Remote workers are notoriously difficult to engage. And while access to technology can be a major factor, an even bigger issue can be their inability to relate their day-to-day experience to the overall purpose of the business.And in many cases, your remote workers will be the people your customers are coming into contact with, making them an integral audience to communicate with.
So, how can we reach them to ensure they feel a part of the business and driven to help it succeed?
- What’s in it for me is the internal communications’ mantra and a question remote workers are frequently left asking. When you’re in head office it’s easy to lose sight of what matters to people out on the front line. While everyone does need to be aware of the strategy, they don’t necessarily need to understand it to the same level of detail.
For a worker on an oil rig what might matter most to them is when new safety equipment will be arriving, or for a supermarket checkout assistant, it might be about having reassurances that technology isn’t going to take their job.Consider specific communications for those audiences and make sure your line managers are trained to translate business messaging into something their teams can relate to.
- Laughter goes a long way especially in locations of tight-knit teams where the work is physically demanding, the hours long and the risks are high. Banter can be a great way of getting through the working day but many companies can be wary of including it in their corporate communications in case it doesn’t land well.
But there’s nothing stopping you from getting input from some of those remote workers to check you’re on the right lines. And once you’ve engaged them in something more light-hearted, it’s much easier to share more strategic messages with them.
- Focus on the smaller picture. What could you do that would have an immediate effect on the working lives of remote workers? My husband is an engineer and is cynical of most things that come out of head office or internal comms. But when a wellbeing day was run on his site, with relevant workshops about stress and health, not to mention the barbecue that accompanied it, he was suitably impressed.
The key was relevance and that the event was brought to them. Plus, having the CEO there made a big difference and positioned what could be perceived as ‘fluffy comms’ as something much more personal and important.
- Be visible not only to be seen but in order to understand. One of remote workers’ biggest gripes is how they never see head office people, sometimes creating an ‘us’ and ‘them’ culture.
Most inductions will give you an overview of all the various parts of the business but unless you’ve gone and seen it for yourself you won’t grasp the nuances of working in that environment. And how can you communicate effectively with people you don’t really understand, or in some cases, have never met?
So, get away from your desk and meet the people you’re communicating with. And in return you might just pick up some fantastic success stories to share with the rest of the business.
- Be realistic. There will always be some employees who won’t engage with the business, whatever lengths you go to and that’s ok. As long as they’re doing their job well, you may have to accept that that’s enough – especially as too much effort to engage them can have the exact opposite effect.
It’s not a reflection on your capability as an internal communications professional but rather an insight into how some workers really do just want a 9-5 job not a purpose-led career. Be realistic in the targets you set and acknowledge that 100% engagement is probably an unchievable goal.
While communicating with remote workers can seem impossible at times, it can be done and more often than not, they want to be recognised and valued for the contribution they make to the business. It may take time and effort to undo current perceptions and feelings around their place in the organization, but it’s more than worth it to have some of the most skilled and customer-focused employees on board.