3 Questions to Unconfuse Employee Communications and Engagement

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In this guest column, APPrise Mobile CEO Jeff Corbin offers three questions that will ensure your employees receive the information they need.

Employee communications and employee engagement are one and the same, right? Wrong.

While there’s no doubt they both play an important role in the workplace, employee communication solutions are very different from employee engagement and collaboration tools like Slack, Yammer or Workplace by Facebook. Those services are meant to drive interconnected dialogue or enhance an employee’s overall emotional connection to their organization.

However, they don’t address the fundamental problem that large organizations face in getting information into the hands of deskless workers, who–unlike their desk-bound colleagues–don’t work in an office with the same technology resources. In fact, 2.7 billion deskless employees across industries like retail, manufacturing, healthcare, trucking and hospitality don’t use computers in their daily work, and don’t have a corporate email address or access to an intranet.

According to Quartz, certain small businesses are successfully using platforms like Slack to reach deskless workers. But as Gartner analyst Mike Gotta states, Slack and similar solutions aren’t designed for the deskless constituency, and really only satisfy the needs of desk-bound/knowledge workers.

Collaboration tools enhance connection to employers, but don’t address fundamental problem of getting information to deskless workers. #HR #HRTech #Mobile @APPriseMobile Click To Tweet

While some organizations have gotten their communication technology decisions right, others continue to experience major challenges in informing and reaching employees, especially deskless ones. In such a saturated market, where everyone claims to do the same thing by calling their work “employee communications,” it’s no surprise that there’s confusion on how to best reach an organization’s workers.

To better understand how to mitigate these issues, and in an effort to identify the appropriate employee communications technology solution, there are three important questions internal communications and other professionals charged with getting information to employees should ask before getting started:

1. What is the audience I have difficulty communicating with?

The answer here is straightforward–it’s either the desk-bound/knowledge worker who has a corporate email address and access to content from the company’s intranet, or it’s the deskless worker who probably has neither. Or maybe it’s both, in which case it becomes even more important to answer the next two questions. Either way, it’s important to define employee audiences before deciding which technology is the right one to address your organization’s challenges.

2. What is the problem I am trying to solve?    

In deciding what technology will best serve your communications strategy, it’s first necessary to ask what purpose the solution will serve once deployed. Is there a challenge or problem confronting you in your daily work that you’re looking for technology to solve?

When it comes to deskless workers, the problems are typically three-fold:

  1. The difficulty communications and HR professionals have getting information into the hands of this hard-to-reach audience.
  2. The uncertainty regarding whether the appropriate message is delivered.
  3. The inability to quantify the success of communications.
APPrise Mobile CEO Jeff Corbin
APPrise Mobile’s Jeff Corbin

Until now, deskless workers have been informed primarily through posters, signage, newsletters, trickle-down communications from managers, snail-mail and other old-school methods. For companies that need to tackle these issues, technology designed to get information directly to employees (i.e., employer-to-employee) is likely best.

If the target audience is a company’s desk-bound/knowledge worker though, the problem is not typically related to information delivery, since these employees have access to email and intranets. Instead, the concern might about about enhanced engagement, or effectively using employees as an extension of a company’s external marketing efforts and serving as brand ambassadors. In the latter case, a more social tool can help employees share great news and company updates.

Another problem can be about giving desk-bound employees the ability to work more effectively in groups and to communicate with each other, rather than rely on company-to-employee channels. Collaboration platforms work well for this purpose. 

Either way, defining the problem you’re looking to address is key to selecting an effective solution.

3. What information does my audience need, and will the technology solution allow me to provide it?

There are two types of information that communications professionals are responsible for delivering to employees: “need-to-know” and “nice-to-know.” They’re not mutually exclusive, and both deskless and desk-bound employees require and are entitled to both. However, their overall needs are very different.

Deskless employees both want and desperately need access to better communications from employers (especially leadership) that provides vital information to them in real-time. Deskless workers tend to be deprived of important information about pay, benefits and company news and announcements since they don’t sit at a desk where they can regularly receive or otherwise easily access this content. Because of this, “nice-to-know” follows “need-to-know” in terms of priority.

On the other hand, desk-bound/knowledge workers have the important “need-to-know” information constantly at their fingertips. In many instances, they also have face-to-face interaction with company leadership. Therefore, communicating and sharing “nice-to-know” or engagement information–like company wins, employee spotlights and other content that doesn’t necessarily affect their personal lives or day-to-day work–may make the most sense. 

While many companies today claim to address the “employee communications” problem, not all solutions are created equal and not all serve the right purpose, especially for deskless workers. Asking these three questions will guide internal communicators in choosing the right technology solution while ensuring their success in effectively communicating with all employees, both deskless and desk-bound.

Jeff Corbin is CEO of APPrise Mobile, developer of theEMPLOYEEapp, an internal communications and employee engagement mobile platform. Learn more here.

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Guest columns adhere to our editorial guidelines but do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors.