Transform how you communicate and engage with your floor staff with the ultimate guide to internal comms for retail workers.
Your retail staff are on the very frontline of your organization. No matter how carefully you craft your branding, marketing, and corporate values, it’s all for nothing if your retail workers are not effectively promoting them to your customers.
But connecting with retail staff has always been a challenge for internal communicators. The sector has a high concentration of part-time or casual employees, who typically feel less connected to their organization. And rotating shift patterns mean everyone is rarely together at the same time.
Plus, retail employees aren’t behind desks where you could easily reach out to them through your employee intranet: they’re out serving customers and acting as ambassadors for your brand.
Think about it: how much do you actually know about the people at the forefront of your organization? Are they engaged at work? Do they fully understand your corporate policies or your company mission and values?
Without a well-thought-out communications strategy that’s specifically designed to connect your HQ with those hard-to-reach employees, you have no way of knowing. And perhaps more importantly, your retail employees have no way of sharing their knowledge, ideas, and insights, and helping you to create a smoother, more profitable operation.
What is employee internal communications?
Employee internal communications is an umbrella term that covers all the ways that organizations communicate with their employees. This includes traditional top-down communications like corporate newsletters or emails, and more modern, worker-focused techniques like employee listening, feedback loops, and peer-to-peer recognition.
Why is internal communications important in today’s workplace?
Without internal communications, your employees would have no idea about essential policy updates or legislation changes affecting your industry. More broadly, you would have no way of getting your brand values, mission, and strategy across to your employees – and your employees would have no way of giving you feedback on how your company is running.
Simply put, internal communications are a vital part of any organization – especially in the context of the Great Resignation. As we discussed back in May, it’s getting harder and harder for employers to attract and retain top talent. These days, companies need to do more to actively engage their employees and attract new ones in a competitive market.
A well-thought-out, targeted internal communications strategy can:
- Boost employee engagement and productivity: Employees are likely to be more engaged in their work if they know they’re working together towards a common goal. Plus, communications strategies that encourage employees to share their opinions help to make them feel valued, which is also a significant driver of engagement. According to a Salesforce survey, employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to do their best work.
- Improve the employee experience and boost retention: When employees are engaged at work, they’re much less likely to look for another job elsewhere. A Gallup poll found that highly engaged employees were between 24% and 59% less likely to leave.
- Increase efficiency and solve problems more quickly: When a serious problem arises, do you want your employees to have to deal with it alone? Or to have access to a range of resources and team members who might be able to help them? An effective communications strategy connects your employees together so that they can solve problems quickly and work more efficiently.
- Save the company money: Poor communications in the workplace can have a devastating effect on the company’s bottom line: in an SHRM study of 400 companies with over 100,000 employees, the average company reported a loss of $62.4 million per year due to inadequate communication.
Despite all of this, 60% of organizations don’t have a long-term internal communication strategy in place. Even if you do, you still might fall short if you’re not embracing modern communication methods – especially where retail workers are concerned.
The fact is, the old methods just don’t cut it: comms emails often go unread, and traditional intranet platforms are often clunky, outdated, and poorly used. And these methods are even more likely to fail at engaging retail staff, since they’re usually deskless and might not have a company email address or digital profile.
The challenges of internal comms for retail workers
In a 2016 survey, 46% of retail managers said their organization had no direct line of communication between their HQ and the workers on the shop floor. Many retail employees only get important updates through their store manager, which can result in messages getting diluted or confused. And, since retail staff tend to work to varied shift patterns and include a high proportion of part-time employees, many messages are lost entirely.
This can leave retail employees feeling forgotten and disengaged – and it can also impact the quality of your customer service. For example, when employees aren’t aware of changes to corporate policies, promotions, or other important news, this can look to customers as if they’re untrained and unprofessional, even when this is often not their fault.
Communicating effectively is challenging for any business, but retail staff can be particularly difficult to reach. Here are some of the main challenges that come with internal comms for retail companies:
- Distance: Retail workers don’t work at your corporate HQ. They’re out on the frontline, greeting customers and representing your brand to the public. Without the opportunities for water-cooler chat that usually come built into office work, retail staff might miss out on information. Plus, since internal comms professionals are usually based in the office themselves, their messaging is often developed from this perspective. This means that retail workers might not see their experiences reflected in any communications they do receive. All of this can leave retail workers feeling disengaged and disconnected from your brand – which is a big problem when they should be its biggest ambassadors.
- Timing: Retail workers typically work on rotating shift patterns. Since everyone is rarely in the same place at the same time, effective communication with retail staff is a challenge even at the store level. Companies often rely on chains of communication between various managers and employees, and it’s easy for information to get lost. And changing shift patterns aren’t just a problem for in-person communications either. In your corporate office, everyone probably starts their workday around the same time, which means you can ensure they see important updates first-thing by scheduling them before the workday begins. This is much more difficult with retail workers, both because they likely start work at different times and because their day probably doesn’t start with using a computer to log onto your employee intranet.
- Tech: A good internal communication strategy should be founded on a solid tech platform, like an employee intranet. The trouble is, while these platforms can be integrated neatly into daily workflows for information workers, this isn’t the case for retail employees. While stores might have a computer in the back office or storage area, these typically aren’t accessible to shop floor employees, who may not even have a company email account. Plus, since computers aren’t usually on the shop floor, employees would have to leave their workstations to access them – which often isn’t possible in a busy store.
7 ways to connect with retail workers through your internal communications strategy
Internal comms for retail workers can be particularly challenging, especially in large organizations with multiple locations. But engaging your retail staff could significantly impact how the public views your organization.
When retail staff are well-informed and up-to-date about your products, policies, and promotions, they’re able to act as real ambassadors for your brand and promote your values to the public. Since they’re usually the only employees your customers will come into contact with, it’s vital that they have all the information they need to create a good lasting impression.
Here are a few ways to optimize your internal comms for retail workers so that they not only reach your employees on the shop floor but also inspire them and bring them together:
1. Create a single source of information
Organizations often use various methods to communicate with their retail employees. They might have a monthly newsletter that goes out by email and post schedules and reminders on a physical noticeboard. At some locations, managers might communicate with their employees through informal channels like WhatsApp groups.
But there are a number of problems with these methods. First, unofficial communication channels like WhatsApp can represent a security risk. And while noticeboards might seem like a convenient way to give employees information, these are usually off the shop floor, which means they need to leave their workstations to access them. There’s also no way for employees to double-check information when they’re not at work.
Most importantly, these methods don’t allow for communication between employees at different locations and are often focused entirely on top-down messages from leadership or management. Plus – let’s face it – a note on a bulletin board or a dry, corporate email isn’t going to do much to inspire people.
One solution is to set up an employee intranet to act as a hub for all of your employee communications. If you’ve used a corporate or school intranet before, don’t panic: we’ve come a long way since the clunky, web-based, and poorly used systems of the early ‘00s. Modern intranet solutions come with all sorts of features that allow you to connect your workforce together, whether they work at a desk or serve customers in-store.
2. Go mobile
If you do set up a company intranet, you need to ensure your retail workers can access it. Otherwise, you’re just further exaggerating the divide between them and your office-based team. But the thing about deskless workers is that they don’t typically have desks or computers.
What they do have – if they’re anything like 97% of Americans, anyway – is a smartphone. This means that you should opt for a solution with a mobile app that all of your employees can download on their own devices, giving them access to your all-important communications from anywhere.
You could even take a leaf out of retail giant Walmart’s book and take it one step further: they rolled out a company intranet in 2019 and gave 740,000 employees a Samsung smartphone to make sure they could access it.
If you don’t have that kind of budget, you could also connect and inform frontline employees not only on personal mobiles but with digital signage and TV screens. In some work environments, it’s not appropriate to carry mobile phones in specific environments. This is where an option like Workvivo TV makes all the difference, with tailored dashboards delivering specific messages.
3. Choose the right information to share
Retail employees are constantly on the go and don’t have time to sift through a lot of information. This means that if you overwhelm them with communications, there’s a good chance they’ll ignore them altogether.
A good move is to make sure any communications you send out are highly targeted and relevant to the people receiving them. For example, there’s no point in sending out company-wide notifications about promotions if they only apply at certain locations.
On a basic level, this might simply mean store managers being selective about what information they share with each employee. This isn’t about keeping people in the dark, but ensuring that they’re not overloaded with information that’s not relevant to them so that they can concentrate on the parts that are.
You could also look at intranet software that allows you to create specific groups or channels to ensure the right people get the information they need, without overloading everyone else.
4. Be aware of timing and frequency
Similarly, it’s also important to be aware of the frequency at which you send out communications. While you might have a lot of important news to share with your retail employees, keep in mind that they’re busy and don’t have a lot of time to spend reading company content. Consider whether you could condense your top-down messaging into one weekly newsletter that tells everyone what they need to know.
It’s also important to think about what time of day your communications go out. Unlike office workers, retail staff start and finish their shifts at different times of the day, so it’s not as easy to ensure everyone’s got a message before they start work. Think about how you can time your communications to best suit everyone – for example by posting any updates, polls, or surveys between shifts.
5. Build a community so employees can learn from each other
When a new employee starts at one of your stores, who do they go to with their questions? Probably not the corporate office.
Retail workers have a wealth of knowledge of what it’s like to work on the frontline of your organization. And they’re in the perfect position to share this with new starters and even management. However, they can’t spread their knowledge if they’re only in communication with the team in their own location.
One of the best ways to empower your retail workers through internal communications is to provide opportunities for communication across all levels, regardless of location. This way, your employees can share their tips and best practices across different stores and locations, improving performance all round.
You can do this through an employee intranet with a social media-style feed, which lets any employee share posts, content or questions and connect with their colleagues.
6. Reward and recognize top performers
As humans, we all like to receive recognition when we do good work. However, retail workers typically only receive praise from their direct line managers or supervisors. While this is still valuable, publicly recognizing your employees’ efforts and achievements is a more effective way of encouraging them and others.
This can hugely affect employee engagement and productivity since people who feel that their work is valued are motivated to put in more effort. And it can help with retention too: 63% of those who feel recognized at work say they’re “very unlikely” to look for a new job in the next three to six months, according to one survey.
So, how can you make employee recognition part of your communication strategy? One idea is to send out a regular email, blog post, or piece of content that your deskless employees can access on their employee app, shining a light on individual and team achievements such as hitting sales targets or receiving excellent customer feedback.
Some intranet or employee communications platforms even come with this function integrated, making it even easier for your employees to give their colleagues the praise they deserve.
7. Don’t be afraid to make internal comms for retail workers fun
Employee communications shouldn’t be about stilted company updates from your senior leadership team. Apart from anything else, retail workers are busy, and there’s a good chance they just won’t open those emails.
Instead, good communication should connect and engage employees in the same way as social media. Consider stepping away from long pieces of content that your employees don’t have time to read and opting for formats that are more concise and engaging.
There are all sorts of ways you can inject a bit of fun into your internal comms for retail workers, from organizing regular competitions to asking employees to share photos of their pets. It all goes a little way towards engaging your workforce and helping them represent your brand in the best way possible.
The must-have features for an internal communications platform
There are many parts to a good communication strategy. It needs to involve carefully crafted, well-branded content. It should also allow your entire workforce to contribute to the conversation, which requires careful planning as well. However, none of that will work if it’s not sitting on a powerful platform that’s designed to bring employees together.
There are many different platforms out there, and they all come with their own unique features – the one you choose will depend on the specific needs of your organization.
However, there are some key features that you shouldn’t compromise on. Here are some of the must-haves to look for when you’re choosing a platform:
- An intuitive and familiar interface: If you want your employees to actually use the platform you choose, you need to make sure it’s accessible and inviting. That means looking for solutions with an interface that’s pleasant and easy to navigate. This is especially important where retail workers are concerned since they typically don’t have time to learn the ins and outs of a whole new complicated program.
- A mobile app: If you want to engage retail workers, you need to meet them where they are – which means looking for solutions that are accessible on a smartphone. More than this, the solution you choose should be mobile-first, not just a website that’s technically accessible on a smartphone if you turn your phone on the side and wait for it to load.
- Push notifications: There are times when you need to get a message out to your entire organization – and know they’ve received it. This is a particular consideration when we’re talking about retail workers since they’re typically harder to reach than your office-based employees. To get around this, use an app with a push notification feature. Then, when you need to announce the summer sale or a new returns policy, you’ll know the message has gotten to everyone.
- Pulse surveys and polls: Pulse surveys are a great way to keep an eye on what’s actually going on in your organization in terms of employee engagement. And you can use polls to get a quick snapshot of your employees’ opinions, for example when you’re looking to implement a new policy. This is a particularly effective tool for retail workers since they know better than anyone what life on the shop floor is actually like. Often, things seem like a great idea in head office, and it takes someone on the ground to point out an obvious problem. Any communication platform you choose should make it easy for you to send out these surveys and polls and for your retail staff to respond.
- Opportunities for bottom-up and cross-functional communication: The most effective communication doesn’t come from the top down. To really empower your retail workers, you need a solution that allows them to communicate with each other regardless of location, discuss problems, and even connect on a social level. Bonus points if your platform has social media-like functions like comments and emoji reactions, which all help to make things more fun and engaging.
Introducing Workvivo to internal comms for retail workers
Workvivo is an employee communication platform with the power to bring your whole organization together – whether they’re at their desks or serving customers on the shop floor. Our platform helps your employees to communicate, share ideas, and better understand your company’s core mission and values.
Employees from all parts of your organization can post updates, ask questions, and give shout-outs, and they’ll appear to other employees in a personalized news feed. Our employee recognition features can help you to build a culture of real-time, spontaneous peer-to-peer recognition. And you can easily send out polls and surveys that employees can respond to with just a few taps of the screen.
And did we mention? Our platform is fully accessible through our mobile app, which means it’s the perfect tool to engage your retail workers.
Want to learn more? Book a personalized demo to understand how Workvivo can help you supercharge your retail communications and set your business up for success.