How to communicate with remote workers

How do you communicate with remote workers or non-desk based employees in your organisation? What do they need from Internal Communication Professionals?

I’ve got an interview to share with you today to lift the lid on some new brand new remote worker research to help you plan effectively and benchmark against your peers.

Research* tells us that remote workers/ non-desk based workers are one of the biggest barriers to effective internal communication, yet the priorities on the list for internal communicators don’t reflect this challenge. *Gatehouse State of the Sector report.

Why are remote workers a challenge?

Jenni Field, Director of Redefining Communications and President-Elect for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and Benjamin Ellis from SocialOptic wanted to discover why this was continuing to be a challenge, and why it wasn’t a priority.

I interviewed Jenni @mrsjennifield, to find out what we need to know about their #RemotelyInterested research. This article is a long read, but I know you’ll find it useful.

Jargon buster: Remote workers is a broad term and used interchangeably with non-desk based, offline and frontline employees. An example would be bus or train drivers, factory workers, shop assistants or restaurant workers. It’s a regular topic of conversation in my monthly All Things IC Masterclasses and I enjoy hearing the variety of ways Communication Professionals are using to encourage a two-way flow of communication in their organisations.

How to communicate with remote workers

Jenni and Benjamin’s #RemotelyInterested research is incredibly useful for professional communicators. They delved into the assumptions and perceived problems to truly understand what’s going on and suggest ways to improve internal communication for remote workers.

Remote workers are one of the biggest barriers for internal communicators but this insight demonstrates they don’t need to be. Tailoring the allocation of resource and focus based on a data-driven understanding of the working patterns and communication styles of your workforce will enable you to achieve significantly more impact with the same or fewer resources.

I’m curious to know your views. How do you communicate with remote workers? If you have a story to share, do get in touch if you’d like to be considered as a guest writer for the All Things IC blog. My guidelines are online.

You can get hold of your own copy of the Remotely Interested research and findings via this website and I encourage you to do so.

Here’s the conversation I had with Jenni…

1) Jenni why did you decide to conduct the research and what did you hope to achieve?

The Gatehouse State of the Sector report has listed remote workers as a barrier for a few years so I wanted to explore what was needed to help move it off that list. I was also concerned to see priorities and barriers totally at odds with each other – it would be good to see us addressing the challenges as an industry and moving them forwards. That was the main reason.

In addition, I wanted to conduct a survey that would look at the content as well as the channels. So many of the research reports that exist just cover channels without any consideration of the content in them and I don’t think you can see a true reflection of what is needed without considering the content in them. (I couldn’t agree more with this! – Rachel). 

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: The reality of working in Internal Comms: The 2019 State of the Sector report.

2) Can you tell us how you collated the data?

This was a partnership between Redefining Communications and SocialOptic. SocialOptic delivers software that enables organisations to make better, data-driven, decisions. They specialise in the analysis of “human data” applying data science and psychology to obtain unique insights from the attitudes and opinions of employees, customers and service users.

For this research we used their platform as a quick, online survey that individuals could complete in less than five minutes on an iPad.

We were present at all the locations as we know to get the information we would need to go to sites so there are anecdotal findings alongside the survey data.

3) How did you determine what to ask?

I wanted to make sure we looked at content, channels and frequency to see if there were any gaps or trends. Working with Benjamin meant that the questions asked were going to get the right responses, not just the answers people think you want to hear.

The questions allow for cross-tabulation so we can cut and slice the data in a number of ways to delve into the detail behind the ticked boxes.

4) Has anything surprised you from the findings?

There are two things that surprised me. The first was the importance of third space as a concept for communicators. This is a terms used to describe the space between home and work, and for remote/deskless workers this is often the canteen, mess room etc.

This space is really important to the individual and teams and we tend to invade it with intrusive screens. We now know why the screens don’t get used or get switched off – it’s just too intrusive in a space that isn’t work for the individual.

The importance of line managers
The second thing was the importance of line managers. We sort of know this already but what we didn’t know was the impact that they have on everything.

If your manager is not a good communicator, you can forget anything else. That factor is so important that it doesn’t matter what you do from the centre – if you haven’t trained your line managers in how to communicate the work you are doing to give them the information is wasted.


5) What are the highlights IC pros can take away from the work you’ve done?

Don’t think that technology is the silver bullet – it isn’t. Invest in the hard stuff and make it manageable – this is where you will see results. The important thing here is people – they are what make the business and your investment or time and budget needs to go to them.

6) What has generated the most discussions from what you’ve uncovered?

The third space element has generated a lot of conversation as well as the need to really get underneath the challenge of relevance and personalised content. It’s interesting to hear why people have come along to our sessions about the research and for some it is about understanding whether technology is really the silver bullet people want it to be.

7) How can IC pros use this research in their roles?

It gives them data points to use with conversations with leaders. If you’re being pushed to invest in screens, this can tell you why that might not work for you.

If you are struggling for budget for line manager skills, you now have the proof you need that it is needed for the success of an internal communications function.

There is a lot in there and the insight should help you have conversations with data driven insights behind them.

8) What happens next?

We are presenting the research all over the UK and have been lucky enough to take it to Vancouver and later this year we will be in Germany too. Sitting in mess rooms and seeing the relationship between unions and employees has made me want to explore this more. I’m really keen to examine the impact of unions on workplace culture and how the role of the union has changed or should change as organisations focus more on employee wellbeing etc. So that’s something I’m going to be looking at later this year for launch in Q1 2020.

You can follow the discussions in Vancouver over the next few days as Jenni is at the International Association of Business Communicators’ World Conference, #IABC19, from 9-12 June 2019 – Rachel.

9) Is there anything else you think we should know or you want to tell us?

Delve into where the noise is coming from in your organisation, be narrow in your insight so avoid broad words like ‘information’ and make the time to listen more to those on the frontline.

Thank you Jenni.

What do I think?

I found the third space element a particularly interesting part of Jenni and Benjamin’s research. They discovered when it comes to third space, the push or pull element of the channel is where the importance lies. Posting a magazine to a home address is not intrusive – The individual can choose to read it or throw it but the choice is theirs. Posting printed publications home was a staple of how I communicated with my workforce while in-house in the railway and I know many of my clients still do this today.

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term Third Space or Third Place in the early 90s in his book The Great Good Place. It’s a space where people meet to unwind, discuss and talk about things that matter to them. Distinct both from the work environment where communication can be functional and distinct from the domestic space of home.

I first heard about the third space idea back in 2014 when I visited Starbucks’ London office. In 1983, Howard Schultz (Starbucks chairman, president and chief executive officer) travelled to Italy and became captivated with Italian coffee bars and the romance of the coffee experience. He had a vision to bring the Italian coffeehouse tradition back to the United States. A place for conversation and a sense of community. A third place between work and home.

When I visited their office I heard first-hand how the company focuses on the third place. Their space for employee gatherings and events in the Chiswick office I visited is called Third Place and it’s a mindset the company champions.

How does the third place relate to Comms?

Jenni and Benjamin’s research found putting a digital screen in the space where they eat lunch or meet with colleagues is intrusive. The choice is removed so they either switch it off or turn it to a different channel, like the news. I’ve used screens throughout my Comms career, I had a network of them across Visteon showing company news and views across automotive factories. I had content translated into eight languages to reach our workers where they were, which was often screens in the mess rooms and canteen areas. This research made me look back and reflect on this practice.


I was also interested to read their findings on relevancy. Over the years the importance of peer-to-peer communication has risen due to the increase of internal social networks, employees connected through public social networking sites and the trust in our peers rising. While all of this remains true, the research revealed the relevance and trust of the information being shared is incredibly low. So, while we may want to create networks of champions across an organisation, the trust and belief in that information is lower than other channels like an intranet or a company magazine.

Does this ring true for you?

You can get hold of your own copy of the Remotely Interested research and findings via this website and I encourage you to do so.

Learn about Internal Comms with Rachel

My upcoming Masterclass dates can be found on the Masterclasses pages of this website. My Strategic Internal Communication Masterclass is happening in London next week and there are only two places left for Tuesday 11 June  2019. Sign up today to save your place and discover my upcoming courses.

Not based in the UK? I can hold a mini session with you via Skype, check out my work with me options. Please note my diary is currently booked until late September 2019, so I’m taking bookings from the Autumn onwards. Do let me know how I can help you.

Upcoming Masterclasses in London:

Thank you for stopping by. As ever, you’re welcome to comment below on what you’ve read or you can find me on Twitter @AllthingsIC.


First published on the All Things IC blog 9 June 2019.

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