Business Communication via the Electronic Grapevine

Sitting at my laptop in my neighborhood Starbuck’s, I felt the tension release from my body as Firefox transported me to the Internet.  I had been offline for two days.  As I attended to some personal business, without my computer, I was truly feeling totally out of the loop.

This got me thinking about the thousands of corporate employees who do not have online access because of the nature of their jobs:  assembly line workers, mail sorters and security guards, to name a few.  Yet communication to these employees is just as essential as it is to the employees glued to their computers every day.  The old-fashioned grapevine — my lips to your ear — is being supplanted by the electronic grapevine, which is as swift as the speed of the internet.  More formal company communiques are also going out via the intranet.

Smart employers, of course, have always fed the informal grapevine, which reached everyone in the past. But now some employees may find themselves out of the loop, as I did, without access to a constant electronic steam of information about the company.  The electronic grapevine is a great way for management to understand what employees are thinking, to uncover hidden problems and to get feedback in real time.

But what about those employees who are not online?  Do they feel less connected — and committed — to the company?  The challenge for management is to communicate with all employees, through new technlogies, but also using old-fashioned communication channels such as letters to employees’ homes and the low-tech bulletin board.  I’d be interested in hearing from readers how their companies are reaching employees without Internet access.

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  1. Very interesting post and one many companies will have to think about as we continue to move towards more technology and communicating solely through that technology. In my previous job, many were without computer access and the agency used roll call, bulletin boards, and newsletters to get the word out. Still, I wonder if that will be enough or will there become a divide between those with computer access in the company and those without.

  2. Jeanette:

    Some business are solely dependent on the Internet to generate sales. Others use it to supplement their local marketing efforts. While still others use the Web as a combination. I use the Web to supplement the local face-to-face relationships and to build electronic networking relationships.

    But let’s go back before the Web when face-to-face and written communications were the only ways to communicate with the rank and file. When I was a human resources manager (called personnel back then), I use to spend considerable amounts of time hand shaking and talking to employees. Sort of Politics 1010 and get out on the floor and mingle with the rank and file. I ate lunch with them and also did things such as work 1/2 day on an assembly line shoveling screws into an electroplater.

    This kind of empathy and communications with the rank and file paid off in spades! Too bad much of management philosophy tends to stay away from these types of interfacing.

    When I got my Master’s Degree, I remember a professor saying, if you want to know what’s important in an organization, ask the lowest level employee. If management wants the grass cut, it will be done. If they want clean bathrooms, they will sparkle. And so on, and so on… It surely does roll down hill.