mind the gap warning in a subway station
PHOTO: Bruno Figueiredo | unsplash

As companies plan their version of the return to the workplace, are they prepared for what to expect? More importantly, are they prepared for what their employees might expect or need? For some, the thought of once again having to spend precious time commuting or talking to people face-to-face and not through a computer screen may provoke anxiety. What might feel surreal and in the distant future will become reality before we know it — and companies need to be prepared for the feelings, reactions and expectations of their employees that will come as a result.

Gen Z Won't Be Returning to the Office. For Some, It Will Be Their First Time In

The most unexpected reactions will likely come from the newest and youngest generation in the workforce — Generation Z — who, according to Manpower Group, comprised almost 25% of the workforce in 2020. These individuals are in their early 20s and maybe started their careers in-person for a brief time, only to find themselves back at home as a result of the pandemic. Others may have had one foot out the door ready to go to the office for the first day, but were told not to come in. 

This generation of employees has never known a day without a mobile device by their side. They rely on them for almost every aspect of their daily lives. As a result, companies need to be aware of and sensitive to this fact and, in the coming months, be ready to communicate effectively through them to this critical audience. Hence, the importance of internal communications, employee communications applications and the admonition, mind the gap.

Related Article: Advancing the Digital Maturity of Internal Communications

Reaching Employees Where They Are, Regardless of Status

In anticipation of the return to work, now is the time to make sure that all communications channels are open and that all employees (regardless of where they work or their job title or function) are privy to and have access to information. In many instances, certain groups of employees, especially those who do not sit in front of a desk day-to-day with access to desktop computers and email, are more difficult to reach than their deskbound colleagues. Mind the gap, in this context, is not about being careful when entering or exiting the London Tube. It is about making sure a company’s current employee communications technology stack reaches every employee.

Keep in mind there are entire groups of employees within companies who do not have corporate email addresses or access to company intranets. These tend to be the nearly 3 billion non-desk workers who comprise the global workforce. The good news is, and as the graphic below demonstrates, dozens of employee communications applications (ECA, as defined by tech analyst firm Gartner) are available to address the challenge companies face in minding the gap and making sure that no employee is disenfranchised from communications.

ECA Gartner

While the number of solutions may be overwhelming, especially communications professionals and those who are not tech savvy, navigating the ECA landscape need not be. IT undoubtedly will have a good grasp on what communications tools are available and should be considered. However, over the past year, companies have had to successfully rely on the expertise of their communications professionals (internal/employee communications professionals in particular) to maintain a semblance of continuity in otherwise disconnected and remote work environments. These are the folks who know what solutions worked and which ones didn’t allow them to do their job to complete success because the technologies in place did not reach everyone. 

Related Article: Front-Line Workers: The Untapped Knowledge Workers in Your Midst

How to Navigate the Employee Communication App Landscape

In most instances, when looking at the entire landscape of ECA, it is hard to know which solution is appropriate for a particular company and its employee population. Nevertheless, an answer is in sight and is easy to figure out regardless of tech proficiency. It involves a three-step diagnostic process for determining if any gaps exist in a company’s employee communications application technology infrastructure: 

  1. Map out and really understand the structure of your company’s organization and needs of the entire workforce. Consider the regions, departments, offices, countries and brands that make up your company. Determine all of the groups and classifications of employees who are part of your workforce (e.g. management, field workers, part-time, union, etc.).
  2. Identify and write down the employee communications solutions that are already being used at your company (e.g. email, intranet, newsletters, digital signage, chat/messaging tools, etc.).
  3. Layer your ECA tech stack over your organizational structure and workforce demographics to quickly identify which employee group is not being communicated with and identify the gaps that need to be filled.

An Opportunity and a Challenge

Let’s come back to Generation Z and the return to work. Various studies including those by Pew Research and The Workforce Institute at Kronos, have identified characteristics of this group to include a desire for transparency and openness in communications. Gen Z also places great importance on company culture, values and important topics like diversity, equity and inclusion. Most important, they are technology astute and expect to be treated in the workplace as such.

While this may pose a challenge for some organizations, it also presents an opportunity for companies to accelerate their digital transformation. The technology expectations of Generation Z and return to work presents an opportunity to evaluate employee communications applications currently in place, ensure that all employees are reached and mind the gap to ensure a smooth and successful return to work in the months ahead.