What if your members never go back to the office?

Robin Steudel – May 22, 2020

Last week, when Twitter announced that employees would be working from home permanently, columnists announced it could “end the office as we know it.” Yesterday, Facebook and Ottawa-based Shopify announced they’d be following suit. 

It’s not surprising that that tech giants would be the first to move into “virtual workspaces”, and we should fully expect other sectors to follow. After all, on the employer side, there are big potential benefits in shifting to an at-home workforce, including reduced overhead costs and, perhaps counterintuitively, a more productive workforce.

Workers know there are benefits for them as well: Greater flexibility could be a game changer for women in the workforce, and the thought of more work-life balance and less time commuting is appealing for many workers.

It’s not all rosey though: Working from home is very challenging in cities with tight housing markets, where home offices are a luxury. Perhaps collective agreements of the future will have employers paying for that extra bedroom/home office. There are risks that employers won’t deal with workplace safety (or equipment) issues. While good managers may thrive, bad managers could certainly get worse in this environment. Many people get a great deal of social interaction and personal fulfillment from their work life, and it’s difficult to maintain that culture when everyone is working remotely. There are undoubtedly implications for sectors that support workplaces: custodians, security guards, and restaurants – not to mention the commercial real estate market. 

Perhaps collective agreements of the future will have employers paying for that extra bedroom/home office.

Most importantly, siloing workers in their homes makes them significantly less powerful when it comes to organizing themselves, and presents significant challenges for the unions that serve these workers.

Canadian unions need to be ready for this shift in how people work: What’s the best way to organize new workplaces (and mobilize current members) in this environment? Do you have the tools necessary to engage your members online? How do you plan to  facilitate activities that were previously done in person?

For unions facing a workforce that may increasingly be working from home permanently, embracing digital tools is critical for survival. 

1. Build your lists

A union is only as strong as its ability to mobilize its members, and the ability to mobilize comes down to having a great, up-to-date membership list.

Yet, for many unions, maintaining a membership list that includes cell phones and email addresses is a major challenge.

The current crisis is an opportunity to build update your membership list through multi-channel engagement.

2. Multi-channel member engagement

If the first three rules of communication are repeat, repeat, repeat, then multi-channel engagement is the way to achieve that.

Communicators and organizers understand that it takes many conversations or points of contact to successfully engage or persuade someone. People get information from all kinds of sources – meaning unions can’t count on just one channel of communication to engage members. Integrating email and texting may be somewhat straightforward – but what happens when we want to add direct mail, telephone, Facebook Messenger, and social media ads to the mix?

That’s the reality facing unions across Canada. 

Achieving integrated multi-channel engagement takes the right mix of tools and training – but it’s critical to success. One notice on the bulletin board at a worksite is no longer enough to mobilize members – we need to reach them on all the channels they’re tuned into.

3. (Online) Ads matter too

With micro-targeted online advertising being the norm in marketing (think about those ads for those shoes you looked at that follow you from website to website), online ads have become a prime communication channel to engage members. Yet many unions still aren’t using this toolset to its full potential.

Tools like Facebook’s custom audiences let you use your union membership list to target members with ads promoting an upcoming meeting (or webinar), a campaign action, or an important video update – all for a modest budget compare to traditional offline media.

Online ads are also a way of engaging organizing prospects in the work of the union – potentially asking them to join a campaign to fight for a better workplace as a first step in an organizing drive.

And lastly, you can use online ads to encourage members to sign up for email or text message updates, by targeting your members worksites with ads to drive traffic to signup forms on your website.

Custom Audiences are only available through Facebook’s powerful Ads Manager – not the boost button.

4. Surveys

While not a new tool, online surveys delivered through text or email are a great way to make sure your members are heard, and engaged in the decision making of your union.

On the email side, tools like SurveyMonkey and Typeform make it quick, easy, and affordable to build interactive surveys with powerful reporting tools.

With text messaging (SMS), powerful tools like Mobile Commons (aka Upland Mobile Messaging) let you create interactive surveys to quickly gather member feedback on important issues.

The pandemic has already nudged many unions to shift their work online. This has been a challenge, but countless folks have been able to level up their skills in a matter of weeks. Change is possible – and the future will likely see some combination of online and offline organizing. But some workplaces may end up shifting permanently, and labour needs to be ready to work on behalf of those members.

Metric works with unions across Canada to help engage and organize their members through digital. Let’s set up a conversation to talk about your next member engagement campaign.

Photo by Nelly Antoniadou on Unsplash