Engaging Employee-Owners Across Multiple Locations / by Sarah Callahan

At the 49th annual ESOP Association’s convention in Washington D.C., both Jodi Lamb of Big G Express, and Carrie Green of GIS presented a seminar on engaging employee-owners across multiple locations.  They each spoke of the challenges and approaches they have taken to engage their employee-owners across a largely dispersed workforce; at least 500 of Big G Express’s 630 employee-owners are over the road truck drivers, and GIS has over 175 employee-owners in 30+ states nationwide.

Employee engagement is important not only to foster the shared sense of community and ownership within an ESOP, but also for the success of the company as a whole.  Employees who are engaged are passionate about their jobs, committed to the organization, put discretionary effort into their work, and understand the impact they make on company performance.  It can sometimes be a challenge to keep employee-owners located in a single centralized office engaged.  When the employee-owners are dispersed across multiple locations the challenge becomes even greater.  Physical dispersion of employees means that interpersonal connections resulting from ad hoc meetings, water cooler conversations, after hours activities and similar types of engagements don’t occur. 

Employee-owner engagement that is lost due to dispersion of a workforce can be overcome through the creation of a shared ownership identity.  The creation of a shared ownership identity is accomplished through a variety of approaches.  Consistency should be established across locations, not only for policies and procedures, but also for workplace appearance, equipment, and resources.

Communication is another key aspect to building a shared ownership identity.  Communication should take many different forms and be tailored to appeal to all generations.   Traditional forms of communication such as newsletters, phone calls, email, the internet, and sit-down meetings should be intermixed with webinars, video conferences, social media, and videos or podcasts.  The current U.S. workforce is comprised of five different generations, each of which responds best to a different form of communication.

GIS Inc., who has a large number of employee-owners working remotely from their homes, utilizes multiple forms of continuous communications.  Through their intranet, blogs, recognition programs, contests, and activities, they work to connect all employees and foster a collective identity.  Carrie Green shared one example of GIS’s events aimed at fostering an engaged ESOP workforce: ESOPtoberfest.  During a recent employee ownership month, every remote employee received a package from GIS’s ESOP team containing a custom pint glass filled with goodies, centered around an ESOPtoberfest theme. After hours skype calls were hosted for each time zone, and remote employee-owners from across the country called in to socialize over a pint of beer.  This and similar activities have helped GIS’s dispersed workforce to connect, engage, and foster a shared ownership identity.

Jodi Lamb highlighted how Big G Express utilizes video as an internal communication tool.  Not only do they have a variety of educational videos hosted on the company’s intranet, they also use it as a dynamic tool for team and morale building, company updates, and messages from management.  Simply using an iPhone to capture video, the company’s president can send out short, two minute updates on recent company affairs, as well as being able to get out ahead of any rumors that may be circulating.  They also use video to capture company events and record quarterly meetings, which are then posted to the intranet for anyone not in attendance.

JCJ has employee-owners dispersed across seven offices around the country, and we have taken many steps to foster our shared ownership identity.  Our workplace appearance, technology, hardware, policies and procedures are consistent across all locations. We have a company intranet that is used not only to host shared resources, but also to communicate news and updates to all employee-owners.  JCJ has a number of committees, mentioned in the previous post, which are comprised of employee-owners from across our offices.  We hold three all-employee meetings a year with each office connected to the others via video conference.  In addition, we hold quarterly design reviews where all employee-owners get to see, review, and discuss active projects from across the firm.  These are just a few examples of the activities that help engage our employee-owners across all locations and bring them together as a unified whole.  No matter which of the seven locations our clients work with, we leverage all of our employee-owners’ talents to achieve excellence in both design and project delivery, driving results that meet our clients’ expectations. 

Article by Sara Miller, Assoc. AIA, GGP, GPCP