Frontline workers make a big portion of the overall global workforce. Today, organizations across the world are faced with the challenges of keeping their frontline employees safe, protected, motivated, and engaged.
Because these employees don’t have a designated working space and access to technology that other workers have, it can be extremely hard to manage and motivate them. This is especially true for large organizations with employees distributed across the world.
A major chunk of the global workforce doesn’t sit on a desk to execute their responsibilities. Various industries all over the world such as retail, hospitality, healthcare, production, manufacturing, construction, and agriculture manage workers, who don’t have designated working spaces. This “Deskless Workforce” constitutes over 2.7 billion people of the global working population!
In this blog, we will go over some of the biggest challenges that employers face with frontline employees, as well as the best practices for eliminating those challenges.
📚 Since workplace communication is one of the biggest prerequisites for successfully managing frontline and blue-collar employees, also check our eBook "Building a Better Company with Internal Communications"
Before we move on, let’s just take a look into a few synonyms that are often used interchangeably with frontline workers:
- Deskless workers
- Key workers
- Mobile workers
- Field teams
- Offsite teams
- Peripatetic workers
- Blue-collar workers
Who are Frontline Workers and Where They Work
Frontline workers, also known as key workers, are employees who provide an essential service or key public service.
Fleximize nicely categorizes these employees into a few different groups and industries.
- Health and social care: such as doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, and social workers.
- Education and childcare: such as those in the social care sector, teachers, special education professionals.
- Local and national government: such as those working in the payment of benefits.
- Food and goods provisions: such as workers in the food production and distribution supply chain, as well as those in sales and delivery.
- Public safety and national security: such as the police, Ministry of Defense civilians, armed forces, fire service employees, security, prison, and probation staff.
- Transport: such as workers in the air, water, road, and rail transport systems.
- Utilities, communications, and key financial services: such as telecommunications, oil, gas, or electricity suppliers, postal and delivery services, waste disposal, and more.
And where can frontline employees work? Here are just a few most common examples:
- Factory floors
- Construction sites
- Education institutions
- Beauty salons
- Driving trucks
Challenges Organizations Face with Frontline Workers
Organizations have always been trying to find better ways to keep their frontline employees engaged, connected, safe, and aligned with the business strategy. However, the emergence of the current pandemic has made workplace and talent management even harder.
Today, most of these workers are at high health risk, and employers are doing everything in their power to mitigate the consequences of the current world situation.
Let’s take a look into some of the biggest challenges employers face with frontline workers.
Keeping employees safe
When it comes to frontline workers, employee safety is often one of the biggest concerns for organizations. This is not surprising as the cost of work-related injuries is significant. Moreover, research shows that the total cost of work injuries in 2018 was $170.8 billion.
This figure includes wage and productivity losses of $52.4 billion, medical expenses of $35.0 billion, and administrative expenses of $57.6 billion.
To add, days lost due to injuries in 2018 totaled 70,000,000.
Eliminating fear and anxiety
Many employees are currently experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety than ever before. Moreover, COVID-19 has had a serious impact on mental health across the U.S., as 45% of American adults report increased anxiety and depression. For frontline workers, the impact of this disease on mental health can be brutal.
It is the employer’s job to do their best to eliminate fear and anxiety that often lead to burnout and poor mental health and wellbeing.
Research done with frontline employees during COVID-19 shared some eye-opening quotes, and here is a quote from one nurse:
“Honestly, these have been the most difficult time in my career as a nurse … I have to be responsible and fulfill my obligation of protecting the residents ... This meant that I had to work long hours and live in a makeshift house closer to the workplace to keep the residents safe from coronavirus. Honestly, this can be stressful because you don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”
💡 Check out our guide on how to build a successful employee wellbeing program.
Reaching every employee and communicating ad hoc
One of the biggest struggles organizations face with frontline workers is the inability to reach every employee at the right time with the right message.
Moreover, many workplace accidents, illnesses, and problems happen exactly because organizations don’t have proper communication ecosystems designed to reach their frontline workers.
As scheduled workplace communications don’t work with deskless employees, employers need to find a better way for their messages to find every employee.
Providing easy access to important information and resources
For frontline workers, it is crucial to always have instant access to all the important documentation, policies, procedures, updates, and other company resources. They should be able to find previous communications with their managers in a matter of seconds.
Unfortunately, the complexity of enterprise tech ecosystems often doesn't allow for easy consolidation of various communication channels and technologies into a single source of truth for frontline workers.
As a result, information overload happens and employees often miss out on important company updates.
Keeping employees and managers connected
Even though the rise of the digital workforce makes it easier to keep employees connected, this is still not so easy to achieve with field and offsite workers. However, for them, the ability to stay connected is even more important than for other types of employees.
Constant changes and updates in operational policies and procedures require the frontline employees to easily reach both their peers and managers. When this happens, it is easier to share existing knowledge and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
🎧 Tune in and listen to our podcast: One Mistake To Avoid When Trying to Engage Frontline Workers
7 Ways to Better Manage Frontline Workers
Organizations across the globe depend on their non-wired workforce to deliver results and continuously drive employees’ success. Even though various industries face different challenges with frontline workers, there are some best practices that apply to all of them.
Above everything else, it is important to keep frontline and remote employees connected and provide seamless, intuitive, and fast ways for them to communicate with each other and with their managers.
In the following section, you will learn more about how to ensure a positive employee experience for your frontline workers and help them stay safe and productive.
Make everyone feel like a part of the team
Making non-wired employees feel like a part of a team can be a daunting task, but also comes with high rewards. Moreover, according to the State of Deskless Workforce, over 40% of all deskless employees “don’t feel loved” by their employers.
As a consequence, negative work environments impact organization’s ability to retain employees. Results show that the majority of workers have considered leaving their job.
Remember, engaging non-wired employees starts with your communication strategy!
Don’t leave your employees in the dark
Improving employee relations is important for helping frontline workers succeed.
Your employees want to be informed, and they want to know what is going on in your organization. This is especially true during these times of uncertainty and fear among frontline employees.
Some fear that they will lose their jobs, some fear about their health, and some are just worried about what the future holds. Being honest, transparent, and open with your employees is crucial here.
Leaders, managers, and internal communications departments have to work together to create a positive work environment and ensure a better employee experience in the workplace.
Provide an easy way to give bottom-up feedback
Frontline workers appreciate employers who listen to them and encourage upward feedback.
Within organizations whose employees are at high risk of getting injured, one of the most effective ways to improve safety culture and prevent injuries is to optimize safety-related communication.
Unfortunately, employees often fail to “speak up” when they observe risky behaviors even when they know they should. The Safety Culture Survey administered to hundreds of organizations indicates 90% of respondents believe employees should caution others when they’re operating at-risk. However, only 60% say they actually do provide this critical feedback.
In fact, 74% of respondents confirm they welcome peer observations for the purposes of receiving safety-related feedback. Yet, only 28% believe other employees feel the same way.
Moreover, upward feedback is important for organizations that are undergoing digital transformation initiatives.
Make communication more personal and relevant
Content relevancy has a big impact on employee motivation and engagement in the workplace.
As mentioned earlier, scheduled, mass workplace communications are not a good way to communicate with frontline workers. Moreover, such communication makes it impossible to cut through the noise and get employees’ attention.
Yet, many companies still don’t have ways to easily segment their internal audiences and make information more personal and relevant to frontline workers. In order to communicate effectively with frontline employees globally, enterprise organizations need to consider many different aspects including:
- Time zones
- Job roles and functions
- Employees speaking different languages
- Multiple shifts
- Workforce distribution
Enable mobile-first communication
Despite making a big part of the global workforce, frontline employees have been ignored by technological solutions for internal communications. Yet, having a streamlined form of communication is imperative for organizations, and mobile communication is key here.
Even though emails have been the main mode of communication for organizations for a long time, this isn’t a practical mode of communication for frontline workers.
Moreover, emails often have a high chance of being overlooked or missed. Hence, frontline workers cannot rely on a mode of communication that isn’t accessible to them at all times. Moreover, a recent study found that over 83% of frontline workers don’t even have a corporate email address, and 45% don’t even have access to the company intranet when at work.
Engage employees in two-way conversations
Open workplace communications should be a part of every organization's core values.
As mentioned earlier, one-way workplace communication is not an efficient way to keep employees informed and motivated. Moreover, such mass communications often get ignored.
In order to keep your frontline workers engaged and aligned with the company’s strategy, it is important to include them in company-wide, two-way conversations. Consider frequently asking questions to facilitate discussions among both deskless and office employees.
This is a great way to show genuine concern for others’ feelings, concerns, and wellbeing.
Keep all the resources and communications in one place
Search for relevant information can be one of the biggest productivity killers in the workplace. With frontline workers, this can also cause serious work-related injuries and non-compliance with the organization’s policies and procedures.
The abundance of various communication and document sharing solutions in the organization makes the search for information even harder, more frustrating, and slower. On the other hand, too much irrelevant information results in information overload.
Therefore, consolidating all those channels into a single solution is crucial. In addition, every organization should be able to send instant push notifications to employees’ smartphones in order to reach every employee in a timely manner.
Enable Your Frontline Workers for Success with the Right Technology
The power of technology in keeping your frontline staff safe, productive and inspired is huge. While some organizations may be looking for various cool features in the employee engagement apps, companies with deskless workforce care more about the functions that enable them to reach the right employees at the right time with the right content.
They care about functionalities that can connect various workplace communication channels into a single platform that serves as the major source of truth and useful information. Additionally, such technology has to be mobile-first, intuitive, and easy to use.
On the admin side, communication technology for frontline employees needs to enable managers, safety representatives, and internal communications departments to segment internal audiences and provide personalized employee news feed based on employees’ job functions, locations, languages that they speak as well as employees’ own interests.
With an app that also supports instant push notifications to employees’ smartphones no matter where they are located, employers can ensure that their workers always stay informed and updated on important company policies, procedures, and safety guidelines.
If you are looking for a modern employee app to better support your frontline workers, schedule a Smarp demo today, and learn how it is used by organizations across the world.