Tweet, update or post your workforce

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The Challenge: Reaching a very diverse and globally spread workforce

As the working environment for many is spread globally and very diverse, it is of interest how a company can reach its workforce securely and without onerous CAPEX.

The Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) decided that their solution was to provide twenty thousand tablets and smartphones to their remote workers, such as train drivers and ticket collectors.  The aim of this includes better communication with passengers, for example regarding disturbances to the timetable.  Timely messages about delays and diversions can help take the sting out of changes.

Not every company could rise to this level of expenditure and so it is worth looking at the alternatives, including unconventional means.

The Messaging Environment

How and when to use messaging inside a distributed company raises other points to be exploited for company or project communications and selected according to circumstances:

Reach: technically unlimited, but twitter-type messages scroll out of view very quickly, so their impact is short lived, unless the reader is specifically expecting a message.
Speed of Communication: effectively instantaneous, even more so than the telephone, as the recipient may be in a meeting and not wish to take a call but will read a message.
Data Security: one-to many communication is by definition visible, but can carry encoded messages.
Push v. Pull: The appropriate option can be used depending on the needs of the stakeholders (who are by definition the partners/ targets for communication).
BYOD (bring your own device): If a company (such as SBB) wanted to, it could invite workers to use their own devices, but it could then not as easily ensure that the communication would be reliable. There is a trade off between reliability and cost.

Tweet, Update or Post

Tweets (Twitter), Updates (LinkedIn), Posts (Facebook) and the like are all versions of a one-to-many messages, just like radio or television.  If however employees at any level of the hierarchy are encouraged to share their ideas, they can result in a significant increase the business tempo. Zappo’s social media marketing is a well publicised example of this:

The Pros and Cons: Public Messaging

The advantages of public messaging (such as Twitter) include:

  • messages can be broadcast one-to-many
  • reception is instantaneous
  • messages are visible to search engines (Google etc) and this can be of use when it is useful to “tell the world” for non-confidential matters, such as project progress or skills and capabilities of employees.

The disadvantages of public messaging include:

  • lack of confidentiality
  • this can be overcome by coding, but makes the messaging more cumbersome. Even with coding, the world can see that you are active.

The Pros and Cons: In-company Messaging

In-company messaging includes a function similar to “update” in LinkedIn or Facebook “post”, accessed eg via the email. The advantages include:

  • messages can be broadcast within the entire company, regardless of hierarchy. For example immediately after getting a new assignment, a project manager can ask who has similar experience, who he should talk to, who might be interested in joining the project team etc.
  • the interaction speed is usually far far faster than traditional chains of command. For example, a message sent out from a meeting may get an instantaneous reaction, compared with days or weeks by other methods. This fast response matters in connection with creativeness within a competitive environment.

The Pros and Cons: SMS / Text Messaging

Although SMS Messaging can be delivered one-to-many, it is more usual to be used one-to-one.  The advantages include:

  • Discrete, personal
  • Works nearly anywhere, even where the data networks are weak or non-existent, because it uses the mobile phone network.

Disadvantages

  • Usually sent from the phone, so not so easy for complex messages.
  • Tedious to archive.

Tweet, update or post your workforce?

Yes, but the format and option used should be driven by the communication objectives, the needs of the stakeholders and with regard to other issues such as confidentiality, as illustrated by the email usage of Hilary Clinton.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Mitch Panzar of www.dufry.com who inspired this discussion.

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