Best Practice

3 steps to connecting with even harder-to-reach manufacturing employees

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, manufacturing organizations had challenges in reaching workers who were not connected to company email or intranets.

With the move to remote work for the majority of office-based employees, these companies now have a new set of “hard to reach employees”.

This is in addition to the large percentage of their workforce that cannot work remotely and remain on the factory floor. Leaders, therefore, face a much more complicated communications challenge because each group faces different challenges.

A recent study in the UK has highlighted the risks of remote working for the manufacturing and industrial engineering industries include a reduced sense of community (-21.1%), a reduction in social interactions (-20.4%), a reduction in the transfer of knowledge (-25.8%), and a reduction in shared learning (-11.0%),(Manufacturing Global). In a time where internal communications has never been more critical, manufacturing companies must find a way to stay connected with their employees.

Reaching non-desk based employees: A case study – Formica Group EuropeGet started

Across the globe, companies are doing their best to navigate through a wave of changes that are complex and interconnected. At the same time, employees are trying to understand what it means for them, how it will affect their job and their life.

Through this period of change and uncertainty, people seek to hear a trusted, consistent voice to keep them informed, to listen to their concerns, and to answer their questions. 

At the height of the turmoil during the early stages of COVID-19, employees everywhere turned to their leaders as their trusted source of truth and information. Leaders who stepped up to the plate formed a greater sense of connectedness and togetherness with their employees and earned their respect.

But this elevated importance of leadership comms is not old-school top-down communication, but part of one key element of total workplace dialogue, a voice of the company that aligns everybody in the organization around a shared purpose.

At its heart is the employee communications team, helping leaders amplify their message with clarity while creating relevant, personalized information for employees, listening to their feedback, and looping this back to the leadership – completing the virtuous information circle that is the voice of the company.

But critically important here, in a manufacturing industry setting, is that the internal communications team:

  1. Has the ability to reach all employees, whether they’re on the factory floor, in head office, or working from home – i.e. has the factory floor worker access to email or an app on their mobile device?
  2. Knows the information that is relevant to various individuals and groups of employees so that they’re not being sent information they don’t need, and doesn’t waste their time
  3. Know what are the employee’s channel preferences, i.e, is it better to use a combination of email and mobile app, or email and line manager comms?

If these boxes aren’t ticked, a regular flow of communication risks adding to the problem of information noise and overload which is already overwhelming people in their work and personal lives.

The key to avoiding this is to ensure that communication is relevant as well as regular. For example, suppose the company is undergoing a digital transformation. In that case, multiple projects may be happening simultaneously, varying from supply chain system upgrades to the introduction of advanced robotics and process automation. 

Not all employees will need the same level of communication at the same time about these change projects; segmenting your audience to deliver the right information to the right people at the right time will reduce the likelihood of the white noise effect.

The same applies to areas like employee benefits; if a large portion of your workforce is due to retire, then you will likely be sending them additional information on pensions. The millennials may also be interested in pension plans but are at a completely different stage in their life so shouldn’t receive the same cookie-cutter update.

On the topic of baby boomers, millennials, and gen X, the manufacturing industry is also transforming as many of their staff will be approaching retirement. Baby boomers are retiring from all sectors at a rate of 10,000 a day in the United States and this is having a significant impact in the manufacturing sector; more than a quarter of manufacturing workers are over the age of 55 and manufacturers have the highest tenure compared to other sectors, (Industry Week).

This change brings the requirement for attracting new talent and knowledge transfer, neither of which is easy considering the jobs themselves are also changing as companies embrace new technology and ways of working.

These are just some of the changes that may be happening in your manufacturing company, as well as mergers and acquisitions, new product development and more. With so much to communicate a multi-channel and segmented approach is vital. To help with this Poppulo created a special free whitepaper: Multi-channel employee-centric communications: The key to employee engagement.

It may be tempting to replace traditional communication channels with a 100% digital framework; however, take a moment to consider your employees before you do this. 

They are already coping with a change to their physical work environment, the tools and systems they use to do their job, and the people with whom they work. In times like these, they will seek the existing, established channels that they know and trust.

Adding new channels or upgrading existing ones should be part of your strategy to connect with those “hard to reach” employees but it’s better to think less like “reinventing the wheel” and more like “upgrading the tires”.

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