Communicating effectively with the vast array of employees who don’t necessarily sit at a desk, and have zero contact with head office, represents a perennial challenge for internal communicators. It’s one that the new research report Remotely Interested explores in some detail.
Here, we speak with the researchers and authors, Jenni Field, Director of Redefining Communications and President-Elect for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, and Benjamin Ellis, CEO and Head of Product and Technology, SocialOptic.
Jenni explains that Gatehouse’s annual State of the Sector report reveals that the priorities of internal communications professionals are at odds with the biggest barriers.
“One of those barriers appears time and again: namely remote/deskless workers. In fact, I think it’s been highlighted as a barrier for the past 10 years. I didn’t want to see it on that list 10 years from now,” she adds.
“We wanted to understand how these workers are served by communications channels, looking at how they rate the quality of the information as well as their favoured sources.”
To kick off what would become a six-month programme of research and analysis, Jenni and Benjamin put out a call across social channels to invite participation. They ended up with 300 UK-based employee respondents from seven organisations with around 60% of remote workers, across a diverse range of industries.
For the research, they used SocialOptic’s platform for an online survey and combined that with face-to-face conversations.
“The questions we structured allowed us to cut and slice the data in a number of ways to delve into the detail behind the ticked boxes,” adds Benjamin.
The questions we structured allowed us to cut and slice the data in a number of ways to delve into the detail behind the ticked boxes.
The report provides a very rich set of data that allows internal communicators to look at how different channels serve remote, hard-to-reach employees in a wide range of organisations and job roles.
It provides the kind of insights you might need to better overcome the barrier often associated with remote workers: insights that can be shared with external communications colleagues and at board level to help improve integrated working, trust, brand perception and, of course, cost efficiencies.
The opportunity to create efficiencies – achieving more with less – by only focusing on those communication channels that are viewed as useful, accurate and interesting by your remote workers.
Plus, the chance to obtain the employee insights you need – from all workers, not just those who are office-based – to help shape business strategy and drive better business through improved communications, resulting in better workplace culture, employee engagement and use of digital technology.
Jenni comments: “You can’t truly assess channels without considering the content. I felt the importance of the content aspect was lacking in most other research reports. So, we structured the questions in a way that allowed us to look at content from three different perspectives: departmental, organisational and industry-wide.
“We wanted to investigate which channels use which content type and where the noise in an organisation is coming from. Interestingly, although we all intrinsically know that information overload is a problem, only 3% of respondents said they had too much information about their organisation, department or industry.”
The research found that working in a solitary or team role impacted upon interactions with peers, management and the environment. Understanding what group(s) your remote workers fit in helps you better align your communications.
Jenni explains: “Take bus drivers, for example. They’re flying solo. They don’t need anyone else to do their job. Their work is carried out on their own and they only see people they work with during breaks or at the start and end of their working day. Then you’ve got teams, such as firefighters, where everyone has a role to play in getting the job done.”
“There are also mixed teams – take the hospitality industry, for example. An individual might work in a team at certain times but also as an individual. Interactions with others are a mix of work and social. In all these instances, interactions with colleagues are very different.”
Once you understand the type of remote workers you have (solitary or team), understanding the relevance of third space – that bit between home and work – is incredibly important. For remote workers, this is often the canteen or mess room.
Benjamin says: “We found that the push and pull element of a channel is important. This is all about giving people choice and access to information but not forcing it. In other words, posting a magazine to a home address is acceptable – it’s up to the individual whether or not they read it.”
“Placing a digital screen in a canteen or mess room, however, is considered intrusive. Choice in whether or not to consume the information is removed, so individuals will either switch it off or switch to another channel.”
Interestingly, good old-fashioned notice boards were seen as ‘useful’, while print magazines were rated higher than email, the latter being viewed as the least ‘interesting’. Meanwhile, the line manager was viewed as important whatever the environment.
The research found that working in a solitary or team role impacted upon interactions with peers, management and the environment.
Jenni comments: “It doesn’t matter what content you put out, what channel you use, if the skills of your line manager aren’t good enough, it will ruin whatever you’re trying to communicate. So, probably the biggest thing to come out of this research is the need for businesses to train their line managers to be better communicators. Then we’ll see an increase in employees having all the information they need to do their job well. I don’t think there’s been any hard data before that evidences this need.”
According to the findings, 27% said they had too little information about their organisation. Jenni and Benjamin also found that as information became more relevant to the individual – at the departmental and organisational level, as opposed to industry-wide – the channel and content also had to become more personal. So, external online and digital sources seemed to suffice for anything to do with industry, but when it comes to things that have a direct impact on individuals or their department, managers and colleagues were rated highest for ‘quality of information’.
In fact, managers were rated high for being ‘informative’, ‘accurate’ and ‘useful’ but they weren’t considered as ‘interesting’ as colleagues! At the same time, though, while colleagues were also rated quite highly for being ‘informative’ and ‘useful’, they came out very low for ‘accuracy’.
Download the full report from remotelyinterested.work
Benjamin is passionate about organisational transformation and has worked at the intersection of communications and technology for over 20 years. He is CEO and co-founder of SocialOptic, a company that uses data science to transform human opinion into business insight. As well as contributing to several books and peer-reviewed papers on organisational culture and digital communication, Benjamin advises government, regulators and industry standards bodies.
Jenni specialises in helping organisations go from chaos to calm, working with organisations to help the understand how to get teams to work together better and operations to work more efficiently. Having set up communication functions in pharmaceutical, hospitality and advertising industries, she is an expert in ensuring alignment between the communication and business strategy. She is a Board Director for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and is the President-Elect in 2019.