6 ways Alaska Airlines communicates to a dispersed workforce

Few companies deal with as many employees on the go as an airline. Find out how Alaska and its sister brand Horizon Air stay in touch with pilots, flight attendants and others.

Alaska Airlines intranet tips

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.

Are you trying to reach remote employees across the nation—and perhaps around the globe?

Take a page from the strategy book of Alaska Airlines, which must get news out to 23,000 employees at that organization and its at sister brand Horizon Air.

Few companies have as great a challenge as airlines, striving to keep employees informed about everything from sudden blizzards to that co-worker who stole and crashed one of its planes.

In a session titled “Make your intranet soar: Communicating to employees across many miles,” Alaska Airlines’ Dianne McGinness, intranet content manager, described challenges and successes of staying in touch with a workforce whose day often consists of jumping on a plane and spending their shift offline and out of reach. McGinness leads employee communications on the airlines’ intranet and news app.

Keeping staffers informed “is a huge problem if you’re at an airline, because employees are not in front of a computer,” McGinness says. “They’re out flying airplanes. They’re helping guests onboard. They’re helping guests at the airport.”

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Here are some steps Alaska Airlines undertook as it modernized its intranet and designed a new app:

1. Weed out the old information.

When the web developers designed the new intranets for Alaska and Horizon, they sat down with human resources staffers and said, ‘What still needs to stay in the navigation, and what can we get rid of?’” McGinness says.

This enabled the creation of a more functional design, rather than simply replicating what had been there before. Clearly, employees found the new designs more useful. The previous version of Alaska Airlines intranet was getting about 50,000 page views a month. Now, the number is 350,000 to 370,000 page views monthly.

2. Segment your audience.

The intranet site Alaska’s World is geared toward the majority of company employees, who work at Alaska Airlines. OnYourHorizon targets Horizon’s 3,000 employees, McGinness says. Despite the separate content, communicators can cross-post, enabling them to get news out to the broader company while targeting employees with news relevant to their unit.

The sites have responsive design, so they are readable on handheld devices as well as laptops and desktop computers.

3. Design an app.

Like many airlines, Alaska had a challenge: How do you get news to employees who are constantly in motion and use a variety of devices? Flight attendants were issued iPhones; customer service agents and pilots use iPads.

“It really did not make sense to have the news available to employees only on a desktop computer,” McGinness says

The solution is an app called Pulse, which provides company content, as well as a menu for division content. Related content is archived together. For example, when Alaska approved a new uniform, it grouped all information about that in one spot.

“It’s very easy for employees to go in and get all of the content they need on a particular topic,” McGinness says.

4. Prepare for when employees leave.

When employees depart, they no longer can see the content on Pulse, even on their own phones, McGinness says. Front-line employees must return the company iPhone, iPad or other device.

5. Push urgent news.

“When breaking news happens,” McGuinness says, “we want to be able to reach everyone really, really quickly.”

It’s not just weather news that requires instant notifications. Last summer an employee stole and crashed an Alaska Airlines plane. That was a difficult situation for everyone at Alaska and Horizon, McGuinness says. Yet she received kudos from employees for the way communicators kept everyone informed.

Pulse notifications keep its workforce apprised of what’s going on. When Pulse launched, communicators had only 50 characters to push a story. Now, they can use up to 250.

“So it’s just a way we’re getting the bite-sized content in front of employees really quickly and helping them do their jobs more effectively,” McGinness says.

6. Allow comments.

You needn’t shy away from employee comments. All of Alaska Airlines’ content has comments enabled except for two kinds: union/labor relations, and anything related to safety and other such incidents.

Anonymous comments are not allowed. The section has proven popular, receiving 700–800 comments a month on average. To process this information for its own use, the communications team categorizes comments as positive, negative or neutral.

“Sometimes you just get employees who want to get on there, and they want to complain about whatever it is,” McGinness says. “That’s not constructive. But if an employee gets on and says, ‘Hey, I don’t agree with this, and here’s why,’ that’s a constructive comment.”

Another section is titled, “Water Cooler: Ask questions. Get answers.” Employees can ask questions, and the communications staff will search out the answers. The comments on the site are categorized, so communicators can refer someone to a topic if the question has been answered before.

The Q&A format also helps spark story ideas. “If we have multiple employees asking a question on the same topic, we then know, ‘Hey, that’s something maybe we need to do more communication on,” McGinness says.

There’s more to this session. Subscribe to Ragan Training.


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