What are key effective strategies for communicating with mobile employees?

The key to developing a mobile communications strategy starts with an often forgotten first step, asking the employee.

Carrie Griffiths, director of corporate communications, Waste Management

Reaching a workforce on wheels, especially one without access to electronic communications, can be a challenge. Often, mobile employees are measured on their performance efficiency and time on their routes.

Busy drivers spend only a few minutes checking in and out each day and want company news from their supervisors.

Given those realities, the most effective strategy for communicating with a mobile workforce is to hire managers with good communication skills and equip supervisors with training and tools to become good face-to-face communicators. Managers should be measured, recognized, and compensated for employee engagement.

Despite the proliferation of digital solutions, companies should not concentrate on electronic communications at the expense of traditional print or face-to-face communications, such as: Brochures, newsletters, and postcards mailed to a staffer's home can target specific employees or groups. Posters in break rooms, entrances, and exits reinforce company messages and help build awareness.

Videos shown during employee meetings on site and led by a trained local manager can introduce and reinforce key messages.

Electronic signage boards where staffers gather can display local information including site news, service anniversaries, and safety milestones. Some employees may want to receive emails using personal addresses or
sign up to receive texts on their personal phones. Sites can have designated computers for staff to find benefits information, company news, schedules, or safety guidelines.

No matter who delivers them, all messages should answer “what's in it for me?” and use an employee's preferred medium.

Ron Hess, president, Motiv8 Communications

Create channels that make employees feel involved. Staffers may be away from the office, but you can develop compelling online channels that satisfy the desire to connect and be part of a workplace community.  

UPS created a Twitter handle, @UPSers that gives its far-flung workforce an outlet for talking about accomplishments and customers.

PepsiCo employees on the road listen to SoundBytes podcasts and use social tools to share comments. Software
company SAS created The Hub, where employees can post updates, ask questions, share ideas and opinions, and participate in specific discussion groups. 

These kinds of channels make info sharing and team learning exciting, conversational, beneficial, and rewarding.

Plan, listen, learn, and adapt. No one has all the answers about how to communicate with mobile employees because tech developments make it a moving target.

Regularly solicit feedback from remote staff on all topics, such as internal network speeds and content. Develop a communications plan to address the mobile audience and don't be afraid to test new ideas.

Monitor, encourage, focus, and respond. Make sure communications staffers are immersed in the internal channels remote employees use – sharing guidelines, monitoring comments, responding to queries, and recognizing people. Remote employees like knowing that people are out there who care and respond to them. 

Coach managers in mobile world communications skills. Review remote managing techniques and train managers in technologies to communicate and collaborate.

Jessica Miller-Merrell, author and CEO, Xceptional HR

The key to developing a mobile communications strategy starts with an often forgotten first step, asking the employee.

Start with a small pilot group implementing a short online survey to get an understanding of the way they work and the challenges they face when evaluating mobile communication strategies.

Questions to consider include: What is their preferred method of communication? What tools do they currently use the most? Do they work from a stationary location or are they traveling? Do they have regular work hours or do they work a flexible schedule? Are they salaried or hourly workers?

These questions will first help to determine where to begin and then help develop a big picture mobile communication strategy.

Once you have compiled and analyzed findings, focus groups or work teams composed of surveyed employees are a great way to further clarify best practices and suggested strategies while allowing for buy-in from key influential employees. This makes the transition smoother once a process or policy change is implemented at your company.

Mobile communication can mean many different things. Whether it is implementing an internal social network, developing a downloadable mobile app for employees to easily access email addresses and other contact information on the go, or using tablets in place of bulky laptop computers, a mobile communication strategy starts first with understanding the expectations of not only your senior business leaders, but also employees on the front lines.

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