3 Tips for Engaging Employees Who Are Hard To Reach

Brian Tallman
Brian Tallman

manufacturing manager recognizing employee for good work

When your organization has employees in a lot of different roles and locations, it can be especially challenging to engage and align them to the business. It’s even harder when they are “deskless” workers who work in functions that are decentralized, offline, industrial, mobile (and sometimes, all of the above).

As much as 80% of the world’s workforce is made up of these deskless workers who often lack consistent access to communication technology or internal systems, yet only 1% of software investment is focused on these workers. As a result, these workers are often at risk of lower engagement and more likely to consider opportunities elsewhere.

Build a Strong Foundation Today

Increasingly, companies are realizing that the lack of connection and engagement employees are feeling isn’t just due to ineffective communication but to something deeper: an inability to connect employees to a personal and collective sense of purpose.

Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report recently summarized the impact of organizational purpose, noting that “2020 taught us the importance of purpose in establishing an organization’s direction in the face of disruption...organizations that embraced purpose were able to sift through competing priorities, unite workers under common goals, drive belonging and focus resources on their most pressing organizational and societal goals.”

And, while we saw unprecedented levels of disruption in 2020 that we can only hope will be an outlier, what we’ve learned about the value of creating a sense of purpose should serve as the foundation for how we look to impact engagement, productivity and retention in the future.

Discovering and sharing your compelling story about your company’s purpose sets the stage for authentic, lasting connections between your employees and your brand. It will also help to rally employees around your values and vision so they understand your brand and how they connect to it in their day-to-day roles.

As you think about how to communicate more effectively while also supporting a sense of purpose with your deskless workers, here are three universal considerations to help you develop your strategy.

1. Make It Easy for Managers

Managers have a lot of responsibilities to balance, but they’re also the primary source deskless workers have to get their company info. Help your mangers increase their effectiveness by using strategies like:

  • Segmented communications: When you personalize internal communications for deskless workers you increase the relevancy. But make sure you’re communicating to managers separately (and in advance, if possible). When leaders are looped in early you can ensure they understand their role in reinforcing the message, and they’ll feel more confident fielding questions employees may have.
  • Automated messaging: If there are behaviors you want to make sure your managers demonstrate, automated messaging can be a huge help. Reminders for important milestones like employee's birthdays and anniversaries are especially important, but think about other reminders that can improve the experience for deskless workers, too. Nudges to complete a weekly check-in or to recognize recent performance are two simple but high impact ideas for how these reminders can be used.
  • Access to the right tools: Managers can struggle to know how they can improve their outreach, especially when they are supposed to support an internal communication initiative. Give managers a tool box and best practices guide so they can further expand on any campaign messaging. You can even offer branded templates—that provides them the flexibility to use what works best for their team.

2. Communicate Where Deskless Workers Are Actually Doing Their Work

Understanding the day-to-day job functions and work environment for your people can help you calibrate your strategy to communicate with them in more effective ways. Too often, organizations rely exclusively on electronic or environmental communications, and those methods can fall flat if employees don’t have routine internet access or aren’t co-located. By segmenting your approach to be more inclusive of the needs of deskless workers, you’ll increase the odds of them hearing your messages and also show them you understand the reality of the jobs they’re working, including the best way to get their attention.

3. Engage Employees by Tapping Into Emotional Connections

Globally, only about 25% of employees strongly agree they have received recognition or praise for doing good work in the last week. Yet, employee engagement requires consistent, frequent action from managers and leaders, and if organizations could move the percentage of recognitions from 25% to 60%, they could see a 28% improvement in quality and a 31% reduction in absenteeism.

While office or desk-based workers may prefer to display recognition in their workspace, the tactics you use to socialize recognition for deskless workers should adjust. Consider rewarding them with something visible they can wear like an enamel pin or a branded sticker that can be placed on their work equipment to signify their achievement to others. Another option is to reinforce recognition for them by providing a branded item that serves a functional purpose in their work or personal life like a water bottle, lunch bag, clipboard or even socks.

Related: Learn how a global retailer is using recognition and celebration to unite their primary deskless workforce.

More Ideas You Can Implement

Globally, just a fifth of workers do their jobs from behind a desk—and that leaves 2.7 billion people who are part of the deskless workforce. 

While it can seem difficult to engage workers in these diverse roles and work environments, there’s great opportunity to think outside the box to tailor your strategies to increase relevancy, reception and ultimately, those employees’ connection to your organization. To see how other organizations are tackling this challenge, check out our Employer Branding & Communications Portfolio.

Brian Tallman

Brian Tallman

Brian’s passion is working with creative teams to brainstorm effective communication strategies and creative vision! His other passions include exploring the country in a teardrop camper stopping at great coffee houses and local craft breweries.