Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.
You think you’ve got a dispersed workforce? Try dealing with thousands of sunburnt, Smokey Bear-hatted outdoor buffs scattered across some of the most remote wildernesses in the United States.
That’s what Suki Baz faced in launching the first-ever internal communications team at the National Park Service, many of whose 24,000 employees work in places without cellphone service.
So how does an internal communicator break through to folks out slogging through Alaska snowdrifts or leading sky-watch lectures in the Utah badlands? Smoke signals? Tom-toms? Carrier pigeons?
Turns out that Park Service employees aren’t so different from the rest of us. In the Ragan Training video, “Practical tips to connect and engage with a dispersed workforce,” Baz offers ideas for communicating with far-flung employees.
Baz, who joined the federal agency in 2012, formerly headed the strategic communications team at Booz Allen Hamilton and directed internal communications at the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Health Affairs. So she has ample experience in working with large, scattered workforces.
Here are some of her tips:
1. Use technology to your advantage.
All those grizzly-rasslin’ mountain folk apparently do come down to the lowlands from time to time. Try rounding them up for big-event virtual town halls. Livestreaming allows employees to connect with leaders directly—and ask them questions face to face (so to speak).
“That can be a pretty powerful tool,” Baz says.
Another tool that works with the folks out in rattlesnake land is virtual collaboration technology. SharePoint, Google Documents and other Internet tools enable people to work together from remote locations. Make sure you teach them how to use the platform.
“Being able to write documents together in real time really has changed our culture and changed the way we do business at a pretty fundamental level,” Baz says.
2. Find your influencers.
That old codger who shook hands with Geronimo as a boy and can identify every bird and bug in the woods? He might just be the one everybody turns to for news. Same for the wise woman who lives in a hollow tree on your corporate campus and knows everything that’s going on in the organization.
Query your staff about who the five people are in the organization or their work group to whom employees turn for information, Baz says. If 30 people say it’s talkative old Dotty Czibulka in your halibut cannery or Ned Ganweiler on your sawmill green chain, you know you have identified an influencer.
“Reach out to that group, and get their input,” Baz says. “Ask if they can help you share information, and see how they take it. Some of them will be super overjoyed and happy to help you do that. Some say no. But at least you’ll have this group to help you get information out.”
When Baz knows something is coming up, she sends information to the influencer group. They’re good at distributing the information. Human resources and IT staffers, by the way, are good people to rope in.
3. Audit your channels.
You’ll hate this, but according to the rule of seven you must get your message out many times before it really reaches everyone. You’ll have to figure out what’s working, so audit your channels: email, newsletters, weekly messages—whatever. Be prepared to shake up or even eliminate anything that’s not working.
When Baz arrived at the National Park service, staffers were producing short videos that took a month apiece to complete. When Baz came in, she said, “This is not worth that time.”
“You don’t have to necessarily stick with what you’ve got,” she says.
4. Use employee groups.
Do you have an employee committee that plans the parties? They know how to get the word out, Baz says.
“Think of some of those groups that might be able to help get your message across, and leverage them,” Baz says. “Get to know them. Make them part of your influencer group.”
5. Use external channels.
“Use that content to your advantage, because it’s out there and it’s publicly available,” Baz says.