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Employee communication is the most essential element for developing positive employee relations, and it has never been easier to connect with employees through digital communication. In fact, if you aren’t already utilizing the myriad of digital tools and apps meant to connect your workforce and improve productivity at work, then you may already be far behind. However, just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it can be haphazard or incomplete if you want to provide a truly engaging experience. Any communication system needs thoughtful development and use to promote the best employee experience and leverage it as a component of a positive employee relations strategy, which supports a preventive strategy for keeping unions at bay.
Northeastern University defines digital communication simply as “an organization’s online communication efforts.” The wide range of online communication channels seems to keep growing, but the mobile communication channel has become one of the most popular thanks to the number of digital generation members increasing in the workplace. The interesting fact about mobile communication is that it enables the same communication types as that conducted on a computer or laptop. In fact, apps can be used on computers and laptops, as well as smartphones.
Employee digital communication took on new meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic as many workers were forced to work remotely. Now, the expectation is many organizations will retain a sizable remote workforce after the pandemic. One study reported by the Harvard Business School found that at least 16 percent of pandemic-induced remote workers will continue working at home. Add these employees to those who worked remotely pre-pandemic.
You are faced with developing a positive employee relations strategy that embraces a hybrid workforce. Your managers and supervisors need to communicate with employees scattered all about. Your Human Resources professionals need to keep a scattered workforce informed. Employees working at home, in coffee shops, in the field with customers, and at an employer’s site need to also communicate in engaging ways with management.
Professor Dr. Edward Powers at Northeastern University explains the challenge organizations face with utilizing digital platforms. “Today, the options for getting a message out are much broader and quicker than they were just a few decades ago,” he explains and continues, “Digital communication professionals have to be mindful about how to put forward these new tools in the right way.”
Dr. Power’s message is that you need a strategic approach to digital communication to get the most benefit from it. A great preventive strategy creates an employee experience that accounts for how information is shared and how people communicate. This is true whether that communication is manager-to-employee or employee-to-employee. The communication experience should lead to higher employee engagement, strengthen a positive culture, reflect the organization’s values, and maintain a personal element.
There are so many benefits to getting an employee digital communication system right.
By this time, you may be saying, “Whew! And exactly how do I implement all of this?”
Establishing an employee digital communication system is not something to be taken lightly. How people communicate has a significant influence on how they feel about management, the workplace, and the organization’s culture. Your leaders must develop the communication system to the nth degree and be ready to appreciate employees’ diverse perspectives and appreciate heightened transparency. It gives employees a voice across the organization and work locations, which is a powerful culture-building tool.
Like any critical project or resource, you need a strategy. Following is a general guide to start the process.
The first step is recognizing the many communication options. Following is a laundry list of ways to digitally communicate with employees.
The exciting feature of digital communication is that several types of communication can be rolled into one platform. The employee app is a good example. Accessible on a computer, laptop, and smartphone, the app enables a variety of options. The employee app can be designed to let you conduct pulse or long surveys, hold live online chats one-on-one or with a group of people, take live polls, make announcements, give access to an employee directory, create a suggestion box, post a newsletter link, share videos, share links to corporate policies and hold general communication with employees.
Making mobile technology the primary communication platform makes sense today, especially if your workforce is composed mostly of millennials and Gen Z. Many workforces today are global or working remotely at home or with customers.
Select the types of communication that could work best in your organization. For example, you want to keep your employees engaged with a mutual goal of staying union-free. You could use an enterprise social media program and an app and then build on the app by selecting the various app features, like pulse surveys, announcements, podcasts, online chat, and video conferencing (face time!) for meeting purposes. This enables regular engagement with employees no matter where they are located.
The app can supplement a website through linkage. In other words, give employees the option to click right through to a website, email, HR information, or another resource. The website can provide access to electronic newsletters, blog posts, social media, podcasts, and so on.
According to ScreenCloud, Nokia uses three digital tools, which are BlogHub, VideoHub, and Infopedia. They have dedicated employee communication tools. BlogHub lets employees create their own communities of employees from across the organization, promoting collaboration and innovation.
To address the topic of labor unions, set up a dedicated topic-specific website, like a “dark website” that is kept active. The app can contain a link directly to this website if desired.
The dark website can include an information page explaining why your workforce should stay union-free, a FAQ webpage, videos of real union activity, information about a specific union, union dues calculator, and anything else you want.
This is where many organizations let the communication process fall apart. The tools are made available one-by-one without determining in advance how information will flow in a smooth and connected manner.
The first thing to keep in mind is that your company’s strategic plan should be directly linked to the communication strategy. For example, you regularly post podcasts of managers talking about the company’s goals, explaining relevant events, and recognizing employee achievements. How will you ensure your employees know the podcasts exist, and how will they access the podcasts?
You also must assign responsibility for each digital communication. Who will write the social media posts for your company? Who should use video conferencing, prepare videos, write blogs, do surveys, and so on? Your leaders need a clear understanding of the tools available, how they are connected and how to use them to promote employee engagement.
When you know what you want to accomplish with the communication plan, develop an implementation plan. How will you let employees know the tools are in place, what they will be used for, the expectations for use, and the benefits of use?
This is another step that often gets skipped because employees are so busy. There is an assumption frequently made today that people use digital communications in their personal lives daily, so they don’t need much training.
Wrong! First, make sure you provide leadership training on employee engagement best practices, like conducting surveys, one-on-one online chats, and giving and receiving feedback. Make sure they know what tools are available and the expectations you have concerning their use.
Leaders need to know how to use communications to support the right tone and culture. The news is filled with stories of managers who thought a short tweet could not get them into trouble.
During a union organizing campaign, one manager posting on social media that “employees should vote no during a union election” can be construed as intimidating and lead to an unfair labor charge. The law firm Fisher Phillips makes some excellent points about using any employee communication resource, especially during a union campaign.
The importance of training managers and supervisors on the correct use of employee digital communications cannot be overstated.
Then train your employees on what is available too and keep them informed of updates. Using an automatic notification feature in an app is an excellent way to let people know something new has been posted.
Holcim is a cement, aggregates, and ready-mix concrete manufacturing company. The Holcim Switzerland & Italy operation needed a way to communicate with a widely dispersed workforce that worked in 70 different types of settings from manufacturing plants to project sites. The company chose the Beekeeper mobile platform and uses it for many purposes.
The benefits of using a mobile app include employee engagement by management throughout the workforce, the inclusion of all workers by overcoming language barriers, reduced chances of miscommunication, allowance for employee and management feedback and follow-up, and improved workflow and productivity. These benefits play a dual role in that they are also best practices for staying union-free through employee engagement.
Making sense of technologies today isn’t as simple as it once was because there are so many options. There’s a danger of overwhelming employees with an uncoordinated or disjointed system when they must shuffle through various programs and communications to find the information needed. That’s why so many platforms enable using a single mobile app for connecting with third-party systems, chatbots, mobile learning solutions, task management tools, survey tools, and more.
Some broad best practices to keep in mind include:
Yes, it can seem overwhelming at first. Still, you need an effective employee digital communication as a critical element of developing and maintaining positive employee relations, and positive employee relations are key elements of a preventive strategy for staying union-free.
A carefully constructed digital communication plan enables employees to feel authentic, heard, respected, and appreciated. That’s why IRI Consultants works to help employers connect with their employees throughout the entire employee experience – orientation, training, engagement, developing a union organizing preventive strategy or managing a union organizing campaign, leadership development, and much more. It takes a well thought out strategy in today’s workplace to maintain positive employee relations.
With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, 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.