For nearly 30 years, most of us have relied on email to communicate to our employees. But when the people you’re trying to reach are working on shifts, remotely, or both, you’re likely to run into some obstacles. The remote workforce isn’t always set up at a desk, or in an office, and these employees may not have an email address or computer.
Layer in the desire for two-way communication and getting employee feedback and suddenly the challenge is even greater. As an HR professional who communicates with and seeks feedback from a remote workforce, I’m going to share my thoughts on what I’ve learned about how to overcome this challenge. Let’s get started.
Communicating with and engaging remote employees for feedback is different
Consider for a moment the information and feedback you receive from casual conversations around the office. Anytime a change is announced, whether big or small, there is a natural desire to gauge the reactions of our teams. I can’t tell you how many times my CEO has asked me what I’m hearing from the workforce after a change is announced.
Where does that feedback come from? The watercooler talk, the hallway discussions, the spontaneous huddles. All methods that require physical presence to achieve. We often miss out on these invaluable, organic conversations with the remote workforce. They’re not physically on site and their schedules can be different than office staff.
How do we keep an ear to the ground with our remote workforce? How do we replace the informal channels that exist when we are working in the same space and time? The answer is seeking feedback, and it’s easier said than done.
Communication line to employees
Our initial approach for getting communication to the remote workforce was sending the information to the manager and relying on him or her to share it with their team. We’ve learned from both our managers and employees that this is not an ideal process.
We place a lot of additional responsibility on managers when we rely on them as a primary communication channel. Disseminating information accurately and timely can sometimes take a backseat to their many competing responsibilities.
Getting feedback from employees through their manager is an even greater challenge. Not only is it time consuming for the manager, the process can feel a bit like a game of telephone, with feedback from the employee getting lost in translation as it makes its way back.
While managers will always play an important role in employee communication and feedback, we’ve moved away from making them solely responsible for it. We’ve implemented several tools to get information directly to and from employees, including an employee communication app, a texting app, and survey tools.
Implementing communication tools is an important first step in engaging remote employees. Making the tools successful requires even more effort.
Let me share three key lessons I’ve learned.
1. Feedback initiatives being championed by HR and Internal Comms isn’t enough
If there’s one key thing I’ve learned about messaging and engagement efforts, it’s that they take a village. Despite how hard HR or Internal Communication teams work to make engagement efforts successful, we need buy-in, support, and involvement from Operations, Sales, and other key parts of the business. Without a team approach, these efforts can easily be siloed and viewed as “an HR thing” and simply won’t gain traction with employees.
Employees want to know what’s in it for them. They need to know that the leadership in their department or function is actively engaged in the process, wants their feedback, and plans to do something with it. Communication and feedback opportunities must be owned by everyone.
Once you’ve identified the best way to engage everyone, you need to make sure that the feedback you receive is being presented back, reflected on, and used to improve the employee experience. The feedback has to be tied back into everything you do. The employee needs to know that they were heard and that action has been taken in response to their feedback.
Otherwise, despite your efforts, you’ll have a dead-end channel and everyone will quickly lose interest in providing feedback.
2. The ‘too much, too little or just enough’ question for employee feedback
Once you’ve had success with communication and engagement initiatives, the natural tendency will be to do more. While it would be difficult to argue that communication and engagement are ever a bad thing, survey fatigue is a real phenomenon that can lead to diminishing results.
If you’re asking for feedback after every task or activity, the amount of people who engage with the opportunity to voice their thoughts will drop off.
If you don’t ask for feedback often enough, your teams will fall out of practice in providing it and you run the risk of having blind spots in your organization and culture.
You need to establish a cadence for seeking feedback that prioritizes relevance and impact while balancing “the ask” of the employee. This is especially true for remote workers whose time in front of a device may be limited. Make sure you maximize your opportunities to engage with remote workers by providing relevant information and meaningful opportunities to provide feedback.
Watch participation rates closely as you establish your cadence and adjust your approach as needed to find the sweet spot.
3. Make sure it’s more than just feedback and notices, and you’ll have a winning experience
If you have an employee portal in place, or intranet, make sure that there are multiple purposes for employees to log in than just reading a message or responding to a survey. This is a huge part of solving the feedback challenge, I’ve learned.
Perhaps an employee needs to access their eLearning, or benefits information, or a pay stub. Perhaps they want to share news with one another or give out some peer feedback. If there are other reasons for signing in, you’ll have a greater chance of the employee seeing and reading a communication or responding to a request for feedback.
It’s not easy, but it’s worth it
Engaging a remote workforce in a world full of information and distractions will certainly never be easy. Given our current labor landscape and competition for talent, it’s worth the trial and error involved to establish communication and feedback practices that help engage and retain our teams, regardless of where and when they do their jobs.
An experienced CHRO for Marquette Transportation, Jeff is focused on achieving goals and strategies to engage and develop talent, strengthen leadership capabilities, and promote organizational effectiveness.