6 ways to reach a scattered, low-tech workforce

Cintas has 30,000 employees worldwide who speak 80 different languages. Half don’t have email. Here’s how the company communicates with them.


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Hey, what’s the big problem with employee communications in this day and age?

Crank out some copy for the intranet, send a link in an all-employee email, and you’re there, right?

Well, not if you work for a company where half of your employees don’t have email.

That’s the problem faced by Cintas, which provides companies with uniform rentals and sales, restroom supplies, and document management, among other services.

Based in Cincinnati, its 30,000 employees are scattered across 430 locations in North America, Europe and Asia, says Heather Maley, senior manager of corporate communications. They speak 80 languages, work in positions ranging from administrative to truck drivers, and have various educational levels.

Most aren’t on computers at work, allowing them little access to company videos on YouTube or Facebook posts.

“You’re talking about half of the workforce that doesn’t go on the computer very often,” she says.

Maley spoke on the topic “Communicate up, down and sideways in a large, non-centralized organization.” Here are some tips for organizations looking to improve messaging in a diverse workforce:

1. Ask the experts: your own staff.

Look, you won’t know what you’re getting right—or wrong—without asking. Maley set up a communications panel that provided valuable dialogue.

Maley asked managers and directors throughout the company to nominate well-connected employees in diverse roles to serve on a corporate communications panel. This group provided insights and feedback on many areas. Some 115 respondents filled out an online survey that helped Cintas figure out where to start.

One question asked “Do you feel you have enough information on Cintas’ business units (i.e. products and services, vision and mission, objectives and company goals)?” A surprising 61 percent answered no.

2. Focus your newsletter on employee stories.

Sure, Cintas had a newsletter. But fistfights weren’t exactly breaking out among employees to get their hands on new issues. Cintas “stuck it in the break room and nobody read it,” Maley says.

So she redesigned the newsletter to focus staffers. The new “Spirit in Action” newsletter features stories about people contributing to the company and their communities.

“We put action in it, and we made it about people,” she says.

Maybe the stories weren’t as heroic as pushing someone out of the way of a moving truck, Maley says, but she still finds good ones. One was about Cintas employees who dressed up as Santa and delivered teddy bears to an event shortly after the Newtown, Conn., shooting.

3. Keep the writing short and snappy.

Fancy yourself a Dickens of the workplace? Good thing you’re not working for Cintas. Here are Maley’s rules for newsletter stories:

a) Length limit is four paragraphs, and even ones that long often get cut.

b) Keep the writing conversational.

c) Use tons of photos.

Guess what? Employees ate up the new version.

4. Offer “Meetings in a Box.”

In its survey, Cintas learned that managers were looking for talking points, so it began offering “Meetings in a Box” with information managers could share with staffers. This included plans for future growth, information on other business units, communications from the top bigwigs, and points about the company’s community involvement

5. Create an app that combines your messaging in one place.

Cintas launched an app that pushes out all public content such as its tweets and press releases. Phase two will include internal and proprietary content to staffers who log in.

These moves are correcting a former weakness in communications: Staffers had been finding out news about Cintas mainly by reading it on Google.

“If it’s not from the company, we’ve already lost half the battle,” Maley says.

6. Create a TV show.

Cintas has rolled out its “Break Room TV” to 180 Cintas remote facilities, with content that includes corporate videos, a news and stock ticker, and a split screen that allows local content on one side and corporate on the other. There is also a video-on-demand function that houses a library of information for meetings and training.

The company provides a PowerPoint template to managers, which they can use to recognize birthdays and offer safety tips on the local side of the screen.

“We’re now really focusing on making sure the content on the video side is updated so we always have new and fresh, relevant information,” Maley says. “Partners have a reason to actually watch it every day.”

@r_working

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