Engagement Strategies for Frontline Employees: Deskless and Remote Workers

Most organizations today have frontline, deskless, or remote employees or a combination. As you develop internal communication strategies, ensuring they are fully inclusive is the challenge. It’s easy to focus on in-house workers and minimize employee engagement strategies for frontline employees and field staff. Still, these workers need to experience high levels of engagement as much as the onsite workers. The frontline and field workers are often the ones experiencing the highest turnover rates because they have been largely excluded from engagement strategies, including digital communications and meetings. The emergence of the hybrid or all-remote workforce has brought the engagement gap into focus, so it’s time to develop engagement strategies for these critical workers to increase productivity, reduce turnover, and prevent unionization. 

The Best Way To Communicate Information To Different Employees

Deskless technology is remote technology, yet communication strategies are often determined by people who don’t routinely use the technology on a routine basis. The best way to communicate information to different employees depends on user needs. It may be mobile technology or wearables, for example. In the future, even drone networks are likely to become common. They connect to low-altitude mobile communication networks, like on a construction site. They are mentioned to drive home that the inclusion of frontline, deskless, and remote employees in your communication system is recognized as an essential workforce need, no matter where the employees work. It could be on a warehouse or manufacturing floor, materials yard, or construction site; in a semi-truck, hospital, or hotel; in an agricultural field; in a retail or fast food area; or at home. 

The top reasons for investing in deskless technology are better employee engagement through better communication and employee experience. The deskless workers were brought into the limelight when they went from the forgotten workforce in terms of communication to the essential workforce. With the labor shortage, increased reliability on a growing remote working group of employees, and frequent business disruptions, developing quality, effective internal communication strategies is a business priority. Following are examples of how companies have utilized technology to engage deskless employees. 

  • Bank of America created an internal job board where tellers can indicate they want to work in a department where skills are short.
  • Pilot Flying J has mobile workers using smartphones to clock in and out, track schedules, request schedule changes, and request paid time off.
  • Companies using Quinyz, a vendor scheduling software, can optimize workforce deployment, bid on shifts needing coverage, and indicate availability for work; manage instant polling and surveys; and utilize a chat function connecting workers with managers and other employees.

These are just a few examples of employers engaging workers who aren’t sitting at a desk in the employer’s location. Technology is the best way to communicate information to different employees, but there are two points to remember.

1. Employee engagement strategies for frontline employees and others not working onsite requires more than transactional communication. The communication system should also enable employees to find information, communicate with managers, ask HR questions, access information about open positions and career growth opportunities, connect with peers, and connect with deskless workers in general through videos, podcasts, and story-based content.

2. All employee engagement strategies should include face-to-face conversations and physical participation in company events when possible. In the age of technology, it’s easy to forget the importance of humanizing communication. Even if employees cannot attend onsite events or meet in person, using technologies like facetime on an internal social media site or holding virtual meetings is crucial for employees to have a full “humanized” communication experience that includes verbal and body language.

Internal communication tools are plentiful today, so one step in developing the internal communication strategy is to determine the best options for your workplace culture, workforce structure, and communication goals. The strategy should support an enhanced employee experience, higher employee engagement, and improved well-being. Communication is essential to the employee experience from onboarding to the exit interview. 

engagement strategies field employees

Mobile technology like smartphones, laptops, and tablet computers enables almost any communication. They include emails, videos, internal social media like Slack or Facebook Workplace, employee apps, podcasts, and various collaboration platforms. You can use webinars, surveys, digital newsletters, links to HR documents and programs, and digital forums and bulletin boards. A caveat is that you should not use so many communication tools and channels that make it difficult for employees to find the information they need. 

Platforms are getting more sophisticated each year. A Forrester TEI study quantified the Legion Workforce Management Platform as to the economic impact on a company with 10,000 employees over a three-year period. The result was 43.9 percent schedule optimization, 25.9 percent attrition reduction, 30.2 percent manager productivity improvements, and $14.3 million in savings. The benefits included empowering frontline workers through better communications, instant access to earned wages, gig-like schedule flexibility, and performance and rewards designed for frontline workers.

Scheduling significantly impacts many frontline, deskless, and field workers. In fact, scheduling is one of the major grievances of hourly workers who decide to unionize. Leadership Professor Benjamin Laker described a communication platform that optimizes scheduling by offering pre-shift health screenings to help employees determine if they should show up for work. The technology runs through all the workers who could take the shift, and the backup employee can accept or deny the offer. These kinds of communication options empower employees. 

The main point is to think outside the box regarding developing engagement strategies for frontline and offsite workers. Engagement strategies can be customized and extremely varied today. If you want to make a union unnecessary, identify the issues and needs of your these employees and determine how a digital communication system can help. 

How To Develop A Deskless Employee Measurement Strategy

A VMA group survey of the communications profession found that 54 percent strongly agreed or agreed that progress made towards reaching communications objectives is “researched, measured and evaluated with metrics and KPIs.” The deskless employee measurement strategy is similar to the measurement strategy used for onsite employees for a good reason. However, it is tailored to meet the common and different needs of frontline, deskless, and remote workers. How do you know your engagement strategies for frontline employees are working unless you collect and analyze data?

The KPIs and metrics measure the effectiveness of the internal communications strategy for employees working away from onsite desks. Contact Monkey offers communication tools like email, newsletters, and texting programs and says the measurement strategy should identify the following:

  • Reach – How well does the communication system reach all employees, and how many use the available platforms, apps, and other tools?
  • Engagement – How are your employees interacting with the internal communications system, and what are they saying about it? Do the communication tools meet their preferred form of communication? IRI Consultants would add that metrics should also inform as to whether the leadership communication is effective and whether employees believe the feedback process is successful. Do your remote employees feel connected to the organization and have positive relationships with their supervisors and managers who are onsite?
  • Outcomes – Measuring reach and engagement is supplemented by measuring employee outcomes. These outcomes include productivity, turnover, quality of customer service, utilization of benefit programs, ability to stay knowledgeable about organizational changes to policies and procedures, and so on.

Tips On Finding Story-Based Content That Employees Want To Watch And Share

Since internal communications are not strictly transactional, you should add interesting opportunities and methods for sharing the organizational mission, culture, and values. One of the best ways of doing that is with story-based content, which is a culture builder at the same time. Great Place to Work offers suggestions for sharing stories. 

  • “Day in the life of an employee” stories can increase understanding and appreciation of what various roles entail.
  • Share themed events like mental health day and employee appreciation day.
  • Spotlight accomplishments of employees in areas like awards earned, hobbies, special skills, and volunteer work.
  • Share positive stories about the company, like how compensation is higher than what competitors pay, more generous benefits offered, diverse employees in leadership positions, and so on.
  • Share the organization’s social and environmental successes because younger employees, in particular, care deeply about working for employers who exercise corporate social responsibility.

You can add some fun, too, by sharing a series of videos on internal social media in which the story builds over time, making employees anticipate the next segment. For example, a storyline could be about a project team working on an innovative solution or a group of employees planning a special event. 

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Banish the Redundant And Cumbersome Communications

Redundant, cumbersome, and always boring communications will reduce the effectiveness of your internal engagement strategies for a simple reason. Employees will start ignoring them, making it more likely that they will miss important communications. Another potential consequence is that employees will stop looking at the communications meant to improve engagement, like videos of the CEO addressing employees. 

Communicate information that matters to employees. It should be targeted and relevant plus engaging. Segment your workers and target that group of employees with the communication channels and messages they need to do their jobs. Don’t repeat the message over and over again. A better strategy is to rely on your feedback data and analytics to inform who is and is not accessing the information. Then follow up with the appropriate people. 

Also, keep messages as short as possible, whether text, email, video, or another type of communication. Structure communications so people can read the headline or description and decide whether to access the whole message. 

Reduce the frequency of communications too. Just because it’s easy for a manager to send a message doesn’t mean it should be sent. One of the drawbacks to the ability to send messages quickly and without much thought is that too much noise is created.

Communication must be relevant and easy to digest because that is how people experience communication in their personal lives.

Turning Communcation Challenges into Positives (This is what makes your company unique!)

You want to strengthen employee engagement, and what seems like communication challenges can be turned into positives with the right approaches. Communication can achieve more than just delivering information when it’s structured correctly and the best-fit communication channels are chosen. Increase employee engagement by: 

  • Employing engaging and user-friendly technologies
  • Encouraging collaboration and sharing with peers across the organization
  • Creating a sense of community
  • Encouraging feedback to leadership which builds trust
  • Making managing disruptions, change, and a crisis easier for employees
  • Making it easier for employees, like truck drivers, to learn about regulation changes
  • Keeping employees informed about what is important to them

Employee training on utilizing communication tools to gain information, collaborate, and provide feedback is critical to success. Implementing engagement strategies for frontline employees and deskless, field, and remote workers without giving employees the necessary training will lead to underutilization of the communication channels, defeating the whole purpose. 

Tapping Into Communication Champions To Build Engagement

A good strategy for building employee engagement in the communication system is identifying and developing communication champions. Champions are employees who are natural communicators. They can connect with the remote, deskless workforce, demonstrating the empowering capabilities of the communication system and helping to resolve problems. Champions are selected in different ways, including self-nomination, utilizing people who are already advocates on an existing communication network, or management selection. 

Tapping into champions works for all sizes of businesses. They can be trusted voices in different functions which perform various responsibilities. They might advocate for a new employee benefits platform, encourage two-way feedback between employees and leaders, make suggestions, and generally promote a positive culture. The communication champions help make the stories more relevant to a specific employee group and reinforce messages. They can also support change initiatives and be calming sure employee voices during disruption. 

Champions don’t act as a sole voice; they are supported by management on an ongoing basis. The champions support engagement strategies through role modeling and assisting employees, but they need clear role definitions. You should offer development opportunities to ensure the champions are always up-to-date on the communication system, the information frontline, deskless, and remote workers need, and the organization’s workforce structure. 

So Many Options Today for Engaging All Employees

There is no doubt about it – the workplace is more complex and dynamic than ever before. Your engagement strategies for frontline employees and deskless and remote workers will rely heavily on developing quality, effective internal communication strategies. It’s important to get communication right, or else large workforce segments become disengaged. Disengaged employees are the employees most likely to leave your organization or start a union organizing campaign, and neither are good results.

At IRI Consultants, experts with experience across industries fully understand the challenges you face in developing and maintaining a cohesive, engaged workforce. When ready to determine how you can improve your engagement strategies for frontline employees, contact us at your earliest convenience.

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