Overcoming the challenge: Communicating to the alternative workforce

Posted by Abigail Leonard and Melissa Yim on June 19, 2019.

Originally made up of contract workers or “desk-less” employees who may work from home or in the field, the alternative workforce has evolved to include outsourced teams, freelancers, gig workers and many more. By 2020, the number of self-employed workers in the United States alone is projected to triple to 42 million people. To gain access to unique and business-critical skills, managing alternative forms of employment has become essential. Recruiting and onboarding these workers is typically the first barrier; keeping them informed and engaged is the next. But how do you communicate with alternative workers when many of them may not have company emails, don’t sit at computer on a daily basis, or work seasonally?

From health care to restaurants and manufacturing to retail, communicating with workers who aren’t in an office isn’t new. What is different today is the nature of the alternative workforce. These are not typical balance sheet employees, but as our 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report points out, they are increasingly vital to many organizations. Rather than just “managing” them, organizations should be rewiring their approach to more effectively integrate, leverage, and optimize them as part of the workforce. The employee experience is built around culture and relationships with others; regardless of employment type, employees want purpose and meaning from their work.

Communications not only deliver essential information to workers but also help to shape and reinforce the organization’s culture and promote a sense of belonging. Forty-five percent of surveyed employers worldwide say they are having trouble filling open positions, the largest such percentage since 2006, but the more you can keep the alternative workforce engaged and committed, the less urgent the need to continually attract and onboard new workers.

Three ways to communicate effectively with alternative workers:

1. Make it mobile (there’s an app for that).
We often hear that many alternative workers don’t have access to the organization’s intranet or receive emails and other types of internal communications. Having a digital platform, especially one that is mobile focused (such as an app), that can be accessed by workers with or without a company email address increases engagement and can provide education and information in real time.

Many companies are adopting programs such as “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) that enable workers to use their already familiar devices on the job and offering them apps that don’t include confidential information that can be accessed from personal phones. Apps can also open up two-way communications (i.e., surveys, comment features, etc.) that many alternative workers may not have access to on a regular basis.

2. Make it personal.
Companies routinely invest time and money to improve the customer experience. They use analytics and digital technologies to create a personalized relationship with customers often beginning the moment someone just interacts with their website. Think about how you can you apply this consumer-focused lens to workforce communications.

Emails, newsletters, intranet information, or app-based messages should be personalized and relevant for the alternative workforces’ day-to-day work while keeping them informed of larger company-wide initiatives. As these are usually the most disconnected workers, start small. Over time, if you consistently communicate relevant and useful information , you increase the likelihood your messages will be seen and read in a crowded inbox, and your efforts are effective in making workers feel more engaged. (Tip: You can use app-enabled pulse surveys to get feedback on your communications and to ask questions to gauge engagement levels in real time!)

3. Make it meaningful.
If alternative workers are a critical part of your workforce, they should be treated as such—part of the circle rather than outside it. While people inherently receive value from work itself, the alternative workforce needs to feel respected for their contributions and see themselves as part of the larger team and the organization as a whole. Cultivating a human experience at work where all workers feel a sense of belonging and understand the “why” of their work not only helps make work more meaningful but also keeps people engaged.

Some ways to help accomplish this include reinforcing how their work supports the organization’s goals by pulling the organization’s mission, vision, and values into messaging, fostering self-esteem by communicating the value of their work, and recognizing them as you would any employee.

Alternative is now mainstream
As the alternative workforce grows, these workers could one day make up the majority of the workforce. Leading organizations aren’t waiting for that day to take action. Those that have developed and implemented a communications strategy targeted at the alternative workforce have been able to see improvements in worker engagement, strengthen their employee experience, and reduce retention issues. There really are no downsides to communicating strategically with your workforce—your entire workforce.

Abigail Leonard is a consultant with experience in HR communications and is part of the Strategic Communications Market Offering of Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Melissa Yim is a senior manager in the Strategic Communications practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP and leads the Strategic Communications Market Offering within Human Capital.

1 “The alternative workforce: It’s now mainstream,” Leading the social enterprise—Reinvent with a human focus: 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends, Deloitte Insights. https://trendsapp.deloitte.com/reports/2019/global-human-capital-trends/the-alternative-workforce.html
2 Michael Brinker and Jeff Schwartz, “The untethered workforce,” Deloitte Insights, December 7, 2018.
3 “The alternative workforce: It’s now mainstream,” Leading the social enterprise—Reinvent with a human focus: 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends, Deloitte Insights. https://trendsapp.deloitte.com/reports/2019/global-human-capital-trends/the-alternative-workforce.html

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