While facilitating a recent workshop with a client, I was reminded of a communication challenge I faced early in my career: reaching non-wired employees—those who don’t have easy, consistent access to digital communication tools, such as a computer. 

Here’s the back story: I took on a new role at an energy company and my first assignment was to set up a communication strategy for employees across North America. One of my biggest challenges was how to engage a large group of technicians who travel to customers’ homes to service furnaces, air conditioners and water heaters—known as Home Services. 

As I completed my research, the VP of Home Services dropped by to advise, “Don’t do anything that takes away from technicians’ ability to focus on our customers and get their jobs done.” 

While he clearly had operational goals in mind, he failed to consider the role communication can play in helping non-wired employees feel part of something bigger: where the organization is headed, how their jobs and function support the organization’s goals, priorities for the year, and how the organization is performing. But he taught me a valuable lesson about balance.

Here are five strategies to reach non-wired employees—designed to balance the needs of the organization with creating a sense of community:

  1. Help managers play a communication role. Employees often turn to their managers first to get questions answered. It’s our job to ensure managers are ready to answer when a colleague casually asks, “So…what does the new re-organization mean to us?”
  2. Leverage shared spaces and moments. Those moments when non-wired employees gather are perfect opportunities for communication, such as a start-of-shift huddle. Back to the technicians I mentioned earlier. Every morning they connected at a depot to gather their parts for the day. I leveraged that moment by inserting a one-page flyer into their packets: hard to miss (printed on fluorescent paper) and quick to read.
  3. Use print, but make it visual.Whether it’s a pay check insert or home mailer, printed materials are an effective strategy to break through. Honor the time front-line employees have available and keep it simple: postcards or three-panel brochures with lots of graphics and few words. 
  4. Encourage participation. Since non-wired employees are often on their own (think of the sales rep on the road or the factory worker on the shop floor), experiences that encourage interaction are an important tool. Here’s an example: I created a half-day event for those Home Services technicians. We explained priorities for the year, encouraged conversations with leaders, featured products/programs and, perhaps most importantly, fed them! We ran the event three times, so everyone could attend. Even if you can’t plan a special experience, make it your priority to get a representative sample of non-wired employees at your organization’s big events (such as town halls).
  5. Make their voices heard. Can your organization’s non-wired employees see themselves in your communication? Go out of your way to connect with them and use their content across your channels. For example, I worked with the communication team at a museum and we considered the interactions security guards have with the public. We decided to interview several guards and come up with the five most popular questions they answer.

Remember that VP of Home Services? I still hear his voice when I work on projects that include customer-facing or non-wired employees. It’s a good reminder to design communication so it fits the time and place these employees have available.

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