Closing the Communication Gap with Field Workers

Field workers are the people who make things happen by working outside the office and traveling to various locations, like construction workers and service technicians. They are the workers who are the face of the business in the marketplace and communities. All too often, there is a workplace communication gap between these employees and management and Human Resources. The gap can cause your business a lot of trouble, and not just in the sense of people in the field not knowing how to do their jobs efficiently and correctly. A communication gap can lead to a significant component of the workforce feeling disengaged, a certain path to high turnover at the minimum, and a union organizing campaign in a worst-case scenario.

While we’ve written about the importance of communicating with deskless workers, and there are several overlapping similarities between those employees who don’t work at a desk and field workers, it is still important that we touch on both! At Projections, we’ve had the privelege of working with thousands of companies to reach millions of employees, helping to build better leaders, improve engagement and keep organizations union-free. Today, we’ll talk about ways you can close the communication gap with field workers and some of the repercussions a lack of engagement can cause in your organization.

Importance of Communicating with Field Workers

There are a variety of positions that work in the field. They include service technicians, construction workers, social workers, home nurse aides, other healthcare industry employees, salespeople, talent recruiters, registered nurses, agricultural workers, recreation workers, landscapers, etc. The importance of routinely communicating with all employees is recognized, but field workers, like remote workers and deskless workers, have special communication needs. 

For example, field workers can’t always just pop into the supervisor’s office and take advantage of the open-door policy, or many are unable to attend employee information meetings. They can’t drop into the break room and bond with coworkers.

Communicating with field workers is of high importance because these are the people who:

  • Routinely interface with customers
  • Build quality long-term customer relationships
  • Are trusted to uphold the company values while away from the office
  • Are ambassadors for the employer brand and the company brand in general
  • Help make the company an employer of choice
  • Serve as links between potential and current customers in the marketplace and in-office employees like the sales force by sharing valuable information hard to glean through other means
  • Provide feedback and identify areas where the company can deliver value (culture of innovation)
  • Cross-sell and up-sell either directly or indirectly by assisting and impressive customers with their expertise

field workers

Using Employee Apps to Communicate

Mobile content enablement platforms are rapidly becoming critical management and HR digital communication tools for the simple reason HR professionals and supervisors can reach employees wherever they are. However, there are so many more benefits to using an employee app, as we have written about. 

Messages can be personalized. Push notifications can share company updates. Supervisors can recognize and praise employees for their successes. Employees in the field can get identical information in-office employees are getting concerning policies and procedures and are kept up-to-date. One of the nice features of apps is that shared content can be varied by including videos, posts, texts, podcasts, newsfeeds, newsletters, feedback, and links to online employee training. Training links can cover a wide range of options, from HR policies and other employee documents to the company’s position on staying union-free.

One other benefit of using employee apps is that apps can focus the employee’s attention on important messages. For example, senior managers post a video praising the field workers and linking their efforts to specific company achievements, like meeting construction project goals. 

Solutions to Keep Field Workers Engaged

Many of the same solutions to keep deskless workers engaged apply to field workers. Deskless workers is a larger category because it includes people like manufacturing employees working on site, but their communication needs and the communication needs of field workers are mostly the same. Field workers need to feel a sense of belonging to your organization despite working in the field if they are to remain engaged. Following are a few suggestions for field worker communication. 

  • Use as few communication channels as possible (preferably one, like an employee app) so that messages are easily accessed and less likely to be missed
  • Make the communication as entertaining for field workers as it is for inhouse workers
  • Mix up the content because it keeps people engaged
  • Encourage management-employee interaction by regularly requesting and giving feedback to give employees a voice
  • Use short but regular employee surveys to keep in tune with what the field workers are feeling and experiencing

Achievers, the recognition and reward platform, provides ideas of the types of employee engagement survey questions to ask. One of the important aspects to keep in mind is that the surveys should address important elements of employee engagement, like alignment with company goals and employee satisfaction. 

Making an employee app or other communication channel available will only be useful for engaging employees when your leaders have great communication skills. For example, suppose your supervisors don’t understand how to actively listen via digital communication systems or don’t regularly show appreciation for the field worker’s efforts. In that case, even the ideal communication channel will be ineffective. For example, if supervisors don’t keep field workers as current as inhouse workers on topics like employee benefits changes, company change plans, executive decisions, and so on, part of your workforce probably has low employee engagement

Repercussions of Poor Employee Communication

When employees workers do not embrace the company culture, believe their employee voice is not heard, or just plain feel ignored and underappreciated, there are consequences.

  • Low employee morale
  • Higher rates of customer dissatisfaction
  • Higher employee turnover and absenteeism
  • Lower employee productivity
  • Increased inefficiency on the job
  • Increased number of grievances
  • A lower sense of purpose and passion for work

A 2019 Dynamic Signal survey of 1,001 U.S. employees found that 63 percent of employees have wanted to quit because they found poor communication interfered with their ability to do their job. In addition, 70 percent felt overwhelmed by fragmented information and a broken communication method, and 53 percent said they feel the ineffective company communication doesn’t make them want to be an organizational advocate.

communications with field workers

Ineffective Management Communication Promotes the Grapevine Effect

There is also the “grapevine effect,” which will go into high gear if your managers aren’t communicating with field workers in an effective manner. The workforce grapevine, of course, is the informal communication network among workers. You can bet that if you aren’t keeping employees informed or addressing their issues, they are talking to each other via personal social media posts, telephone conversations, and in-person. The grapevine effect can be positive or negative. When it’s negative, your vulnerability to unions rises exponentially. 

Author and Consultant Carol Kinsey Goman, writing for the American Management Association, discusses some startling statistics about the workplace grapevine based on a survey across industries.

  • 47 percent of employees would believe the grapevine more than a speech from a company leader
  • 50 percent believed the messages in an official newsletter over the grapevine because something in writing is treated as evidence and provides an information trail
  • 74 percent said they would believe a supervisor’s message over a grapevine message, but it depends on the level of trust between the employee and the supervisor
  • 89 percent said they would believe a trusted coworker over the grapevine if the messages were different

She also points to research that found that 88 percent of supervisors realized the lack of formal communication increased messaging through the grapevine, but only 54 percent of executives realized the connection. 

Lack of Communication Can Lead to Union Interest

The grapevine thrives under certain conditions, and these are the same conditions that lead to an interest in unions. Goman lists:

  • Lack of organized formal communication
  • Employees feel highly stressed and insecure
  • There is a lot of uncertainty or ambiguity
  • There is a planned large-scale change
  • The topic is of high importance to employees

If your communication system is not effectively messaging with all employees, including field workers, there will be an enormous communication gap. You are leaving a large cohort of employees to construct and share personally interpreted and often incorrect messages. Thankfully, communicating with field workers is so much easier today because of technology.

Engage ALL of Your Workers

Projections, Inc. has helped numerous employers evaluate their communication systems and develop employee apps and other forms of messaging and employee and leadership training that include eLearning, videos, and web. The basic message for employers is this: Engage your field workers as thoroughly and effectively as you engage your in-house employees. 

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

In over 25 years of helping companies connect with their employees, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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