6 lessons from Con Ed on using digital screens

Rely on internal partners. Use successes to drive interest. And how about a shout-out to your company hero who helped save a woman in a wheelchair from a burning building?

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.

When 61 percent of your employees don’t spend their workday at a desk, you can’t rely solely on email for your internal communications.

Consolidated Edison, the New York City-based energy company, has nearly 14,000 employees, but 8,500 of them work away from computers.

“They’re out climbing poles,” says company writer and editor Marcia Cummings. “They’re going down manholes. They’re installing gas pipelines.”

Yet as of 2012 Consolidated Edison—known to its friends as Con Ed—was relying mostly on company emails to communicate, sending more than 1,000 a year.

Nowadays, things are different. Cummings and Ann Cameron, director of creative services, reveal how the company made the transition in a new Ragan Training video, “Digital Screens: Keeping Everyone at Con Edison Connected.”

Consolidated Edison provides electricity and gas to more than 9 million customers in the city and Westchester County. The company’s employee communications have moved from print magazines to email, intranet and digital screens, says Cummings, who oversaw the rollout of Con Ed’s digital screen network.

Here are some tips for using screens to reach your workforce:

1. Measure your effectiveness.

Are your emails being read? A number of software programs can tell you nowadays whether you’re getting through.

“Our research shows we had this huge information gap in our employees,” Cummings says.

At Con Ed, many employees don’t have time to check email, and some—particularly union members—will not do so on their own time. Con Ed decided to launch a pilot project to determine whether digital screens could fill the information gap for field workers.

[Sign up for Ragan Training for this and other video education on cutting-edge strategies and tactics.]

2. Ally with internal partners.

You’re not going to get a major project out the door without the help of several key departments. Con Ed created an internal alliance among IT, corporate affairs and facilities.

The facilities team was essential. “They knew where the workers would see the screens,” Cummings says.

Facilities staffers helped communicators install screens in four high-volume locations where field workers would see them. The department also knew what physical objects might prevent the installation of screens in specific locations.

3. Use successes to drive interest.

Once Con Ed’s signage project got underway, it became clear it was having an impact. People began saying, “Hey, I’d like a screen in my location. How do I go about getting one?” Cummings says.

To take the project companywide, the utility secured $450,000, setting up 100 screens in 25 locations. That reached 91 percent of employees.

4. Make it relevant.

Con Ed employees are eager to hear about news about topics such as benefits. External news can be a big hit, as when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill making it a felony to attack utility workers.

The screen reported, “Starting November 1, we will have the same protection against assaults as police officers, firefighters and transit workers.” Viewers were directed to the company Twitter account, @ConEdison, to learn more.

5. Sing their praises.

Your employees are doing great things. Con Ed seems to employ more than its share of heroes, so why not use screens share the congratulations they receive?

“We’ve found that social media postings really are ideal for screens,” Cummings says, “especially when you’ve got an employee that has helped save a woman in a wheelchair from a burning building.”

In that particular case, the employee won thanks from a 16th District council member.

Another staffer played a role stopping a home invasion. Con Ed shared the news: “Christina Mariani Thwarts a Burglary in Van Nest. She saw something suspicious and acted.”

An additional advantage of sharing good news is it helps bring more scuttlebutt to the attention of communicators, who can’t be aware of everything that’s happening in an organization. “It really encourages others to come forth with their stories,” Cameron says.

6. Share quick videos and news they can use.

Employees are eager to find out news that will affect their lives and work. The human resources department was among the first to see the value of screens, Cameron says.

Some announcements tout benefits changes: “What’s new with your benefits? Find out at these fairs.”

Others address digital safety: “Something phishy in your inbox? DON’T CLICK!” The announcement includes an address where employees can forward suspicious emails.

Video doesn’t always play well because of sound issues in noisy rooms, but Con Ed has been making 15-second videos that don’t rely on sound, with titles such as “Peak Safety” and “What moves you?”

The latter, tied to the spring fitness challenge, featured 10 employees, each holding up a sign about their favorite activity. Among them was the sign, “HIKING.”

Who knows? Maybe she inspired a co-worker to climb the stairs in the Empire State Building.



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