Disconnected employees? Here’s how to reconnect

Your front-line staffers sculpt customers’ first impressions. It’s vital for your organization’s success that top leaders and mid-level managers keep communication flowing.

Front-line employees are the face of organizations.

They deal directly with clients and customers, yet they are most likely to feel disengaged.

Though engaging with such a disconnected audience can seem impossible, there are ways to do it. Powys County Council launched a campaign that created connections between front-line workers and leaders. The council got its senior leaders on site, pitching in and seeing what life is really like for their people who are out supporting the local community.

The key to Powys County Council’s success was in understanding its audience. When discussing disconnected teams, it can be tempting to jump straight to channels. That inevitably raises the question, “How do employees feel about using their own devices?” That’s not wrong, but that’s not the best place to start.

Here are essentials for reconnecting with the disconnected:

1. Understanding research and avoiding assumptions

You might know what the role of a front-line employee involves in theory, but have you taken the time to know what it entails in practice? Take a page out of Powys County Council’s book, and shadow your colleagues. Spend time chatting about what matters to them, what type of information they want to receive and in what format.

Experience firsthand what it means to deal with members of the public, whether in shops or in their homes, the physical exertion needed to load parcels onto trucks within tight time frames, or how it feels when something goes wrong on site at 4:45 p.m. and you know you’ll be working late into the evening to fix it.

The reasons they didn’t have time to read your newsletter may become clearer.

2. Content and message

Now that you understand the challenges that front-line employees face, you can tailor your communications approach accordingly. At the heart of it should be great, relevant content.

Many front-line workers aren’t interested in corporate messages and would rather receive information that directly relates to the job they’re doing. We’ve even heard stories in which employees have been shamed by their colleagues for taking part in corporate publications.

So, be ruthless about what you’re sharing; carefully consider when and how you do it. Look at the world around you for inspiration on delivering bite-size communications, such as these 60-second news updates:

Or take a similar approach to Twitter Moments:

Emulating these test match updates would make any business update more engaging:

3. Give people a voice and allow them to connect

Social tools such as ESNs can help to make disconnected workers feel part of a community. It’s an opportunity for their voices to be heard, bringing different perspectives to conversations and helping them to feel valued.

To build a community, encourage people to be themselves and to share their interests. A CEO and a sales assistant both discovering a shared passion for cycling could instigate a friendship or connection that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

4. Leadership visibility

Creating connections with front-line employees takes time, energy and willingness on the part of senior leaders. We must educate those at the top that communication and engagement is part of everyone’s job, not just that of the internal communications team. However, we can support them by giving them the tools and skills they need to communicate effectively and visibly.

5. Stories from the front line

Your front-line teams help customers form their first impression of your business. They play a hugely important role in attracting and retaining business. However, they might not realize the impact they have or, if they do, they might feel the business doesn’t value it.

So, discover and share their stories. Recognition doesn’t require an expensive award ceremony; it can mean more simply to acknowledge the great things they do daily. Also, get their input in plans for the business; they probably know your customers better than anyone else does.

6. Multi-channel messaging

Mobile is often the go-to channel for reaching front-line people, but not everyone wants to get work messages on their personal phone. Even if mobile is a roaring success, it shouldn’t be the only channel; giving employees options on how to explore and absorb content is key. Here are some ideas for reaching the disconnected:

  • 60-second videos for team briefings
  • CDs or podcasts to listen to in vans or on the move
  • Printed newsletters
  • BuzzFeed-style emails
  • WhatsApp groups for teams
  • Apps focused on two-way communications
  • Posters and banners
  • Printed infographic: 5 things you need to know this month
  • Social tools such as ESNs

Managers aren’t a channel, but give them the tools to channel their own messages.

Reconnecting with the disconnected isn’t impossible.

Remember, too, that it’s OK for people to be negative, as long as it’s constructive feedback that doesn’t become disruptive. Listen to it, and make improvements.

A version of this article originally appeared on Alive with Ideas.

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