While everyone was counting down the days until the ending of 2020, leading analysts were saying companies need to start 2021 with a clear, compelling message to employees. Workers want the new year to go better than the previous tumultuous one, and it’s up to employers to communicate how.
The messaging will be different for every enterprise, but they will all share the challenge of conveying their plans and vision to their entire staff—frontline workforce included. A memo won’t cut it, and employees hungry for stability need as much information as possible and answers to their individual questions. Like COVID-19 itself, the internal communication strategy around recovery will be unprecedented.
Internal communication tools have helped many companies weather 2020—perhaps leading to the number of frontline managers who believe a communication gap exists in their organizations, falling from 58% to 25%, per a Workplace from Facebook survey. However, 91% of headquarters’ managers communicated through e-mail during the pandemic compared with around 25% of managers on the front lines, suggesting that though communications were up, information didn’t necessarily move efficiently.
This was a common refrain throughout 2020. Previously untested internal communication tools revealed they couldn’t move quickly or flexibly enough to keep the frontline workers across organizations—those most in need of information yet most isolated from decision-makers—up to date. Lacking a comprehensive communication platform that extends from top to bottom, the frontline workforce was left out of the loop.
3 Ways to Invest in Your Frontline Workforce
Some organizations think seamless companywide communication isn’t possible—or that it’s unattainable due to resource and budgetary constraints. Others assume an internal communication platform for frontline workers isn’t worth it because of employee turnover or perhaps because older employees might reject it. Thus, digital transformation for frontline workers still lags.
However, that can’t continue this year, when the stakes will be even higher for keeping everyone informed. Here’s how to begin building a more connected workforce in 2021:
1. Listen to the front line. The best way to eliminate communication problems is to ask frontline workers where those issues exist, so explore what works and what doesn’t about your current internal communication strategy with them. Identify where gaps and friction points exist for the people who receive information too slowly or not at all. This step leads to more effective, tailor-made communication choices. It also helps frontline managers feel seen and heard at a time when almost half feel undervalued by employers, according to the same Workplace from Facebook survey.
Many organizations my company works with have begun conducting monthly pulse surveys to gather feedback from their frontline workforce. These help identify communication gaps and address those challenges quickly. The leadership team at one global hospitality organization, for instance, began conducting “ask me anything” sessions whereby the company collects questions via surveys and comments and then posts a video answering these questions weekly on a companywide stream.
2. Get leadership engaged. Improving communication with frontline employees can fall by the wayside unless leadership throws its support behind the effort. Communicate to executives why top-to-bottom communication matters and why it is suffering, and encourage them to reach out to all employees.
Likewise, keep leadership engaged by showing ongoing progress toward reaching the front lines: To measure success, use metrics such as the number of employees who logged into an internal communication platform, their engagement with leadership’s posts, and the difference in employee engagement scores between 2020 and 2021.
3. Use tech organically. Having the right communication platform matters for engaging frontline employees. Instead of creating a complex new system, work within a space everyone already knows and likes—smartphones—and use that as the portal where workers can quickly access resources, tools, and information. An intuitive mobile app can make frontline workers feel self-sufficient while relieving pressure from HR. And while it doesn’t replace face-to-face interactions or solve every communication issue, it does keep everyone in the same loop, regardless of level.
In your search for the right tool, look for features that enable two-way communication, whether it’s through chats, posts, surveys, or comments. This will give your frontline team a voice and enable all employees to access the right information in a timely manner and to ask questions if there’s more information needed. It’s also important to have a section where information can be stored and referenced, such as a document library and resource repository. Lastly, I recommend looking for a communication tool that enables collaboration and makes your front line more efficient. Search for a tool that has a forms capability to digitize your processes and collect information from frontline workers using a simple format.
Like 2020, the year ahead of us will be filled with significant announcements and critical updates. Smart companies are getting ahead of this information onslaught by planning early and building an internal communications strategy that keeps the front lines in the mix.
Jenna Eastman is head of customer success for North America at Beekeeper, a mobile platform that serves as the single point of contact for your frontline workforce. Beekeeper brings communications and tools into one place to improve business agility, productivity, and safety.