How food supplier ADM engages global workers during COVID-19

With two-thirds of its workforce on the front lines, communicators at ADM are tasked with reaching a large deskless population.

Communicating during COVID-19 is a challenge in and of itself. Making that even more challenging is supporting the majority of your global workforce as they still go to work.

“As states are going into shelter in place, and this is happening globally, we’re still asking employees to go work—especially our frontline employees to go work—because they’re working at plants and facilities that are producing food that goes into your pantry,” says Brett Lutz, vice president of global communications at Archer Daniels Midland, and member of the Communications Leadership Council.

ADM’s employee and contractor base numbers 40k globally across more than 800 facilities. One-third of its employees have been transitioned to remote work, while two-thirds go to plants that serve 200 countries.

“Communications is difficult, especially when you’re trying to think about getting the right message to the right people at the right time in all ways.”

Luckily, ADM spent the last year focusing on technology advancement to do that.

The key to reaching workers who don’t log typically into a computer each day? Mobile.

“This has been a huge uptick in the way that we’ve been able to get information that’s critical to our colleagues in a way that they can actually receive it,” Lutz says.

Showcasing the core belief of the organization—that everybody should have access to nutrition that they need to sustain life—informs all messaging to employees, customers, suppliers, government officials, investors and the broader community.

“First and foremost, we need to be living our purpose and we need to be living our purpose through our colleagues by making sure they’re both safe and healthy, we can start our path there in the way we communicate,” he says.

Leadership communication is key to that. A video message from CEO Juan Luciano said, in part:

“Because we play an indispensable role in feeding the world, our efforts matter more than ever at a time when many experts have expressed significant concerns about possible coronavirus-related interruptions in the global supply chain.

Our purpose of unlocking nature to enrich life takes on a very special meaning the current worldwide situation.”

Crisis playbook

ADM had a crisis management and a crisis communications playbook that helped the team get started, but no one could have been prepared for what we’re facing. Communications is “supporting almost every layer of crisis management” and put together a pandemic committee focused on what it’s doing at an enterprise level, then allowing regional and location action to take place.

ADM covid-19 management overview

The communications team also set up a channel dedicated COVID-19, which includes:

  • ADM inside news. Notices, forms, procedures are housed here.
  • Daily newsletter. It turned its weekly newsletter into a daily to provide the latest updates.
  • FAQs

ADM has technology that allows employees to translate that information into their local language on any device.

“They’re able to translate this content from English into their local language and very quickly be able to take action,” Lutz says.

ADM covid-19 comms response

Looking ahead, the comms team is beginning to discuss messaging around what it’s doing in the community while in no way wanting to come across as self-serving.

We want “to at least make sure that our colleagues who at are out on the front lines, and for those we’re supporting in the communities that we operate in, feel that we’re behind them, that we’re working for them, that we know that they’re taking a risk every day.”

If we can share a perspective that might be helpful or support those people in need, “that’s going to be the angle that we begin to take more formally as we move forward,” Lutz says.

Learn more about becoming a member of our Crisis Leadership Board.

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