Frontline workers have always existed outside the front page of the business section. They’ve long been the backbone of the economy, but you won’t find many think pieces or trendy stories about them. But in the post-COVID workforce, where essential workers were pivotal in maintaining the services and goods we rely on, the narrative around frontline work is changing.
The mobile workforce is growing at an extraordinary pace. While that growth opens up exciting new opportunities for both businesses and employees, it also presents new challenges. Frontline workers have unique needs and require purpose-built technologies to meet them.
Keeping up with how we work now is the best way to ensure that your mobile workforce remains agile, productive, and efficient.
The Mobile Workforce vs. Remote Workers
Even before 2020, remote work was rapidly expanding. The idea is simple: workers in the information economy do most of their work online and can do their work from anywhere. The pandemic accelerated that trend. Experts predict that 36 million Americans will be working remotely by 2025 — nearly 20% of the entire workforce.
That number sounds huge. But right now, frontline workers make up 52% of the US workforce, and that number is only expected to grow.
Frontline workers aren’t spending their days at home in front of a laptop. They’re a mobile workforce that’s out in the field.
Defining Frontline Workers
While there is no hard and fast definition of a frontline worker, it can best be understood as someone who works in a client-facing or operational position away from central headquarters.
- Event management
While each industry has its own unique characteristics, frontline workers have a lot in common.
- They typically interact with their direct manager, not the central office
- They usually don’t have access to central communication tools like corporate email
- They often work in teams
- There is a lot of on-the-job learning
- They work in fields with high turnover rates
- They have to make decisions in the moment
Another term for the mobile workforce is “dispersed,” That captures a lot. Dispersed workers are in stores across the country, hotels around the world, or manufacturing plants at every stop of the supply chain. They are executing decisions made several layers above their paygrade.
It’s not easy being a frontline worker. The challenges they face day-to-day can be truly daunting.
Challenges and Opportunities for the Mobile Workforce
For decades, frontline-majority businesses have followed a pretty consistent SOP. Decisions were made in headquarters, filtered down to field managers, and the workers executed the decisions. But workers, and the mobile worksite, are evolving.
Our 2022 Frontline Trends Report showed that the labor shortage has had a profound impact on workers. When employees have more opportunities to leave jobs that aren’t fulfilling, workplaces have had to create more incentives to stay. This includes addressing the unique challenges mobile workforces face.
Limited Access to Information
Most frontline workers don’t have a corporate email address. They don’t get updates on policy changes or new processes. They rely on information from managers, who are often overworked and unable to devote time to answering questions.
This leaves workers scrambling to find documentation related to policies, processes, products and more. That is frustrating and a waste of time for everyone involved. It leaves them less able to perform their duties, since they don’t have the information to act on.
Lack of Communication Between Team Members and Managers
The information worker, when faced with a question, has a number of ways to get help. Ping someone on Slack, jump on Zoom, send a quick email. In the office, they can walk down the hall and talk it out in the coffee room. That’s not usually not the case for frontline workers.
Not having any good way to communicate can be a real challenge. Whether it’s getting answers in the moment or guidance that will help down the road, employees need a way to talk to each other. Without it, everyone is more isolated and less productive.
Lack of Context Around Changes that Are Made
There are a lot of good reasons for a top-down management style in the mobile workforce. With locations often dispersed across many stores or plants, consistency and clear leadership is invaluable. But context is key.
Contextualizing decisions is good business. It encourages engagement and helps employees understand their role in the company. It makes work feel less arbitrary and more purposeful. That’s why 86% of frontline workers say that having context around change is key to their happiness. They don’t just want to know what to do. They deserve to know why they are doing it.
But context is hard to give without centralized communication. Managers are often too busy trying to balance schedules and put out fires to do much more than give basic direction. That makes everyone’s job a lot harder.
Lack of Power to Make the Best Decisions
Context. Training. Knowledge. These are the keys to helping employees meet challenges when they arise.
There will always be customers who are more tricky than others. There will be times when a million things seem to be happening at once. There may even be moments that are, frankly, scary and even dangerous.
When this happens, employees need to be empowered to act. If they have proper training, the ability to access information, a solid base of support, and the “why” behind the “what”, they can make good decisions.
No Clarity Around Work Schedules
One of the biggest frustrations for frontline workers is the lack of clarity around their schedule. Many hourly workers have more than one job. Many have school, children, and other family obligations to balance. Not having insight into the work schedule makes figuring out the rest of life harder.
Of course, without a centralized communication platform, it can be extremely difficult to show everyone’s schedule in advance and even harder to make changes. Many businesses still rely on paper signup sheets that employees might or might not have a lot of access to, and finding someone to fill in can lead to complicated games of phone tag.
Now more than ever, workers need to feel comfortable, satisfied, and empowered in their jobs.
Do they have a good work/life balance? Do they feel that their work matters? Do they feel connected? Do they feel like they are part of something bigger than the day-to-day grind?
In today’s employment landscape, businesses need these answers to be “yes”.
Technology Unlocks Success for Mobile Workforces
Bulletin boards. Phone trees. Quick conversations during the rare down times in a shift. Big manuals stored in an office somewhere. Those are the traditional ways that the mobile workforce has communicated. That needs to change.
All of the challenges listed above boil down to one thing: communication. Workers need to communicate with management and each other. They need a way to ask questions and talk to each other. They need documents at their fingertips. They need to be kept in the loop.
Technology makes it happen. Beekeeper is an operating system for frontline businesses that can be accessed from any mobile device. We connect the mobile workforce and give it the power to compete in the 21st century.
Adapting to the evolving needs of the mobile workforce is how you make sure employees want to work for you and empower them to perform at their best.
Check out our Frontline Worker Technology Report to go deep on the digital revolution that’s transforming the frontline workforce, or talk to one of our experts to learn more about what Beekeeper can do for you.