Lyttelton Port Cashin quayThis is a story about mobile technology in the work place, the adoption of modern technology, and why you as intranet and digital workplace managers MUST visit operational staff.

The problem : keeping everyone informed

During an industrial dispute over four months several hundred staff needed to be kept up to date with the latest developments in negotiations between the employer and the union representing them.

Workers primarily operate heavy machinery, work outdoors, work shifts, 24 hours a day, every day of the week. They range in age from 21 through to 74, they’re almost all men and have a range of backgrounds and levels of education.

Of tea rooms and posters

Staff work in small groups or in pairs, but do share common spaces during breaks and meals. These tea rooms are the traditional places staff are informed about what is going on. Primarily this is done by putting up posters and leaving flyers on the tables.

Periodic meetings were held but because of the way the staff work, in shifts, some couldn’t attend no matter when the meeting times were set for.

Challenges

Challenges in this workplace were many and varied. Not all staff work a regular shift rotation, some work on call and so don’t visit the workplace and the tea room more than once a month.

Because of the way information was shared out to the group, and the need for speed during industrial action and the fact that rumor and incomplete information often required extra communication.

One guy one phone 5000 sms messages

A new member of the team who was an on call staff member got frustrated with not being well enough informed. So he set out to solve the problem for themselves. He pointed out the flaws in the current system to the union team coordinating the industrial action and offered (free of charge) to act as a communications hub. They collected cell phone numbers from all the union members at the site (and yes they did have some who refused). They added all several hundred to their phone manually, then got the union team to send communications to themselves first. With a $2 SMS/Text to group app, and a free unlimited text mobile phone plan, they passed the union messages out to everyone else. And if they got a response from one of the staff they passed it back to the union team.

What was in it for them ? They knew what was going on.

What was in it for everyone else ? The knew what was going on immediately.

What did it mean overall ? Rumor and supposition decreased and sentiment could be gauged quickly.

Several comments came back from staff, this is one of them

“This is a hell of a lot better than the last dispute, we never knew what was going on.”

BUT hang on I hear you say

  • some of them wont have cell phones
  • some of them would never share their cell number

So therefore this isn’t a great solution because not everyone benefits. You’re right. But think about the goal. The goal isn’t for every person to get the same text message. The goal is for communication speed and quality to improve. Did it ? Yes it did. In one team of three staff only one had a cell phone. When he got a message he shared it with the rest of the team. With another communication the person putting up the poster in the tea room got told “We’ve got that message. We got the text.”

 What does this one man intranet mean for you?

What stuck me when I talked to the “one guy with a phone” was that he had cracked a problem that the employer with a big budget and the same problem hadn’t been able to do. How to communicate effectively with staff who don’t sit at computers all day. There are great examples of where it has been done Coles supermarkets (intranet access from any device) and Swiss post (speaking intranet news) but they were big budget solutions. This one cost $2. And that is two New Zealand dollars so about US$1.60 and a few hours to type in the cell phone numbers.

The key was that this person, and you should be able to do this too, saw a problem from the users perspective. They looked from the shoes of the operational folks who actually do the work for the organisation, saw a better way and made it happen. In short they used “Design thinking” to deliver great value.

You can achieve the same thing in your organisation, really you can 🙂 

If you haven’t done it already this week go out into your organisation and spend 30mins with someone that deals with what your organisation does. If it is a port, go and walk around with the guys unloading containers, if it is a hospital spend your time with clinical staff. Do that for 30mins twice a week.  I GUARANTEE that in two weeks you’ll see some patterns emerge that the intranet could help solve.

Let me know how you get on.

[many thanks to Heiner Benecke and the RMTU for letting me share this story]

One person intranet – a text messaging case study
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