The working world has forever changed. COVID-19 accelerated the rise of hybrid and virtual work, fundamentally altering the workplace for both organizations and employees. Now, there’s no question that flexible work environments are the way of the future. In fact, according to Gartner research, employers would risk losing up to 39% of their workforce if they transitioned back to fully on-site working arrangements.
As companies adjust to the “new normal,” finding practical ways to reach and engage employees in hybrid and virtual work environments is critical. And given the Department of Justice Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs’ emphasis on delivering appropriately tailored training and communications, providing the guidance employees need to do their jobs in the right way is especially vital in a newly hybrid or virtual work environment.
How can training professionals become better virtual communicators and help their teams do the same? Here are three practical approaches:
1. Engage employees like a marketer.
There’s no doubt about it: We live in an age of information overload. With so much information coming at people at all times, it’s nearly impossible to fully process anything. That’s why finding ways to drive engagement and readership is imperative — but how can organizations reach employees, particularly in hybrid and virtual work environments?
The answer is simple: putting on a marketing hat and delivering communications like a marketer. But what does putting on a marketing hat look like for the modern training professional?
Keep it short and sweet.
Employees are busy and distracted, and lengthy communications are less likely to reach them. Deliver meaningful communications that are short and to the point by creating at-a-glance documents that are no more than one page long, highlighting timely compliance and ethics updates in a few concise bullet points. Providing checklists and job aids on higher-risk or nuanced topics can also help connect the dots for employees.
When longer communications are necessary, try taking a storytelling approach by appealing to values or principles-based actions, such as speaking up or doing the right thing. Also, be transparent about the “why.” Employees will be more open to a message that is honest and genuine. For instance, rather than sending a blanket message about protecting company assets, consider disclosing anonymized details from a substantiated allegation of misconduct that occurred at the organization along with a call to action.
Leverage multiple channels.
Email isn’t the only way to reach employees; however, far too often, training managers and other leaders rely on it as the primary form of communication. Rather than falling into that trap, try leveraging multiple communication channels to reach employees. For example, Slack, Yammer, Zoom, the company intranet and desktop screen savers are all great channels for sharing important information with employees.
Engage in two-way communication.
Communication is a two-way street — or at least, it should be. Opening the door to two-way communication gives employees a chance to share their feedback and ensures they feel heard and respected. Employees are also more likely to retain information when they’re actively engaged and involved in the conversation.
And be sure to look at what’s working (and what isn’t) and adjust as needed. It’s what great marketers do!
2. Make sure managers are on board.
Managers and supervisors are the keys to reaching employees. Employees often tend to be disconnected from senior leadership — whether by organizational structure or physical location — and typically take cues from their immediate supervisor.
Why should manager engagement be a top priority for training professionals? Managers essentially set the tone for their departments and employees. The data doesn’t lie: Ethisphere research found that employees whose managers frequently discuss compliance topics are twice as likely to be comfortable raising questions or concerns. They’re also 24% more likely to believe they have a personal responsibility for making sure the company does the right thing.
However, in order to lead by example and drive employees toward a vision, managers need the tools and guidance to do so. To effectively engage managers and deliver communications through them:
- Engage them in meaningful discussions instead of continuously talking at employees and hoping for engagement and readership.
- Arm managers with the right resources such as ready-to-use job aids, checklists, microlearning events, gray area scenarios and insights to help set the stage.
- Take a change management approach by first getting buy-in from stakeholders, system owners and partner departments.
- Set expectations with managers up front by clearly outlining what’s expected of managers and their employees and why.
3. Use data to inform communications.
There are general communications, and then there are targeted communications to specific groups based on role and risk. One-size-fits-all messaging is both hard for employees to digest and difficult to apply all the time. That’s where data comes in.
Gleaning valuable insights from compliance and operational data is a great way to drive targeted, highly relevant communications to the right people. The DOJ recommends focusing on higher-risk employees, managers, those with approval authority and process gatekeepers. Additionally, data can be used to assess microcultures that may crop up within the organization and impede effective employee engagement.
With our new way of working, effective communications are more important than ever for both training managers and the business functions they support. To ensure effective communication in today’s increasingly common hybrid and virtual work environments, training professionals must reassess their programs’ effectiveness and explore and embrace new ways of reaching employees. With the right approach and the right buy-in, organizations can further adapt to the new way of work, minimize risks and engage employees — even from a distance.