The world is at our fingertips. Quite literally. Technological advancements over recent decades have got us to where we are today, where opportunities, information and networking can be accessed across an array of devices, wherever you are. Our personal lives revolve around technology, and this is no different for workplaces. Digital tools have become an integral part of our work and society, and organisations including unions should understand how to keep up with the pace of change.  

The survey says…  

In the most recent National Statistics report from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, it highlighted that 23.7% of UK employees are members of a trade union. In actual employee numbers, this equates to 6.56 million employees, up by 118,000 from the previous year. (2020 statistics as published on 27 May 2021) 

Don’t get left behind  

It’s clear to see that trade unions are working harder than ever to serve the best interests of their diverse membership. From negotiating and protecting worker’s rights, sending out personalised communications, to making information readily available – from legal and financial advice to training and educational opportunities.  

To represent their entire membership and deliver true meaningful change, unions also need to have the right means of facilitating a two-way communication process with their members so that engagement can take place in a timely and relevant way.  

The nature of the workplace is increasingly becoming digitalised, and trade unions need to ensure that workers, their trades, and their rights aren’t left behind by the pace of technological change.  

To do all of this, unions require an effective yet realistic digital strategy with the right tools, people, and culture to deliver it. 

Common challenges  

There are several common challenges that we see the sector facing in the current digital world, especially in the context of the past 18 months and the global pandemic.  

Urgency – Unions can feel the burden when they’re using multiple systems which don’t work effectively together. Pressure can be felt internally to modernise systems to enable staff to work more efficiently and have a single source of the truth. Or from members who want an easy user journey to view information, pay fees and submit feedback. There’s also the wider context of how the covid pandemic has affected workers’ rights and member expectation and so we have seen the urgency increased to have the right technology in place.   

CompetitionRecruitment, retention, and engagement remain as ongoing challenges, and unions are recognising the importance of digital programmes and tools to compete for their members’ attention in an ever increasing online, instant access world. Unions are becoming increasingly prepared to take advantage of ‘digital’ to help extend their reach, establish its key messages, and increase their impact. 

Spending risks – Agreeing where to invest in technology to ensure you are offering value to your members is critical, and it take time and effort to get right especially when you are spending member subs! We are seeing unions concentrating more of their efforts on building digital technology strategies and seeing more bold investments being made in systems. This in turn is being balanced with developing internal capabilities and promoting an organisational wide embracing of digital innovation.  

Volatility – Unions deal with hot topics, balloting and current policy changes as a matter of course, and these areas themselves can cause a level of volatility. However, when delivering digital change, it’s a case of balancing the delivery of the core missions alongside the change. Focusing on how to implement the change, on the people, and promoting a commitment to change is critical to success. 

User experience and digital engagement needs 

If you’re planning to assess the systems and digital tools you use, here are a few tips to consider:  

Easy Access – Members expect simple, clear to follow and easy user journeys, from looking up information, booking events to being able to contact you with ease.  

Valuable information –  Tailored, personalised e-communications will help engage your members. Put together a content strategy so you know what information and resources you’re pushing out across the year across all your channels. 

Protection – The online world has led to the highest levels of sharing and using of personal data that we’ve ever seen, so it’s no surprise that ensuring online privacy and security protection is high on the agenda. GDPR has never been more important and we’re seeing the request for 2 factor authentication on the rise.  

Engagement Choices – Members want flexibility and the option to choose when and how to engage. Consider when and how it is appropriate to communicate with your members and which channels are best suited for your different types of interactions, content, and engagement.   

Voice – How will you hear the voice of your members? They want to be able to communicate their views, sentiments, and have their feedback heard and addressed. Increasingly this is being done by digital means but it’s still worth considering where face to face engagement or focus groups can add value.  

Digital Activism – This is all about striking the balance in how you get members to engage, share information and carry out any calls to action. Is the most effective way to do this on digital platforms, or in person? Pick the right channel for the right activity!