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Internal comms terminology divides the workforce

Many moons ago the terms “white collar” and “blue collar” were commonly used. But this blatant divide between office and manual workers created a negativity which saw many consider blue collar workers to be a demeaning and insulting term.

So why is it that today, we still create this divide? We use terms like “deskless employees” and “remote workers” to describe those who don’t work in an office setting.

The very meaning within these terms instantly creates separation. The "less” within deskless suggests a lower level to their office counterparts. The term remote instantly makes it acceptable that these people are more distant.

Are these phrases not the modern equivalent to white- and blue-collar workers?

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We need to think about our employees differently

Internal communications have come a long way in recent decades. It was only in the late 90s that we began discussing ‘employee engagement’ and what it meant. Today we recognise how tightly linked engagement and productivity are.

As a result, organisations are now investing more resource into internal communications and employee engagement to maximise productivity and employee loyalty.

But despite this acknowledgement, we are still failing many of our employees. A study by Intrafocus found that 43% of the UK workforce feels undervalued. But is this any surprise when we are communicating these subliminal messages that certain groups of employees are less important?


There is no excuse

In the past, this terminology may have been necessary, purely from a logistical point of view. Communicating with someone sat at a computer was very different to communicating with someone on a factory production line.

No doubt, albeit subconsciously, these terms favoured our office workers because they were far easier to communicate with. Sending an email or publishing an intranet article is much more straightforward than ensuring a message is disseminated through line management for example.

Due to this completely different way in which we communicated with the two groups, there was a need to categorise them.

But today the lines are blurred. Those who have always worked remotely are being joined by a new group of people. Since COVID, many traditionally office-based employees have adopted hybrid working or now work from home full time. They are changing the dynamic of “remote workers” and creating a new pool of people who we will accept as being more distant unless we do things differently.

Another change we need to consider is the technological advances we have seen in recent years. Tools such as internal communications software mean that organisations can now reach everybody equally. They can send the same message to everybody no matter where or when they work. For the first time, communicators can focus on communications rather than the logistics.

With the shift in the way we work and technology enabling us to create a level playing field we are on the brink of an internal communications revolution.

But for this revolution to succeed we need to change how we think. We need to stop overlooking some of the most basic and obvious changes we can make. We need to ditch divisive terminology and embrace the opportunity to treat everyone equally.

If, in a few years’ time we all look back on the terms “deskless employees” and “remote workers” with the same disdain as “blue collar workers” we will know the revolution has been successful. At that point, for the first time in history, we will be able to say that we have truly inclusive work environments.


Darren Hepburn is operations director of VRAMP