Eighty percent of the global workforce are non-desk workers, yet during a pandemic, these teams remain on the frontlines as their desk-based peers work remotely from home. How do we make sure this employee base is safe, productive and compliant? We believe it starts with digital enablement and the right communication and collaboration tools.
On June 9, 2020, we partnered with workplace communications platform and Energize portfolio company Beekeeper to discuss the importance of resiliency and safety among industrial frontline teams. We spoke with a panel of Beekeeper customers in this sector about the challenges industrial companies are facing today and addressed the various digital tools that can be useful in connecting and enabling frontline workers.
The webinar was moderated by Energize Partner Juan Muldoon and featured the following participants:
Below is a summary highlighting excerpts from our Q&A-guided conversation. You can view the full recording here.
Q: Before the pandemic, how did you communicate operational and safety-related changes to employees? How have digital tools helped you be more agile and more efficient in that process?
Nancy (Manchester Tank & Equipment): We interact and communicate with our employees on the production floor in a few different ways, but two primary ways were daily meetings on our shop floors and monthly all-hands meetings with the entire workforce. We’ve had to halt these types of meetings to maintain proper social distancing, and these communication voids led us to accelerate our rollout of Beekeeper over the last few months. We had just launched our initiative to rollout the platform and had planned to take a slower, more methodical approach, but the sudden need to communicate frequently to everyone at the same time expedited our need for a valuable tool that could be deployed very quickly.
Stephanie (Byrne): Byrne’s culture is very connected. We had frequent “hallway chats” and meetings with our entire production floor every shift. During the pandemic when that was no longer possible, we learned that our messaging strategy needed to change. It needed to be aligned with our leadership team, well-articulated to our employees, and very frequent. A few examples of ways we utilized Beekeeper include weekly posts from our CEO providing top-down communication, enacting a COVID response team and playbook within several days, and implementing a weekly newsroom. These tactics really helped our employees understand what was going on and feel valued and secure during this time.
Susan (David J. Joseph Company): It has always been important for us to have one true source for information, even prior to COVID. For operations teams, the primary way of getting information was during beginning-of-shift meetings where team members, managers and supervisors would convene. For example, an announcement from corporate would be provided in-person during those meetings, and then we’d follow up with a post in Beekeeper. However, after the pandemic hit, we had a real urgency to get multiple important messages out as quickly as possible. At that point we started posting everything in Beekeeper as our single source of truth, and we’d follow up on other channels.
Q: How important is it for you to be able to reach all of your employees?
Susan: This has been one of the biggest positive surprises for our organization. We realized that communications we would have typically targeted towards one specific audience might actually be appreciated by the broader employee base. We hadn’t thought much before of the value our employees working in the field might get from messages from our parent company executives, for example. But we discovered that our frontline workers liked being included in these communications and found them to be valuable and helpful during this time. That’s something that’s probably not going to change after COVID. We will not go back to limiting communications, and Beekeeper helps enable that.
Nancy: Communication is a core value for our company, and it’s an area we’ve focused on improving. When I started looking at roadblocks getting in the way of better communication two things came to mind: time and company-wide access. Communication takes time, and executives never have enough time. Secondly, we had no efficient way to access our entire workforce, which spans multiple countries. Prior to using Beekeeper, we had to issue documents that would then be printed out, taken to the floor and communicated within the next few days at the in-person meetings. Beekeeper helped us resolve the issue by improving speed and ease of communicating.
We were immediately grateful to have this tool that we can now leverage in a much bigger way in this crisis, when communication and access to everyone is absolutely critical. Not only did it provide a solution to us during a critical time, but as part of a larger parent company, we were able to lead the way with implementation and get sister companies to see the value in it, too.
Q: Kash, you have the benefit of seeing how multiple companies operate, embrace technology, and deal with some of these consistent challenges. What have you seen work well, and what are some best practices?
Kash (Accenture Ventures): Both communication and securing the workforce are very important. We’ve seen companies installing technology to monitor the workforce to ensure safety guidelines are being met — which is especially crucial now during the pandemic. Another thing many companies are doing right now is collecting data via various technology tools to change either the frequency or content of their communications. Providing data helps make communications stickier by giving it context. For example, emailing your employees to let them know that 98% of the workforce are complying with social distancing guidelines is a much better way of motivating them than simply issuing the rules and then reminders.
Accenture also helps many of our clients from a communications perspective. We work with companies on implementing effective communications now that face-to-face meetings are going away. We are always looking at what are the best technology and tools we can bring in to facilitate better communication in energy, utilities, industry and other sectors my team covers.
Q: What has been the most impactful learning you have had during these times? What has been the biggest surprise?
Stephanie: Having an emergency response plan in place and having protocols for the unexpected is vital to an organization’s employee retention and continuous profit. Our ultimate goal is to keep our people employed, and if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. However, this pandemic has really brought to light several loopholes in many organizations’ emergency response plans. Rolling out a COVID response team and playbook helped Byrne be very agile with our response. Ever since then we have communicated weekly updates through the Beekeeper app to provide updates, which has been essential for employee awareness and ultimately retention.
Nancy: Leading a business through an economic downturn is not necessarily new, but the high levels of uncertainty and personal health risks are certainly unique to this pandemic. Being able to stay calm and implement a strong communications plan through all of this has been critical in managing the emotions of a team. Second is having a strong sense of culture and engagement with employees. In times when anxiety is high, connecting with team members to reinforce why the work they’re doing is important helps them feel valued and secured. Our frontline teams are working very hard, and they need confidence and trust in our leadership team which we can build through good, consistent communication.
Kash: From our experience across different clients, we’ve seen that many have been very ready to respond. They have playbooks out and have been very active in interacting with the workforce to minimize impact. With communication being a big part of that, we’ve seen many companies embracing technology more and more. Digitization is becoming the norm now. While it used to be nice to have, it has now become critical. Every business needs to have a digitization and transformation strategy going forward — and this is driven by digital tools. All in all, this pandemic has taught us that we can respond to these types of events much more effectively with technology-driven tools.