In today’s dynamic business environment, reaching and engaging remote employees, such as frontline, plant-based, or field workers, is a significant challenge. These overlooked individuals possess untapped wisdom and ideas for improving the company, yet their voices are not adequately integrated into the communications strategy. The challenge to transform organizational communication into a two-way exchange, especially for older, hierarchical organizations, is formidable. Many older companies have paradigms from when business concepts that came into being during the Industrial Revolution. True employee engagement that creates a future good for employees and for business requires partnership. Here are some principles to guide those efforts.

Human-Centric Employee Engagement

  • Close the Divide: Foster collaboration between headquarters and field workers by inviting them to share their perspectives and contributions. Involve them in program design and create opportunities for their active participation. Reward that participation in performance reviews and offer rotating approaches to getting involved so there is equal access to anyone who wants to share their voice.
  • Good Employee Engagement Friction: Introduce healthy competition, like regional recognition campaigns, to pique the interest of remote workers. Encourage them to embrace friendly challenges. Make sure leaders are chiming in and rallying their teams to the cause to model and set the tone for participation in the competition. Don’t forget employee recognition as part of your model for what healthy internal competition looks like.

    For United Rentals’ 15,000 employees, the healthy friction was a contest between regions. It spurred region vs. region charitable program participation. Donation amounts didn’t matter, only that workers across 900 North American branch offices participated. The huge success helped double participation from the prior year and reinforced their culture which was strongly oriented toward caring for local communities.

    The Empathetic Executive: Identify a C-suite member who is genuinely invested in employee well-being and satisfaction. This individual need not be the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO); it can be powerful if a leader has a long background with the company and has come up through the ranks. Leaders who empathize with field employees’ experiences can be from any area of the business. Use internal communications digital and human channels (team meetings, quarterly all-staff meetings) to express and receive concerns through listening. When a good idea comes along, track it to implementation and recognize the employees or team who helped make it happen.

  • Middle Manager Engagement: Engage middle managers in co-creation. They hold significant influence over field workers. Corporate communications may not always offer employee engagement that truly resonates with the field. Ask middle managers to advise on how company messages will be received before sending them. It may also be helpful to examine and work within your existing middle management culture. And since middle managers will be the ones embodying them in team meetings, enable them with tools that are smart about the field context they are getting communicated into.

    Communications Channel-Centric Methods 

  • Diverse Platform Uses: Recognize that businesses are powered by human connection and emotion. These can’t always be quantified, but they are more powerful if used in a storytelling approach. It’s common to read about the need to “humanize” leaders as a weak spot within companies. Create a space within your internal communications processes or platforms for the complex human needs we all have at work: the recreational and the functional content. Balancing the inform/inspire ratio of the employee experience helps everyone to remain connected, motivated, and inspired.
  • Many Ways to Participate: If you do have a company-wide digital platform, provide various ways people can get involved. Some remote workers may be drawn to the fun aspects, while others may prefer functional features. ERG (Employee Resource Groups) can also be a creative draw for employees looking for both as well as powerful ways their participation can make a workplace better. Structure the governance of your internal communication platform so it caters to all preferences, and bolsters employee feelings of belonging and acknowledgment. Lack a company-wide platform? The more traditional analog methods can still be used; but you need to work with and empower your team leaders with tools, messages and suggested behaviors to reinforce what gets communicated. That combination will create a triple win in your efforts to reach remote or field workers.

Partnering to create a communications future that’s effective for everyone supports alignment with company strategy, supports employee relations and keeps the company culture strong.

I also write a LinkedIn newsletter called Slouching Toward Transformation–stories of how and why we’ve changed (for readers passionate about the human side of change management). You can read and subscribe here.