? Tribe can help.
A version of this article recently appeared on Forbes.com.