THURSDAY 27 JUL 2017 10:06 AM

REACHING FOR THE REMOTE

Reaching a remote workforce is a challenge for businesses of all size and shape. How can internal communicators think creatively about employee engagement?

John White, director, We Run

We work with a distributed workforce which stretches the length and breadth of the UK, and many of our team have yet to meet face-to-face with anyone else within the organisation. This reality, coupled with the often irregular nature of communications within a remote workforce, presents an evolving challenge for our internal communications.

By definition, a remote workforce enjoys fewer touchpoints between team members. Our team cannot benefit from the kinds of ‘water cooler conversations’ that can often help to spread and embed important company news, plans or initiatives. A distributed team also means that assessing how well any message has been understood and absorbed can be less than straightforward.

I have found the principle challenge to lie in striking the appropriate balance between efficiency and efficacy of communications. Somewhere in between these two extremes lies a fluctuant, and often opaque, sweet spot.One technique we have often used to good effect has been to tether important messages to other communications that we know will receive undivided attention. An example would be embedding an important piece of news within an email communicating a new lead. New leads are mission critical for our workforce; we know these emails get opened and get read. Including unrelated but important information within these emails has been an effective means of ensuring the message gets across.

Kate Shanks, managing director, theblueballroom

You need to define your remote workforce. Are they ‘flexible remote workers’ or ‘remote workers.’ Flexible remote workers tend to be highly engaged and have access to email, intranets, Lync and other digital business tools, as well as the flexibility to go in to a local office to speed with all that’s going on. Remote workers don’t have it so easy. This audience is often working at the ‘coal face.’ Tools for communication are limited. In those areas, there’s huge pressure on a line manager to communicate well and as we all know, that doesn’t always happen.

The biggest trick for success is to surprise and delight. One of our greatest hits recently were the use of vinyls on washroom mirrors. Clever messaging enabled a strong message recall and positive engagement with the comms we were sharing. Scratch cards have had a huge impact around the world; for both of these, copy is limited so translations are easy. We’ve used fold out posters sharing new business strategy, combined with team huddles. We follow up with a postcard containing multiple choice questions on the strategy which are then entered in a competition to win a small gift. Remote workforces love this kind of engagement as the messaging is simple and they feel cared about. We are also seeing more use of personal smart phones and we are developing bespoke apps specifically for this audience. However, nothing beats a great face-to-face conversation and never more so as a remote worker.

Amanda, Coleman, head of corporate communications, Greater Manchester Police

The important thing to remember is that everyone needs to be part of one team no matter where or when they are working; they need to feel part of a single organisation. Doing this means ensuring there is a consistent narrative for people so they can understand their part in it.

Getting the message to them and engaging with the workforce is problematic but more because of a severe underinvestment in it across the public sector. This work has to be the foundations to effective communication and failure to do it will mean the rest could crumble at any minute. Technology has brought us some huge opportunities to have conversations across the organisation but we cannot neglect the good old fashioned face-to-face communication. Train and support your line managers and you can extend the reach of your communication activity. A workforce may be remote but we cannot allow them to become detached from the heart of the business.

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