Step 1: Do your ground work. Do your ground work. Do your ground work.
A lot of what you know or have learnt about internal comms, must be undone on Day 1. The best practices of internal comms may not really apply here. The unique worklife of deskless workers necessitates that the “who”, “what”, “where”, when”, and “how” needs as much time as coming up the overall strategy.
Here’s what I mean: you may have a general idea about what a software engineer’s day looks like, the kind of people he/she mingles with, the surroundings they work out of. The same can be said of a journalist, or an admin manager.
But what of a chef? Do you know her day begins with prep work at 4 am?
Or that the housekeeping staff are busiest on Sundays? Or that a real estate agent does not get trained enough about the industry from within the firm?
Start your basic groundwork by spending time with them. Jump into their shoes, work alongside them, become one of them. Transform into chef, or a delivery person or a front-desk staff for a couple of days. Observe their periods of high productivity and leisure, pay attention to their lingo, investigate what makes them really happy, what is it that they really want from the company.. more money? or just.. less micromanagement? What are their preferred modes of communication?
How do they hear of company announcements? Find out if they know their rights, and benefits. Most importantly, mingle with more than two groups, so your observations are grounded in reality.
During this time, find answers to questions such as:
Who are my deskless workers?
What are their work-habits? Better yet, what is their daily time-table?
What are their limitations?
At what times are they taking a break from work?
How do they feel about the current communication practices? Do they even acknowledge it?
At what times do they have connectivity?
What is their biggest worry?
Why do they feel that way?
Leading their lives for a couple of days maybe an idea that makes you uncomfortable, but embrace it. The experience will teach you far more than the ton of research articles on Google.
The list of questions can go on, depending on the time you choose to spend with them. After considering responses,
Propose an initial solution that caters to their interests as well as the organisational goals (in doing so, define your outcomes
Test with the same set of employees for a few days.
Propose the better version to your management
Step 2: Finding internal communication tools that support your strategy
Communication should be personal. But unfortunately, verbal communication and/or emails are counter-productive to this demography for reasons mentioned previously. And one needs to remember, that for non-desk workers, IC does more than just communication: it is the glue that holds your large distributed and disparate teams together.
When you decide on a tool in this sector to train, manage and engage your employees, remember that it goes beyond just installing an app on your device. The tool goes out to 1000s of your deskless workers, necessitating an awareness exercise, a change in their current habits of accessing information, and also a change of processes at your end. So it’s important to choose your tool wisely.
We’ve seen companies desperately jump across tools for deskless workers only to have things go from bad to worse: After a while, employees not only ignore any updates posted on the platform but also encourage co-workers to follow suit.
Having seen this tragedy play out in multiple companies, we thought we should put out the essential functions that any IC tool must perform. Think of these functions as lego blocks that would help you accomplish your broader internal communications strategy.
Being able to engage meaningfully
The tool should enable you to push out only relevant updates to your workforce. For example, a change in shipment policy in one location will be a useless piece of information for all other centers. Ensure that it targets relevant messages to specific groups while also respecting hierarchy. If employees categorize company messages as spam, they are bound to start ignoring it.
Identifying and resolving issues ASAP
The tool should give your employees a platform to air their concerns privately and discreetly. When issues are nipped in the bud, it helps move work forward, for everyone.
Promote social communication
Deskless workers often operate alone. So, it’s important that you should be able to bring your entire workforce online, no matter the size. With this, you can build a peer network that includes employees across locations, foster a spirit of community as well as build some healthy competition.
Provide feedback for improvement
In addition to training employees, you should also be able to communicate their progress, and identify their knowledge gaps. The realisation that employers are interested in their growth, helps build loyalty immensely.
Only in the last couple of years, has the industry started taking recognising the needs of these workers and designing appropriate internal communications tools for them.
Design your strategy wisely, and pick a tool with deliberation, so you can tap the full potential of your large deskless teams.