Effective communication means bridging the digital divide

It’s time for business to meet employees where they are to increase engagement and productivity.

Effective communication is key to a productive workforce, and achieving this in the South African context requires employers to bridge the digital divide.

This is according to Caroline van der Merwe, COO of SmartWage, who noted that the devastating floods in KwaZulu-Natal, the pandemic, loadshedding and the July 2021 riots all disrupted work schedules, and business owners quickly realised the importance of effective employee communication.

Being able to check in with employees and provide real-time updates was critical, however most employers weren’t able to communicate effectively with their most affected employees.

Caroline says it’s important to have an effective communication strategy and meet employees where they are.

According to Gallup, having a clear communication strategy alongside an effective employee engagement solution can lead to an 18 percent increase in productivity and a 23 percent increase in profitability.

“An effective communication strategy lies at the heart of any business; it is the key to creating trust among employees and between employees and management,” she adds.

But in the South African context, employers have a communication gap that is hard to bridge. Far too many South African companies are struggling to digitally connect with their employees.

Caroline says, “With the information age upon us and methods of communication plentiful, why is it still so hard for employers to communicate with their employees effectively? The simple answer is that we aren’t meeting employees where they are.”

Ninety percent of deskless employees in South Africa don’t have or don’t use email, and apps aren’t the answer either. According to a study by Datafree, in a sample of more than 150,000 people, the majority of cellphone users have five or fewer apps on their phone due to limited storage capacity and the data cost to download apps.

“If we want to connect and engage with employees, we need to meet them where they are. In a country with high data costs, WhatsApp is that place,” she notes.

WhatsApp, which has over 27 million users in South Africa, has become a powerful way for businesses to engage with consumers. “The question is, why aren’t businesses using it to engage with their own employees? WhatsApp can be used for so much more than most people realise,” Caroline says.

“Sometimes the solutions to our biggest challenges are right in front of us. Though there is a digital divide, it can be bridged; we just need to re-evaluate how we think about the medium of message delivery. If you’re considering a new way to engage your employees, focus on finding something that maximises reach and engagement. In this way you can create a workplace where effective communication drives a productive and loyal workforce,” she concludes.