By Ciara O’Keeffe, VP of Customer Experience

Employee communications around the Covid-19 virus seem to have exploded in the past few weeks. Organizations are refreshing their crisis communication plans, and incident task forces are gathering to discuss contingencies in the event of a local outbreak. There’s no shortage of great articles and best practice sharing. However, I’ve noticed a major theme: the plans, content, and channels are predominantly focused on employees who are desk based

It’s easier to communicate with employees who are information workers who have a company-issued email and most probably a company-issued device. It’s also easier for that employee group to work remotely. The bigger challenge is working on a crisis plan for the deskless employees in industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, and retail. How are organizations going to reach and engage that employee group during a crisis? How will the employees share their questions and concerns? Are they clear on where they stand if they are asked not to come to work? Do they know if they will get paid?

The Stranded Worker

If hourly workers are unaware of the latest updates and company policies, there’s a high likelihood that confusion and panic will ensue. A high proportion of deskless employees are hourly or gig workers, meaning if they can’t come to work, they don’t get paid. They now become a ‘stranded worker.’ When organizations direct deskless workers to stay home if they’re feeling unwell and at the same time provide no means of financial support, they increase the risk of employees hiding symptoms and working anyways. This is likely to cause a worse outbreak at your company. By clearly communicating what employees should do and how the company will support them, you create an environment that encourages self -reporting.

While communicating out is important, it’s also critical that employees feel they have a voice. Employee’s being able to ask line managers questions is one option, but how can they do that if they’re not physically at work? Having easy access to online, bi-directional communication channels in real-time is critical to ensuring this group of employees are kept up-to-date on the latest announcements.

Leverage Technology

You might not currently have a way of reaching all your employees in the field. If that’s the case, you can work with managers to gather all employee’s personal email addresses and cell-phone numbers. When sending emails, remember to bcc everyone so that you’re not sharing personal email addresses. Similarly, when sending text messages, don’t use group chat as that openly shares phone numbers.

For companies with higher-tech options, such as an employee app or digital newsletter, there are several ways to highlight important announcements. 

  • You can pin the latest updates to the top of a feed so it doesn’t get buried beneath less important updates. Whenever possible, give employees the option to comment on posts so that they can ask questions or share concerns. 
  • For breaking news or crisis alerts, you could use a three-pronged approach to maximize readership and impact: feature the post (makes the post bigger in size compared to others so it stands out), pin it, and use a push notification 
  • Read receipts are useful if you need to gather a record of who has read an update. For example, if you make a change to your time off policy or if you want to update employees about a plant closure. Employees can confirm they have read the post and you can access a report on who opened the post, when and out of that group who acknowledged it. 

Rely on the Experts

Finally, always try to link out to the experts when it comes to virus updates. Don’t recreate content that exists externally. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide real-time updates on their website. Share these links within your communications and on all your channels. If you link to any other external platforms verify that they are mobile responsive. The majority of your deskless employees are going to be using their mobile device to access the content. If the links don’t work or function properly on mobile, they won’t be able to engage with the content.

What’s become very clear over the last few weeks is that few organizations are prepared for a crisis like Covid-19, especially when considering their entire workforce. So many articles have stressed working from home if you’re ill or not going into work for two weeks, but our deskless employees can’t afford to do this. It is vital that you focus your attention on communicating with and supporting this underserved group. This is a great time to assess what communications technology you have access to. If you already have an app or a mobile Intranet, there are so many ways you can use these technologies to get through to your frontline teams and share information from the experts at the CDC / WHO as well as updates from within your organization.

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