© 2023 MJH Life Sciences™ and dvm360 | Veterinary News, Veterinarian Insights, Medicine, Pet Care. All rights reserved.
Here’s how to communicate with an “out of office” workforce
Strategies for communicating with the modern veterinary professional
Content submitted by BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, a dvm360® Strategic Alliance Partner
Perhaps a silver lining of the pandemic, leaders now prioritize company communications and are strategically investing in tools that improve their readership and click rates.
Although communication is now a priority for leaders across industries, companies still face significant challenges when communicating with the non-desk worker. Not only has technology and the 24/7 news cycle brought about a widespread decrease in humans’ attention span (with some scientists now believing humans have shorter attention spans than goldfish—yikes!), but employees are burned out and disengaged.1 To reengage employees, organizations have had to take a close look at their current communications tools, as well as understand what communications tools and channels have become available, and of those what best fits the communications preferences and needs of their changing workforce.
In my experience as a marketing and communications professional for 20 years, no workforce is alike. Figuring out the blueprint for your unique workforce is critical to reaching and connecting with employees. For our Corporate Affairs team, the blueprint included listening, analyzing what was heard, and transforming through trust and authenticity.
Here are a few tips that will help you better communicate with the non-desk, veterinary professional worker.
Listen and analyze
When I joined as Director of Communications in 2020, our communications team was sending approximately 10 emails a week. Our emails were too long, not targeted, and sent too frequently. Knowing there had to be a change to how we communicated, and our Associates felt about company communications, the team developed and launched an Associate Communications Survey.
The purpose of this research was to better understand preferences for communications, including sources, style, and desired frequency, to explore usage of information sources both personally and at our organization, to assess satisfaction with current communications, and to utilize feedback to guide future enhancements to improve readership.
Here’s what we discovered:
94% of Associates ages 18 through 24 stated they use social media as their personal information source. In ages 25 through 34, social media was also cited as a personal information source (78%), alongside websites (43%), broadcast media (43%), and email/newsletters (43%). Of those Associates ages 35 through 44, 65% stated they use social media for information; however, websites (58%) and broadcast media (52%) were also noted information sources. We began to see a shift in personal information sources in the age groups 45 through 54 and 55+, which cited using broadcast media (64%) for their source of information.
Used communication channels like social media and broadcast news change by age groups, but email is somewhat consistent across all age groups. While a large number of hospital employees still use traditional means of communication such as emails and bulletin boards for information gathering, many now expect new forms of communications with features evocative of social media platforms (Ie, commenting features, feedback channels, newsfeeds). By emphasizing the use of multimedia communications, you can improve clarity and timeliness of messages, text, video, audio clips, and still photographs.
Hospital teams rely primarily on word-of-mouth, almost equal to emails for staying informed. When asked what the most utilized source for work information was, Associates stated manager emails (87%), Associate Communications emails (79%), followed by word of mouth/ fellow Associates (64%).
People want to get information from trusted sources – a friend, colleague, or manager. If scheduling and culture allow, set up a process to regularly relay information via face-to-face interactions (morning and afternoon huddles, formal meetings, in-hospital communication champions).
While highly used, Associate Communications emails and word-of-mouth are perceived as less valuable than manager email or meetings for keeping Associates informed. While 78% percent of Associates stated manager emails were extremely/very valuable for keeping informed, 74% cited in-person meetings as extremely/very valuable.
Alongside internal digital platforms, manager-driven communications have been a vital tool for relaying employee information. Utilize the ability to send emails from managers to optimize message distribution, improve information retention, and if there is a call to action, bring about better outcomes (Ie, enrollment in benefits).
We found that four in 10 medical Associates have limited time to check emails. Twenty-three percent of veterinary technicians or assistants cited stated they checked emails at the beginning or the end of the day, with 11% and 10% checking emails during lunch or work breaks, and at home or after work hours, respectively. For veterinarians, 22% cited checking their emails at the beginning or end of the day, with 8% checking emails on a lunch/work break, and 10% checking at home or after work.
Less is more for employees who have limited time to check emails. In fact, of three versions of the same message offered to Associates, 85% preferred concise (bullets) and to-the-point (shorter) emails regardless of position/role. Reducing the length and frequency of emails will generate greater interest and improve overall readership.
As evidenced in our Associate Survey findings, employees wanted change. So, we gave them just that.
With survey results in mind, our team took action. Here’s what we did to transform our communications, and the culture of communications at our company.
- Developed a Weekly Digest, summarizing the week's most important communications items in short form.
- Opened a Teams channel and Associate-facing social media channels to cross-promote intranet news items, as well as allow for employee commenting.
- Created Communications Toolkits for our Regional Vice Presidents, understanding the critical role managers play in the transference of information, and the importance of intertwining digital and face-to-face tactics. These toolkits contain email templates, talking points, one-page briefs, and FAQs to help them share news with Associates.
- Revamped our communications strategy. Nearly 47% of Associates indicated that company emails were not applicable to them personally, so today, we take a more personalized approach, sending tailored information to specific departments or groups of employees.
From an analytics perspective, these new communications tools and features have greatly improved our ability to connect with our employees. Since rolling out these new tactics, we have seen incredible enhancements in our employee engagement.
Additionally, topics once discussed via email are now being discussed within more collaborative settings and channels of communication. In May, we held a company Townhall, which featured members of our Senior Leadership Team (SLT), who presented on the future of work at our organization. At the end, we opened the floor—in-person and virtually—for audience questions and feedback. In May, we also launched the MyThoughts email and intranet page which offers employees the opportunity to engage directly with members of leadership.
Listening allowed us to transform how we communicate with our professionals. We broadened our channels, opened the floor for two-way dialog and feedback, and most importantly, began fostering a culture that encourages openness, accountability, and authenticity.
Companies worldwide are beginning to recognize this themselves: to engage employees, culture must be a top priority. By definition, culture is the collection of shared characteristics of a group of people, comprised of habits, beliefs, and behavioral norms. While we each come to work with unique cultural backgrounds, a shared work culture (founded in the company’s mission and beliefs) allows us to identify with one another despite our differences.
Communicating with employees under an umbrella of shared beliefs cultivates a culture of trust, unity, and collaboration. For instance, let us take cultures of equal and inequal power—with some companies holding less power at the top, and others holding more. If the culture at a company is authoritarian in power, communications will be top-down in style (leadership to the employer, with no channels for feedback). In contrast, a bottom-up style of communications reflects a more democratic company culture, one that emphasizes two-way dialog and works toward a consensus. Suppose there is a mismatch between employee values and needs and company values and needs. In that case, there will likely be a mismatch in communication preferences – leading to failed communications and a disengaged workforce.
Company communications and culture play a huge role in the employee experience, as well as in business. Uncovered by “The Heard and the Heard-Nots,” a global study of over 4,000 employees, conducted by The Workforce Institute at UKG and Workplace Intelligence2:
- 74% of employees report they are more effective at their job when they feel heard.
- 88% of employees whose companies financially outperform others in their industry feel heard compared to 62% of employees at financially underperforming companies.
As communicators, we must nurture cultures that reflect the values of our workforce and can do this by listening, extending channels to include those that encourage participation, and showing up (seriously, show-up—virtually and in-person).
Advocate for authenticity
Indeed, the future is digital, largely driven by automation and artificial intelligence. However, for us communicators, it also remains human. Take for instance referral marketing, one of the most powerful word of mouth marketing tools today with 92% of consumers trusting word-of-mouth over any other form of advertising.3 Referral marketing works because people have pre-established relationships and thus trust the recommendation that is being proposed. The same concept is true for leadership communications. If an employee is to believe and accept the information, they must first know the person who is communicating with them.
To achieve this, leaders must remove the “corporate veil” and build trusting relationships across all functions and roles to reach their employees. They must show up, show face, build connections, and continually seek to see the world through the employees’ lens. This is the true meaning of authenticity: proactively pursuing face-to-face opportunities that exhibit vulnerability and humanity in oneself, and the desire to truly know the human at the end of the email.
- Hayes A. The Human Attention Span [INFOGRAPHIC]. Wyzowl. January 24, 2022. Accessed August 5, 2022. https://www.wyzowl.com/human-attention-span/
- Marcroft D. A Silenced Workforce: Four in Five Employees Feel Colleagues Aren’t Heard Equally, Says Research from The Workforce Institute at UKG. UKG. June 22, 2021. Accessed August 5, 2022. https://www.ukg.com/about-us/newsroom/silenced-workforce-four-five-employees-feel-colleagues-arent-heard-equally-says
- Whitler KA. Why Word Of Mouth Marketing Is The Most Important Social Media. Forbes. July 17, 2014. Accessed August 5, 2022. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimberlywhitler/2014/07/17/why-word-of-mouth-marketing-is-the-most-important-social-media/?sh=5722b4d954a8