Confessions from HR: We Had No Idea That our Communication with the Warehouse was Broken

by Jessica Nerad in
communication for warehouse workers

Tech companies' current technologies are a godsend. They revolutionize a company's communication and streamline so many projects. Newer “chat room” apps bring employees together with images of funny dog memes and they also give you the opportunity to buy cookies from Joe’s niece down the hall working in AP. I have been accustomed to free snacks, free booze, lounging corners, and swings. Yes, I said it. We had swings in the office. It’s customary for software companies to have these additional "perks" so that they can attract and retain creative talent. I’ve taken these perks and ease of communication tools for granted after working in the startup life for over 7 years.

“Employers see real incentives to use technology and have tangible results from keeping up to date with it. The main impacts of technology that are relevant to this stakeholder group are cost savings, efficiency, and innovation.(Demystifying Technology in the Workplace )

Cost saving tools show a significant return by literally saving money from mundane, tedious, and repetitive tasks. Business 101: Save time, save money. When you’re saving time you are extremely efficient. One aspect that gets overlooked is the innovative process for these tools to be implemented to the entire company. These tools are often paired with a provided work computer, a work email, and access to learn how to use the tool.

The thing is, if these "perks" aren't engaging or even offered to all employees, they aren't perks at all.

It's not uncommon for businesses to invest in add-ons and technology for their office workers, but when they leave out their non-office workers (drivers, on-site crew members, warehouse workers, etc.), it can cause more problems that it fixes.

Up until my most recent HR gig at a "unicorn" startup I did not know how many hard working individuals didn’t use the same technology I’ve been accustomed to in the office. The company was not just a technology-based startup, it also included a brick and mortar production crew in a warehouse connected to the office. During the beginning of my time there I felt as if there were two separate groups of employees: Office & Production. This is the reality and standard for most back-bone of the economy companies. 

I was beginning to get to know the entire staff of 120 people, there seemed to be a disconnect between our warehouse deskless personnel and the office personnel. I noticed that whenever there was a happy hour or a lunch that most of the production team was not there. I asked my manager at the time what she thought the reason could be and she didn’t seem to know either. I posted to our internal communication chat when the food would be delivered. I asked who had allergies, determined proper department arrival time, and asked for help cleaning up. I thought we did our due diligence as a high functioning HR team trying to be streamlined and inclusive.

Turns out, the warehouse team had no idea we were working so hard to include them because they never got the message! There was absolutely no virtual communication to the production team. They did not have access to the same tools I was accustomed to. In fact, they did not even have company assigned emails. There is no way they would have known events like this took place because there was no frontline manager to help spread the word.

There was a huge disconnect between employees who worked in desks and who worked in the warehouse. The only time they were aware of company events was by word of mouth, or if someone hand wrote a note and stuck it on a fridge in the lounge. This out of date technique struck a chord with me because it appeared that a good number of the production team did not trust HR and had expressed they felt left out from the rest of the company, second class citizens. 

The danger of isolating your deskless teams and having poor communication can mean that employees cannot get work done, and it weakens the mechanism for building and strengthening relationships at work.Relationships are at the center of employee engagement: If people haven’t built meaningful relationships at work, they have little to look forward to when they arrive.

When your warehouse team feels neglected and isolated they lose trust in a business they work for, and that can lead to huge turnover. 

After this company lunch I asked that the entire warehouse team each get assigned company emails and added to our internal communication app. The emails were granted but the communication app was shot down.  Everyone had a cellphone and access to emails, but not everyone wanted to add an additional app to their phones. They did not have laptops assigned to them like the desk workers, so it was only fair that they shouldn’t have to add a work app to their personal devices.  

Tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc. are designed for a different crowd, people who could be on the tool 8 hours a working day. Plus, it’s annoying to have to learn a new app just to communicate. Additionally, it’s a false assumption that everyone has a smartphone. Not everyone CAN download an app. 

While technology has exploded in the last 20 years for desk-bound workers, it has simply left the deskless workforce behind. It’s the imperative of HR to meet your employees where you are. Consider ways to make their work experience more inclusive by implementing a texting program, host HR office hours for drop-in confidential questions about benefits and payroll (texting can also help here), and company-wide recognition of great work across all teams.

You don't have to give up the old standards such as notes on bulletin boards and the communal fridge but will rather enhance and strengthen your ability to meet your employees where they are. Give it a try, and let me know how it works for your teams!

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