Three ways to engage non-wired employees

Jennifer Woofter brings you three easy ways to engage staff who aren't based in an office environment.

How do you engage people not based in an office?

For better or for worse, the internet has changed the way companies communicate with their employees. As email, intranet hubs, corporate websites, and social media platforms have replaced face-to-face interaction, so too has information and expectations about social and environmental responsibility gone digital.

Unfortunately, this tendency to "go paperless" means that employees who are not regularly positioned in front of computers can be left out of corporate sustainability efforts. That's a shame, because workers in warehouses, on the assembly line, driving trucks and vans, and on the manufacturing floor are the closest employees to the actual sustainability impacts that the company is trying to manage.

Being physically proximate and intimately familiar with how the work gets done means that non-wired employees will have unique and valuable insights that more removed staff would never have.

Energy use, water use, waste generation and diversion, manufacturing process efficiencies, and logistics are topics that we hear about every day from corporate sustainability staff. So what does it say when the people actually doing the work aren't part of the sustainability conversation?

Here are three ways to better engage non-wired staff. I've seen them work successfully with a variety of clients across a number of industries, and most are relatively cheap and easy to implement.

1. Engage your middle management

Corporate sustainability staff are rarely on the production floor, or out in the field. To get basic awareness of sustainability issues, expectations, and requirements out to the men and women on the assembly line, you need to communicate it through your managers. Make sure that middle management understands the corporate sustainability strategy and is able to translate that into meaningful and compelling conversations with the staff that they oversee. (Read more about how to engage middle managers in sustainability).

2. Think outside the inbox

For every electronic communication that you send to employees about sustainability, consider an alternative approach for non-wired employees. Popular options include:

  • Create a bulletin board in the common areas (such as the lunchroom, the locker room, or the main entrance) where printed versions of electronic communications can be posted.

  • Install a large, flat-panel television in a common area, and program it to cycle through PowerPoint presentations, interviews, and other audio/visual materials.

  • Give managers a list of talking points each week to share verbally with non-wired employees during "huddles".

3. Eschew Verbosity, and keep it simple stupid

Set up a meeting with your Human Resources department, and ask what general qualifications they look for when hiring non-wired workers. In many instances, these employees will be hired for low-skill and low-wage jobs. As a result, some employees may struggle with literacy skills. Others may speak English only haltingly--and not fluently enough to understand multi-paragraph explanations about sustainability. If this sounds like your non-wired workforce, consider these steps:

  • Make sure that you translate posted information into the languages spoken on the production floor, packing facility, assembly line, or warehouse facility. Take some time to have a non-native English speaker review the translation to make sure that your efforts are effective. Make sure that your language is simple, practical, and communicated meaningfully--don't let it get lost in translation!

  • Ensure that supervisors are adequately trained in the message you want to convey, and then insist that they make time to personally walk employees through the meaning and purpose of any sustainability communications. Don't assume that it will be absorbed and adopted simply because you posted it in the lunchroom.

  • Look for ways to communicate with pictures. Instead of paragraphs of text describing water reduction goals, put it into a chart that visually communicates trends and the weekly, quarterly, and annual goals. Want non-wired employees to wear their safety equipment correctly without you nagging them? Put up a poster with photos of co-workers wearing proper attire and the necessary personal protective equipment. Employees are more likely to notice and respond to pictures of people they know than dry diagrams or manuals with lots of text.

One final recommendation is to make sure that you celebrate sustainability milestones that are achieved in the area of operations where non-wired employees work. Achieving a corporate-wide emissions reduction target of 15 percent against 2007 baseline levels is great, but not particularly meaningful to a worker on the assembly line. Reducing packaging waste 4.6 percent through better quality assurance on the production line? That's more like it.

Jennifer Woofter is the founder and president of Strategic Sustainability Consulting, a boutique firm specializing in helping rapidly growing mid-size businesses integrate sustainability into their business model. She tweets at @jenniferwoofter. This article was reprinted with permission from Jennifer Woofter.”