When communicating with employees, most companies today rely heavily on email to get messages across quickly and effectively. But for some industries, like the manufacturing industry, it’s not that simple: a large portion of their employees (i.e., those who work in plants and distribution centers) don’t sit at a desk all day and/or don’t have access to email. Throw in the fact that these companies often have facilities spread across multiple locations and countries, and communicating efficiently becomes even more of a challenge.

According to Gallup, only 25% of manufacturing workers are engaged at work, compared to the national average of 33%, making it the least engaged occupation across the U.S. Since communication plays a critical role in driving employee engagement, it’s important that manufacturing companies take a closer look at their communications strategies to ensure that they’re reaching these workers in the best possible way. Here are five tips for improving communications with manufacturing plant employees:

  1. Connect employees to the company’s purpose and values. All employees want a sense of purpose in their work; it’s often a critical factor in choosing a company, and deciding whether to stay. While plant employees may feel very connected to their specific facility or location, it’s important to make sure they feel connected to the company overall, too. Keep the company’s mission, vision and values front and center via visual cues in the workplace (see example here), and incorporate them into team meetings and discussions like daily standups. Whenever possible, connect employees directly with the CEO and senior leaders through recorded videos and Town Halls (so employees can access them at any time, regardless of shift), letters and in-person visits.
  2. Respect culture and language. If you have manufacturing facilities across multiple countries, it’s important to understand local and cultural nuances across each location. Recognize customs and localize communications to align with the workforce at each location. Create a system to identify which communications each plant needs and doesn’t need to ensure they’re only getting information that’s relevant to them. Additionally, make sure that the information is shared in their native language (both in-person and written communications). This case study shows how one global manufacturer matrixes communications across native language and other factors to tailor communication campaigns to local customs and cultures.
  3. Have a communications liaison. Each facility should have a person dedicated to driving communications at their location. This person can serve as a liaison between corporate and plant employees to help ensure that information is communicated in an efficient and effective way, and adjusted for cultural nuances. Be sure to provide the training, tools and support they need to communicate effectively and consistently. For example, give them a toolkit with communications best practices, messaging and templates, and consider hosting a quarterly meeting with liaisons from all facilities to review best practices, share ideas and discuss challenges.
  4. Create multi-directional communications. Employees at all levels want to be heard – and they expect opportunities to ask questions, offer feedback and share ideas with leadership and each other. Provide regular opportunities for production employees, as well as people managers, to voice concerns and share ideas. Multi-directional communication helps employees feel more valued and connected to the company overall. For example, Nissan employees meet regularly to discuss quality issues on the floor. The company has found that those closest to the production work have a unique perspective on quality and often identify problems and develop solutions that managers may have missed.
  5. Think beyond the usual tactics. Think beyond the traditional kiosks, information binders and bulletin boards and incorporate a variety of channels and formats that will reach plant employees where they are. This includes in-person meetings, print and digital signage, video and audio recordings, letters mailed home, and, most importantly, digital tools. Many manufacturing companies today are investing in mobile platforms, which allow them to communicate with plant employees in real-time on the devices they already own, while giving employees access to information and resources anytime, anywhere. Here’s an example of how one international manufacturer used an app to connect employees in 11 different countries and eight different languages.

Every month, we’re highlighting stories, trends and tips related to employee engagement and workplace culture that organizations should be keeping top-of-mind in order to engage, retain and recruit top talent. Check back next month for more.