FFOW Part 3: The Evolution of Workplace Technology for Frontline Workers: Essential Employees Deserve Better

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Welcome to Part Three of our Frontline Future of Work blog series! If you haven’t read Part One or Part Two, please check them out! Part 3 of our series explores the technology landscape for frontline workers, and examines where it’s headed.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Though technology solutions have always been available to frontline employees, there’s a case to be made that this is the time to double-down on that investment. Why? Because by digitally enabling them with new tools and means of communication that meets them where they’re at, organizations can greatly enhance not only the quality of their experience but that of their customers too. 

Frontline employees are exposed to an array of experiences that not only impact how well they can complete their essential duties, but their very well-being — both physical and emotional. 

From pathogens to unpredictable customer behavior (good and bad — as Internet memes make abundantly clear), frontline workers have been chronically underserved when it comes to employer-provided workplace technology

Despite the number of complex issues facing organizations during these strange times, an opportune moment presents itself for us to give frontline workers the same caliber of tools desk workers have been afforded. A win-win for both the head office and the frontlines as operations run smoother and information is disseminated quicker.

To think of our frontline workers in real, human terms consider this concept —  Satisfied Customers Result From Empowered Employees

Here’s how it works:

Frontline Workers Are the Face of Your Organization

When it comes to your customer’s experience, it is often your frontline workers who are the first and only members of your organization with whom they will interact with. As the initial point of contact with customers, they are the stewards of your brand. How well they are enabled to do their job dictates the level of customer satisfaction that can be achieved. 

It’s simple, if their tools are limited, so is your customer experience.

Create a Culture of Self-Empowerment 

With the coronavirus still surging globally, concerns about personal safety are top of mind for frontline workers. Beyond personal protection equipment to prevent infection, there is the nature of the work environment itself to consider.  

Beyond increasing the safety and productivity of their frontline workers, organizations should also be mindful of supporting their job satisfaction and give them easy access to the information they need. Increasingly, this element has taken on more significance since it inherently fosters productivity and contributes to the overall health of the employee (and by extension their safety). 

A key component of job satisfaction is the level of convenience and enablement organizations can provide their employees. Most frontline teams are subject to outdated and inefficient ways of staying informed like bulletin boards or even being mailed forms. Cloud, mobile, app-based solutions and other forms of digital enablement have proven paramount in creating positive employment experiences for frontline employees. 

creating a culture of self-empowerment with Beekeeper

Prior to these developments, frontline workers were hemmed in by systems that prevented their mobility. It’s hard to imagine having to jog back to a desktop computer for a simple customer service task or being leashed by the cord of a landline telephone at work, but these limitations are often part of the frontline worker experience. Fortunately, a bevy of technological innovations — namely laptops, tablets, and mobile phones — have increased autonomy for these mission-critical workers. 

The tools themselves aren’t what empower frontline workers so much as the concepts they facilitate.

There are a pair of main concepts to abide by when empowering frontline workers: Communication and Access

This is how they break down:

Communication Is Key

Enabling communication is the secret ingredient in most healthy relationships. This age old wisdom rings just as true when it comes to how frontline workers function within an organization. 

Good communication — meaning the ability to share and exchange information with every employee in an organization — helps foster a healthy relationship between the C-suite and the frontlines.

Given today’s distributed workforces, frontline workers are not only interfacing with the public-at-large or their colleagues on the frontline, they are just as likely to be in communication with team members throughout the organization, which is often global. 

communication tools for frontline workers with Beekeeper

As Nick McQuire, Vice President Enterprise Research, CCS Insight, observed in a Google Cloud report, “According to our 2017 employee survey, 86% of workers believe mobile technology has a positive impact on their overall work performance, with almost half stating it has a ‘substantially positive’ effect.” McQuire estimates that as much as 48% of workers we presently refer to as “knowledge workers” will eventually be reclassified as “mobile” or “cloud” workers.

Though advances in technology such as AI and digitization have gone a long way in streamlining the flow of information, it does not replace authentic communication between team members. Facilitating interpersonal, internal exchanges with digital solutions is an efficient and intuitive way to keep frontline workers connected to the broader organization.  

Tools that unify communications will pave the way for this sort of frontline worker enablement. By providing access to real-time information for those on the frontline, an organization can further their ability to make smart, data-driven decisions. 

A recent survey by Harvard Business Review found that that 87% of respondents believe their organization would be more successful if frontline workers were empowered to make important decisions in the moment.

Fortunately, the communication hardware best able to achieve is literally at hand. Mobile connectivity among frontline workers has seen a global increase of 70%. To that end, mobile app spending has soared with little economic impact from COVID-19.

Among the 96% of young workers in the U.S. who already possess a smartphone, 22% of younger adults rely on them as their sole access to the Internet. As a result, traditional platforms that rely on the use of laptops and desktop computers are increasingly irrelevant. That said, if mobile, app-based platforms are to truly replace older modalities of communication such as email and PDFs, how will they take shape?

“It certainly will not be equivalent to someone with a core i7 laptop and a 27-inch monitor who can pump out a PowerPoint presentation to make a point rather than typing a few lines of text and emojis into a post,” quips Daniel W. Rasmus, founder and principal analyst at Sammamish, WA-based firm Serious Insights.

When it comes to platforms that provide digital enablement, questions still loom:  

  • What is the end-user experience actually like? 
  • Is it truly navigable on a smartphone or tablet? 
  • Does it provide real access?

Access Is Everything

Granting frontline workers access to key information not only when they need it (which, let’s face it, is always “right now!”) but wherever they happen to be is critical to a successful digital enablement program. Frontline workers are some of the most dynamic contributors on any staff, and they can often be found anywhere a problem needs solving. 

Providing simple, instant, mobile access to company-wide information not only improves their performance, but the satisfaction they can deliver to your customers.

granting frontline workers access to key information with Beekeeper

There are other aspects of access that benefit frontline workers as well. As Digital Promise, an independent, bipartisan nonprofit, authorized by Congress as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, reported, 

“Having the right data will equip frontline workers with the agency and knowledge to make informed decisions about their future, and will equip stakeholders with information needed to deliver high-quality services.”

“How does a factory worker get into the employee human resources portal to manage his or her retirement account when they work on a line computer without access to business apps? PCs in the lunchroom? Kiosks?” asks Rasmus.

Besides being a strategist and industry analyst, Rasmus is the author of Listening to the Future: Insights from the New World of Work in which he uses scenarios to analyze uncertainties in society, technology, economics, and politics to help organizations put their future in context and effectively develop and refine products, services, and experiences. In his observation, notions of access strike at the heart of what is essentially an issue of inclusion. 

“In many ways this is a diversity and inclusion issue that gets short shrift because the solutions are so hard—or so expensive,” he says. “Buying people a laptop that they don’t use much at work, so they can either do work at home and get overtime, or do less work at work so they can manage their work relationship, is a difficult equation.”

But there is a better solution. It’s clear that the future of the frontline workforce is intertwined with the increasing proliferation of mobile devices. As the need for instant information access and cross departmental communication continues to grow, so too will mobile-first experiences that actively shape the workplace of the future, which is not only often remote but everywhere.

To that end, it’s important to consider the real and intrinsic needs of frontline workers and their roles in how these platforms develop.

“Frontline workers need to be part of the design of any process that involves them. If they need information, or need to provide information, then how they do that needs to be part of the design,” says Rasmus. That means looking beyond line-of-business apps to more general items like employee portals, lessons learned systems, and HR systems. All stakeholders need to be part of the design.”

Platforms such as Beekeeper (hey that’s us!) have heeded the call to provide new tools to frontline workers that both enable and empower them digitally. By leapfrogging over desk-based solutions and embracing the mobile revolution, we’re able to finally bring frontline workers into the conversation and deepen our understanding of their needs. Because they deserve it.

Want to learn more about digital transformation for non-desk workers? Download our Frontline Worker Technology Report to get started!

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