Say you’re a salesman working for Land O’Lakes, out slogging through a soybean field with Farmer Brown, and he asks you about the sustainability of your products.
You can rack your brains for an answer—wasn’t there an article about that on the intranet a while back? Or you can whip out your smartphone, call up some talking points, and look informed as you spout the facts.
Reaching employees in farmyards and on factory floors has long been a challenge for internal communicators. Mobile offers new ways of connecting remote employees to the intranet.
Land O’Lakes, a Minnesota-based co-op famous for its butter, has 10,000 employees, 40 percent of whom work out of their homes or on site, among them agronomists and sales staff. The company relaunched its intranet in April on a responsive platform, so that employees who work primarily by tablet can get the information quickly.
“They primarily work mobile,” says Juliana Wallace, senior manager of internal communications. “They’re almost never in front of their computer at home. So we want to make sure we that we reach them through mobile technology where they already are.”
Employees adopting mobile already
Employees recognize that mobile provides an answer, but organizations have been slow to seize the opportunity, says Shel Holtz of Holtz Communications + Technology.
“The problem is that employees are adopting it for themselves, but very, very few organizations are adopting it as a communications method,” Holtz says. “I think that’s silly. If employees are figuring out that if this is what makes them more efficient and this makes it easy to get messages, then it’s time for companies to start figuring out how to use this stuff.”
Here are some tips for reaching remote employees-as well as those around headquarters who don’t work at a computer all day.
1. Optimize for mobile.
Land O’Lakes’ redesign makes the intranet more accessible for mobile users, but it plans to keep pushing to create a completely different mobile experience so people can get what they need—and nothing else—when they’re on the road, Wallace says.
Even major computing companies have employees who aren’t writing code or processing timesheets. At the North Carolina-based business analytics firm SAS, employees such as cooks and a staff shepherd (really; sheep graze the greens on campus) can reach the intranet through mobile apps, says Lisa Arney, internal communications manager.
“Some individuals spend the bulk of their days not behind the screens,” she says.
2. Feature employees in your content.
The Canadian Airline WestJet has 10,000 employees, the largest majority of them away from desks, including 7,000 flight attendants, pilots, customer service agents, and others in airports across Canada and abroad. Although most remote staffers still use laptops, mobile access is growing, says Robin Farr, communications manager.
One way to keep remote staffers engaged is by featuring them in a section called Kudos. Any employee can use it “to share praise for another, and the vast majority of the people who use that are remote workers,” Farr says. “We get dozens of new entries every day.
A recent post praised an employee who helped a hearing-impaired guest with an assistance dog who had missed his flight to Los Angeles, Farr says. The employee got him on a later flight and even called the customer’s doctor to reschedule an appointment.
WestJet also offers employee-centered feature stories on topics such as a female aircraft maintenance engineer in a male-dominated field or how frontline staff managed during a disruptive ice storm last winter.
3. Enable social sharing.
Intranets increasingly are going social, allowing for comments, “likes,” and shares, and mobile users are increasingly allowing that. Plus, internal and external communications are converging, so Cisco is allowing sharing to Twitter and Facebook when a message is one it wants to spread beyond its employees, says Sam Burrough, director of internal communications.
Think about “how to use social media, where people push facts, figures, and even video and audio,” she says.
4. Harness the power of groups.
Because flight attendants are constantly on the go and frequently check in from other time zones, WestJet has customized their section of the intranet, Farr says. They can get relevant news as well as operational updates and tools they need to do their jobs, such as bidding for schedules.
This is something all flight attendants and pilots do, as their schedules are built monthly. Everyone can access the system to indicate the flights, routes, and times they want.
WestJet’s airports team makes use of team sites on SharePoint, as does pilot flight operations, Farr says. Customer service agents at airports use a discussion board to answer questions and clarify procedures, “which has been a great way to support employees and share information with the broader group,” she adds.
At Cisco, the SalesConnect App helps salespeople on the road to easily share content and ask questions, such as “what is the best training on selling collaboration right now?” says Burrough.
5. Create content with mobile in mind.
Mobile calls for discipline and adherence to best Web practices, says Land O’Lakes’ Wallace. Keep text brief and concise. Use bullet points. Make everything visual, with pictures and graphics. Instead of posting long financial letters, Land O’Lakes offers at-a-glance pieces on its home page.
Understand the difference between nice-to-have content and must-have content. The employee tramping around in a cornfield has different information needs from those of the gal in a cubicle in accounting.
6. Use email and newsletters.
Amid all the emphasis on apps and other new-fangled tools, email remains an effective way of reaching remote staffers and bringing them to the intranet. At WestJet, as at many organizations, news posted on the intranet is also promoted in emails.
“The reality for people doing this kind of work is that information might be easiest to find if it’s in their inbox,” Farr says. “So we email a monthly newsletter with links to the intranet for more information.”
Ready or not, mobile will dramatically change workplace communications in the next few years. Land O’Lakes is preparing for a future workforce where everyone is mobile.
“I might be sitting in front of a tablet all day rather than dragging my laptop around,” Wallace says. “That might be my future within the next 18 months or two years. … Because the reality is we’re all becoming more mobile.”
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