Teach for America's 1,900 staff members, who support over 10,000 corps members teaching in classrooms across the country, are spread over 47 regions, and 10% of its staff work from home offices. The organization has enhanced its internal communication strategy, though, to transcend location and connect staff members to each other and to the organization's mission.
Connecting such a dispersed and diverse workforce is no easy feat. Three years ago, Teach for America had no internal communication strategy or practices for its dispersed staff. Here are the eight communication tools the nonprofit organization has implemented since then to engage employees no matter where they work:
While Teach for America employees use Yammer to connect immediately with their colleagues, organizations could replace this technology with another social device software system. But for employees at Teach for America, "this is the backbone" of the internal communication network, said Justin Fong, vice president of internal communications at Teach for America, during this year's Great Place to Work conference in Los Angeles.
"It wasn't an overnight transition for us, but now we use it all of the time," he added. In fact, his internal communications team use Yammer for all their communications in lieu of emails.
The principal uses of Yammer or any internal social network are crowdsourcing (asking peers for help with a work issue), sharing inspiration, and posting announcements and company news. In addition to discussing related articles about the education industry, the nonprofit hosts critical conversations internally to discuss current issues. For instance, since the organization supports marriage equality, Teach for America staff members discussed the issue on Yammer when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Employees pasionately shared many different opinions on the internal discussion board.
"It doesn't necessarily have to be a tool of resolution, but people need to feel like they have a voice. They need to feel like their opinion matters in the organization," explained Fong.
The company has no rules or administrator overseeing the internal chat because "it's a community based off trust," said Fong. Employees' names and faces are attached to their comments, which keeps the discussion transparent and respectful.
Fong and his team used active users to push the popularity and ubiquity of Yammer to the wider workforce. It trained these "superusers" on Yammer's features so they could explain the platform to colleagues and increase its prevalence among the population.
Live video events
Teach for America broadcasts town hall meetings and panel discussions on specific topics, and talks with senior leaders live on video. The events are interactive, so the audience and colleagues watching remotely can ask questions live through Yammer.
"It made us feel like a little community," explained Fong of live video events' unifying effect. He added that they always strive to find "opportunities to give people common experiences. Especially with 1,900 people across the country in offices and working from home, video can help with that," he said.
The Blank Show
Episodes of this travelling talk show program are released every few months. Teach for America produces live shows, as well as pre-taped ones so staff teams can choose when to watch.
"It's about celebrating our work with teachers, kids, parents and the community," Fong said of the purpose of The Blank Show. He believes the program unites regions, and "it makes people feel like they're part of something bigger."
Blank Show Radio
Like The Blank Show, Fong and his team present staff histories and have interviewed mayors, civic leaders, students, parents and teachers.
The radio version of the video program is much easier to deliver to staff, who can listen to it at work, during their commute, at the gym, etc. It's also easier and cheaper to produce than video, so it delivers the 10-15 minute radio spots weekly by email.
For those employees who can't attend certain events, the internal communications team covers the events so that all staff members can participate. "It's about celebrating each other and getting together," said Fong of Teach for America's event coverage.
When one of Teach for America's CEOs realized that leadership didn't have a platform aside from email to connect with employees, he decided to "have an open conversation every other week at the same time, Friday at noon," Fong detailed. Employees can dial in from their desks during The Chat and ask the co-CEOs questions.
Teach for America's intranet is a searchable database so employees can easily find information and resources by searching a keyword.
It's also a platform for colleagues to share ideas and tools.
"It's simple and nothing fancy, but people love it," Fong said.
The email newsletter is only a prototype right now, but will soon be sent to all staff members. Inspired by the brevity of Twitter, it will show a header and preview of a newsletter item along with a link if the employee wants to read more.
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