Digital Employee Engagement Beyond Your Campaign-Ready Website

Digital employee engagement is not a trend. It's an organizational success factor because it enables a high level of collaboration among employees, two-way communication between employees and management, networking, virtual social connections, access to employee training and development opportunities, increased inclusion and belonging, and increased productivity through better messaging, strong employee voice, and improved workflows.

Any time employee engagement is strengthened, there is the added benefit of making a union unnecessary since the workplace culture is defined by transparency, sharing, and feedback flowing between employees and leadership. For organizations already enmeshed in a union organizing campaign, digital communication becomes the core of the strategy to prevent union organizing from leading employees to vote for a union. The campaign-ready website is only one digital employee engagement tool to leverage and can be enhanced by adding other electronic avenues for information sharing, communication, and feedback.  

What is Digital Employee Engagement? 

Digitization is often discussed in the context of improving workflows and productivity, which undoubtedly contribute to employee engagement. But digitization can also become a robust employee engagement strategy because of the variety of digital tools available today and the fact that younger employees expect employers to utilize digital communication platforms and tools to communicate in real-time, ensure access to management, and streamline access to Human Resources policies and benefits plans to name a few employee needs and expectations.   

Reaching Employee Engagement Goals 

Digital employee engagement is not achieved with one tool, platform, or electronic resource. It is a well-thought-out integrated set of resources designed to meet goals that include:  

  • Reaching all employees no matter where they are working 
  • Providing easy access to information to educate employees with facts about unions 
  • Creating feedback opportunities for employees and management 
  • Strengthening an organizational culture 
  • Increasing transparency 
  • Sharing management's position on unionization 
  • Delivering consistent information in a timely manner to the workforce 
  • Developing trust in management 
  • Strengthening employee voice by increasing and improving communication channels 
  • Communicating with employees in ways they most accept and appreciate 
  • Promoting the organization's mission 
  • Supporting positive employee relations 

Creating a positive employee experience is one of the most important steps you can take to develop an engaging workforce culture, an environment where unions aren't needed. Digital technologies are used in recruitment, training and development, employee recognition, work streamlining, and engagement surveys. The technologies enable reaching all employees, which promotes diversity, equality, and inclusion. They are culture-building because they ensure employees are involved, productive, collaborative, and "seen."  

Digital Employee Experience is a Human Experience 

It all comes down to excellent communication within the workforce. The employee experience is a journey the employee takes while engaged with your organization. The digital employee experience is the holistic employee experience as it concerns the performance of technologies that include networks, devices, and applications and employee sentiment as a user. The employee sentiment aspect is an important aspect. All the expensive technologies in the world are not useful if you don't give employees a quality user experience.   

If the digital employee experience does not empower employees as much as it increases productivity, it's not successful. As digital experts at VMware explain, the digital employee experience is the "employees' perceptions and feelings from their interactions with the digital tools they use to perform their jobs."  

How does this relate to preventing union organizing? Employees with a positive perception of the organizational culture and who believe management provides the resources they need to do their best work are unlikely to be interested in introducing a third party. The Academy to Innovate HR (AIHR) explains that the digital employee experience is employees interfacing with technologies for:  

  • Workflow and productivity 
  • Communication and collaboration 
  • Learning 
  • HR systems  

Digital technologies are more than work production tools. In the post-pandemic period, the digital employee experience became a more significant influence in the employee experience which is the intersection of the physical experience, the digital experience, and the cultural experience. With the growing importance of the digital employee experience, labor relations will have to adapt to make a union unnecessary. Balancing the human with the digital is a modern leadership skill.  

employee digital communication

How To Assess Your Organization's Digital Engagement 

Before you can decide how to strengthen your organization's digital engagement to prevent union organizing through improved employee engagement, you need to clearly understand the current communication process, systems, and tools in place. The best way is to perform a digital communication audit. The audit is not focused solely on preventing unionization. It's a way to identify gaps in your efforts to develop a positive employee experience through communication personalization, bringing the many other benefits described earlier.  

First, ask if your organization's digital communication is tailored to meet employee needs and expectations or was implemented to push information to the workforce. A digital engagement audit begins with identifying discoverable employee expectations through actions like taking employee engagement surveys, talking with Employee Resource Groups, and holding meetings.  

You may discover your employees want mobile communication and access to Human Resources information via an app that offers more than finding information like accumulated vacation hours and enables personalization. Personalization is the ability of an employee to access organizational information relevant to personal needs and to get intuitively tailored information based on their position and search patterns. For example, a millennial employee regularly checks on optional savings programs for long-term retirement planning while trying to make a decision. A personalized experience would offer algorithm-driven helpful suggestions and information to make the employee's decision easier.  

The digital engagement audit may ask each employee questions like the following: 

  • What is your personal preference for communication channels, i.e., mobile apps, websites, enterprise social media, intranet, collaboration platforms, emails, videos, text messages, podcasts, etc.? 
  • If working remotely, are there gaps in communication? 
  • What information would you like access to that is not available now or isn't easily accessed, i.e., employee training opportunities, new internal job opportunities, HR account information, and so on 
  • How can changes in the communication system better support your work efforts and workflows, i.e., collaborative tools and training on demand? 
  • What technology-related problems do you experience? 
  • What changes in communication policies would better support your work-life balance, i.e., limits on managers contacting employees during their off-hours? 
  • Can you easily communicate with your manager or supervisor for problem-solving or to share ideas? If there are communication barriers, what are they? 
  • Do the communication tools support two-way communication between you and your manager or supervisor so that you receive feedback in a timely manner? 
  • How can the content on digital tools, like websites, be more compelling? 
  • Do you get information in a timely manner? 
  • Does the communication system support collaboration with team members? 
  • Do you believe management maintains good communication with all employees?   

The digital engagement audit also includes an asset audit. You can't deliver the best communication experience without adequate and responsive technology. The digital communication system should be efficient, utilize current technology, and reach all employee segments. 

Assessing digital employee engagement is a crucial strategy for developing an effective communication system that works during union organizing. The assessment leads to strategy development for improvement. The current communication gaps will take on new importance when a union organizing campaign is in progress.   

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Engaging Remote Employees Digitally 

You can develop a matrix of current communication channels and tools and whom they reach. Your campaign-ready website won't be 100 percent effective if all employees can't access it. Remote employees are susceptible to exclusion from messaging unless you ensure they are included. The same principles apply.   

  • Include remote employees in the digital engagement assessment 
  • Utilize the remote team's communication preferences, including email, chat, mobile apps, Slack, video calls, phone calls, etc. 
  • Have regular check-ins to make sure remote employees feel included and are not withholding concerns or questions until able to meet in person 
  • Utilize software tools for ongoing learning and coaching, which allows employees to rank their feelings each week 
  • Utilize technologies like cloud-based tools that make things like files accessible and improve collaboration  

From the perspective of labor relations, remote employees are some of the most vulnerable to labor unions. The Buffer 2022 State of Remote Work report found that 56 percent of remote workers said how they collaborate and communicate change. Fifty-one percent (51 percent) said there are more video calls. Regarding preventing union organizing, it's important to note that 53 percent said their work hours changed, and 45 percent said how they do their work changed. Forty percent (40 percent) said they work more hours, and 61 percent said they are in more meetings.   

These responses led to only 52 percent saying they feel less connected to co-workers. While 77 percent indicated their employers have the technology for remote team collaboration and communication, only 51 percent said their company helped them connect with colleagues for work.   

Nicole Miller, the Director of People at Buffer, said, "Connection and teammate engagement in a remote environment requires twice the effort of in-person workplaces. Individuals and companies need to orchestrate opportunities for meetings, discussions and fun. While this happens more naturally around a physical water cooler, the digital space requires coordination and sometimes a little bit of strong encouragement to overcome the social barrier of talking to teammates you otherwise don't have much overlap within time zone or work responsibilities."  

Examples Of Digital Employee Engagement 

In practice, there are unlimited ways to implement and strengthen employee engagement through digitization. The best approaches improve the employee experience, don't complicate work or communication, and align employees across functions. Some companies must start from scratch and redo the entire digital approach to developing positive employee relations. Still, there are also simple steps that you can take because they increase the human element. 

  • The customer relationship company TTEC Digital suggests making company announcements for employees via short videos instead of documents linked to emails 
  • Enable searching for new team or job opportunities across the organizations, which also drives diversity, equity, and inclusion 
  • Conduct leader-led group video chats with onsite and remote employees to get and give feedback on anything to do with the organization and to build collaborative teams 
  • Offer online employee training and leadership training programs that are accessible 24-7 through eLearning platforms 
  • Add a mobile engagement platform, enabling onsite, remote, deskless, and field workers to be in the communication loop 
  • Using virtual reality for staff training 
  • Develop virtual communities of interest for employee collaboration and discussions 
  • Conduct employee pulse surveys and use the data to take action as needed 
  • Add digital tools to existing systems but ensure seamless integration 
  • Update existing work systems that streamline work 
  • Connect employees across functions and geographic locations through internal social media to promote conversations about the workplace, customers, decisions, innovations, etc. 
  • Develop an intranet 

 

How To Enhance Your Digital Employee Engagement  

An amazing array of digital tools is available today, like the short-form video you find on sites like YouTube and TikTok. It's an ideal format for sharing information and connecting with employees (especially the younger ones) in a way they prefer. The short-form videos can have any content, from entertainment to informational content, which can add energy to the employer brand and prove managers understand employee interests. IRI Consultants shares advice on using TikTok for business that every employer should read because it adds a new element to employee engagement, but there are dos and don'ts.   

Labor unions are using social media sites like TikTok to engage employees. Attorney Daniel Schwartz has followed how unions are using social media and makes the point on an IRI Consultants' ProjectHR podcast that more generations than Gen Z are now using TikTok, and companies must adapt their messaging to keep up with how people consume media. He expands on the topic in his blog, The New Digital Campaign for Your Company's Workers.  

One of the digital paths to enhancing employee engagement is to ensure you understand the social media tools employees and unions are using and use the information to improve employee communication and the response to union organizing if you discover it's in progress.   

A few other suggestions to enhance employee engagement include:  

  • Developing a deep understanding of employees' knowledge of technology to develop training opportunities geared toward needs 
  • Follow a user-centered design process that takes into consideration how your employees will use the digital tools and identifies requirements to meet in design solutions 
  • Strategize to develop an integrated digital communication system that is aligned with organizational goals and creates a satisfying employee experience, and avoid piecemeal approaches 
  • Develop a digital onboarding experience that aligns employees from day one with the organizational mission, values, and goals  
  • Add recognition opportunities or platforms, train your leaders in utilizing them to express appreciation for employee efforts, and enable employee-to-employee recognition 
  • Provide virtual opportunities for bringing employees together and strengthening a sense of inclusion and belonging, like gamification, virtual coffee breaks, brainstorming sessions for problem-solving, storytelling sessions to decrease bias through more understanding of personal experiences, and other creative approaches 
  • Senior management can share a passion for the organization's mission and the importance of employees in achieving the mission 
  • Develop digital communication tools that are attractive and modern 

Leadership training in digital employee engagement is necessary. Some organizations add new technologies and don't prioritize training. Too many assumptions are made about leadership skills. Once your leaders are trained, they become coaches and trainers for employees, supplementing any online training provided. Everyone works as a team. Collect data from feedback and use it to enhance the digital employee experience.  

digital employee engagement

Expanding on the Campaign-Ready Website 

Employees can still become disengaged despite excellent digital tools. The digital tools can be implemented and the analytics produced, but employees still need to be satisfied. Adding technologies without considering how the quality of the work experience and the relationship between employees and management is improved can lead to disappointing investments in technologies when the employee engagement metrics don't budge.  

The employee experience is a combination of the digital experience and the human experience, and as author, researcher, and speaker Joe McKendrick in Forbes points out, they can intersect. For example, the digital experience should enable employee voice and participation in decision-making. The digital experience should support a positive culture. Tim Manahan, Executive Vice President of Citrix, says, "Employees today don't want jobs. They want to do meaningful work and spend purposeful time in the office. Investments made over the past two years to get employees working safely and securely in a remote world and maintain business continuity have set the stage for greater agility and accelerated innovation. The technologies companies used to digitize their businesses to survive have given way to new business models – from telemedicine and virtual learning to the metaverse - that are enabling them to thrive."  

In the same Forbes article, David Rock at the NeuroLeadership Institute says that "companies successfully pivot to a platform-first virtual model" but "leaders need to be more deliberate about the markers of their culture, be more intentional about onboarding new people, and above all, more focused on skills of managers at all levels." 

The level of employee engagement is directly connected to the risk of employees wanting to join a union. Increasing employee engagement does not guarantee they won't join a union, but it's the ultimate strategy for minimizing the risks. Digital technologies are essential in engaging employees and responding to union organizing that begins despite all your efforts.   

The campaign-ready website is the core platform around on and to which other digital engagement support tools are added. You can expand on it in different ways to support a transparent and engaging organizational culture in which management's messaging is widely distributed and accepted. The website presents the organizational position and facts about unions, but it takes more than a website to reach all employees and convince them not to unionize. Some of the digital tools that supplement the campaign-ready website include:  

  • Texting news stories about union activities like plant closings, strikes, and Unfair Labor Practices (ULPs
  • Video postcards 
  • Printed flyers with QR codes that take the person to the campaign-ready website 
  • Social media campaigns 
  • Short-form videos posted on social media sites that explain aspects of unionization like union dues and the limitations of the collective bargaining contract 
  • Internal podcasts 
  • Links and content in apps 

Don't forget that non-digital resources are good for reinforcing a message, like posters, wallet cards, and letters sent to employee homes.   

Thoughtfully Employing Digital Engagement Tools 

As technology is embedded deeper and deeper into people's lives, digital employee engagement is quickly becoming necessary for preventing union organizing, responding to union organizing, developing a positive organizational culture, and strengthening positive employee relations. Employing digital engagement tools should be a thoughtful process based on a well-designed strategy to meet employee needs. Contact IRI Consultants to assist with communication assessments, developing a strategic plan for digital employee engagement, and developing all the critical digital and non-digital tools for sharing the company perspective on unions and responding to union organizing.

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.