We’re living in an unprecedented time — and it’s drastically affecting retail employees. After all, none of us expected to live through a global pandemic that would uproot economies around the world.
Retail employees are working harder than ever, and many must also deal with reduced hours, layoffs, or furloughs. That makes it all the more important for employers to provide the most positive experience possible to show appreciation and keep workers engaged.
Employees want to be heard, which means top-down communication won’t cut it. Modern workers want to be engaged in a two-way conversation with leadership, and feel like they have a say in their experiences. Only 40 percent of organizations have a long-term communication strategy that can define how employees engage with management, leadership and their peers. However, this expanded scope becomes even more vital as COVID-19 continues to change how we communicate.
Likewise, we live in a time when technology is prevalent in all work environments (and with the lockdown, it’s compulsory). Although some companies might be resistant to adopt new technology, employees expect technological solutions that will improve their experiences. Offering digital solutions for every employee increases efficiency by fostering closer collaboration and communication.
Creating a Bottom-Up Communication Strategy
Bottom-up communication involves the flow of information that travels through the corporate communication pyramid. At the top, there’s official corporate communication, which includes direct news and organizational updates from leaders. In the middle of the pyramid, there's team and departmental communication — i.e., the back and forth required to complete daily jobs. And on the bottom of this pyramid there's one-on-one or small group communication, which involves individuals and teams working to resolve issues and challenges.
With this model, companies lean on employees’ input in order to make the most informed and strategic decisions. Instead of relying on leaders to disseminate information to employees who might not always absorb it, implementing a bottom-up communication strategy streamlines operations and keeps employees more engaged. According to Gallup, engaging employees more effectively causes 41 percent less absenteeism, 17 percent more productivity, and a higher likelihood that workers stay with their employers for the long term.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, communicating with your entire staff in real time is a must for ensuring your business can run as smoothly as possible. Here’s how a bottom-up communication strategy can achieve this and improve the employee experience within your organization:
1. Foster collaboration among employees.
An infographic from Queens University of Charlotte reveals that 39 percent of employees believe people in their organization don’t collaborate enough. This isn’t just a statistic. I’ve worked with clients who had a very disconnected workforce and sorely needed to create alignment between teams. At a large building materials company, for example, employees who worked at a cement plant had no interaction with or access to employees who worked in the corporate office — or even in the metals division.
Once the company developed a bottom-up communication strategy and implemented a digital platform, employees across different plants had more knowledge of the departments within their organization. They were then free to reach out to and communicate with those in other divisions or locations.
In short, when you encourage employees to communicate across silos and departments, they feel more connected and gain a sense of community. Here are a few ways to foster this openness:
- Consider gamification. Gamification is an excellent way to foster friendly competition; it gives employees the chance to collaborate in different ways and get to know one another. Gamification might take the form of a scavenger hunt on your communication platform, for instance.
- Designate themes for certain days. Bring all employees together by creating themed days. This might include department spotlights that highlight certain groups or individuals. You could also host “Wow Me Wednesday,” where employees can share impressive stories about colleagues or teams.
- Share trivia. Take time to share fun facts and company trivia with employees in the most relevant communication channels. Knowing these bite-size bits of knowledge can help them feel more in tune with your company as a whole.
2. Give employees a sense of ownership.
Employees feel more invested in their work when they’re connected to leadership, their organization’s mission and values, and their peers.
At many organizations, new hires learn about their organization’s values as they read through the company handbook during the onboarding process. However, employees usually never review or discuss those values again. With a bottom-up digital communication strategy, companies can highlight their values and recognize peers for living out those values in their day-to-day work. At Beekeeper, we usually post a picture along with a caption that recognizes employees who put company values into action.
3. Boost employee morale.
When you encourage employees to share their successes, they feel recognized. Likewise, companies that adopt more robust communication strategies allow employees to hear important updates directly from leaders (instead of receiving a skewed message from multiple sources). Employees can also direct questions to these leaders and managers through designated communication channels. This approach leads to less rumors starting from misinterpreted messages.
Remember that employees crave inclusion and want open channels when it comes to company communications. If you can provide these things (or better yet, give access to a communication tool), you’ll soon notice a boost in morale as employees start feeling more connected to their organization and workforce as a whole.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, bottom-up employee communication is more important than ever. Keep employees engaged and show your appreciation by encouraging them to use their voice and connecting them with the broader organization. This pandemic will pass, but employees will always remember how you handled it and empowered them.
Jenna Eastman is head of customer success for North America at Beekeeper, a secure, mobile-first operational communications platform for front-line teams.
Jenna Eastman is head of customer success for North America at Beekeeper, a secure, mobile-first operational communications platform for frontline teams. By providing real-time unified communications, Beekeeper keeps everyone at the company aligned across shifts, departments, languages, and locations. Prior to Beekeeper, Jenna was a senior business consultant at IBM and a client development associate at Boston Private.