Caroline van der Merwe, COO of SmartWage, an innovative HR and communications technology company, says that effective communication is key to a productive workforce, and achieving this in the South African context requires employers to bridge the digital divide. 

The human need to communicate is as old as time. The first printing press, which introduced the era of mass communication, and status updates on Facebook, while hundreds of years apart, both have one thing in common – they demonstrate our desire to connect with one another through communication. 

Recently, we’ve been bombarded with events that have put a spotlight on the desperate need for clear communication between employees and management. 

KwaZulu-Natal’s devastating floods, the pandemic, load-shedding and the July riots all disrupted work schedules and business owners quickly realised the importance of effective employee communication. 

Being able to check on the well-being of employees, to let them know that a factory had been closed due to a Covid-19 outbreak or hear from staff who couldn’t get to work during riots or flooding was critical. 

The problem, though, was that most employers weren’t able to effectively communicate with those most affected. 

The problems South Africans are facing with effective communication 

An effective communication strategy lies at the heart of any business; it is the key to creating trust amongst employees and between employees and management. 

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. 

Digital innovations are making communication easier; what we previously had to stick up on notice boards we can now send instantly via an app or email, and virtual meetings are made possible with Zoom, Google Meets and Microsoft Teams. 

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. 

 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? 

Employers need to meet employees where they are 

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 over 150 000 people, the majority of cell phone users have five or less 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. 

Ninety-seven percent of South Africans use WhatsApp daily, making it the most downloaded app in the country. 

WhatsApp can be a powerful HR tool 

WhatsApp has over 27 million users in South Africa and can be used to do almost anything these days. From ordering an Uber, to buying groceries, to getting your flight tickets, the digitally inclusive app 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. SmartWage is elevating the app to a powerful HR tool that can drive employee engagement and reduce manual processes; essentially, everything that can be done on email can be done on WhatsApp instead. 

SmartWage cleverly utilises WhatsApp’s capabilities to deliver payslips, IRP5s and important announcements directly to employees. 

In addition, you can segment by region, store or employee type, enabling instant and transparent two-way communication. 

In these times of uncertainty and panic, this puts employees and employers on the same page, reducing friction and building trust. 

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.