Digital organising: Keeping your branch strong in the new world of work

Andrew Pakes · 2 September 2021

We’ve all learnt a lot about digital technology over the last 18 months whether that has been using Zoom to stay in touch with family members or joining WhatsApp groups with colleagues at work. Digital tools are now essential to how we live, work and play.

Digital checklist

Nowhere is digital more important than in how we organise and bring workers together as a union. During a period where access to workspaces has been virtually non-existent, union volunteers and reps have been testing and using digital tools to build new ways to engage members and to organise new joiners. These are tools that will continue to be important as we move into a new normal where a blend of home and office work is commonplace.

One element of this is ensuring that recognition agreements are fit for this new normal. In many instances, recognition agreements are based on in-person access to facilities, notice boards, meeting rooms or to non-members. We must where possible ensure we have similar access online as we do offline.

To help you we have published a checklist of everything you could be doing in setting up a digital recognition agreement. This is not exhaustive, and nor may every step be applicable to your situation. But it should enable you and your branch to put in place a plan of action to ensure that reduced access to or attendance at workplaces does not affect your ability to organise.

Things you can do:

  1. Review current recognition agreement, check actual position on access for reps and Full Time Staff.
  2. Identify ways that the employer is already using digital media as a communication tool to all staff. For example, through newsletters, weekly updates, digital inductions, digital team meetings using channels such as email, Slack, Yammer, Intranet, WhatsApp, Signal or public social media channels.
  3. Identify which of these would fall within the range of events that Prospect would usually be involved with and formalise union attendance at these events with the employer.
  4. Identify which digital tools the employer uses which you could utilise to replace normal organising tools such as a noticeboards, pop-up recruitment events and so on.
  5. Using the output from steps 3 and 4 identify employer digital activity that could be used to replicate our analogue output and seek to reach agreement on use.

As a general principle, everything you do in-person to engage colleagues at work should have a digital equivalent. If the future of work is going to be about hybrid and flexible working we need to develop new ways to stay in touch and be visible in dispersed workspaces, for members and potential members. As a movement, unions have not always been at the forefront of using digital technology to organise and win for workers. Over the last 18 months that has been changing. Across the country, thousands of Prospect and Bectu members have relied on digital technology to stay safe, keep in touch with other and to resolve issues with employers.

Coming out of the pandemic, unions are more important than ever. Regardless of whether people are working on site or at home, people need a union. It is our job to make sure they we are there for them.

Andrew Pakes is Director of Communications and Research at Prospect