What is a frontline employee?
The truth is, the employees at the top of the pyramid (VPs and C-level executives) are often well known throughout the company, and they usually command the highest salaries. But in many respects, the employees who really matter most are your frontline workers.
Whether they sell your products and services, answer customer service calls, respond to emails, make deliveries, or greet your customers, frontline employees are the face of your company. Often “deskless” and mobile, they may include the nurses at a hospital, field workers servicing electrical lines, or manufacturers assembling or producing goods and products.
The very first person a potential or existing customer interacts with is usually a frontline employee. Therefore, frontline workers have great power and influence — sometimes even more so than the executives who don’t necessarily come into contact with as many customers. Frontline employees are the ones who help customers have a good experience.
Why are frontline employees important?
It’s crucial for every company to engage and motivate frontline workers properly. That way, they can take good care of customers. There are serious repercussions for companies that don’t take into account the wellbeing and engagement of frontline employees. A PwC report established that 73% of consumers regard customer service as one of their purchase drivers, with 65% emphasizing that customer service has a much greater influence than costly and great advertising.
When it comes to engagement, IT and technology tools provide vital support for companies that want to craft winning strategies. Technology can help you take three simple steps to engage and motivate frontline employees. These steps are:
- improve digital internal communications,
- encourage a collaborative working environment,
- use gamification for motivation,
- recognize employees.
How well does your company currently engage frontline workers? Many companies don’t put a high priority on communication with frontline workers. But bad communication results in disconnected and disengaged employees (and low productivity and lower revenues). Also, the majority of the global workforce is on the frontlines and they are the ones that need that engagement boost the most.
Let’s briefly look at the state of frontline workers engagement.
Frontline Employee Engagement Statistics
- According to a recent Gallup study, there are 2.7 billion frontline workers around the globe, but only “13% of them feel engaged at work.”
- In the U.S., only 34% of the entire workforce feel engaged. This is largely due to the fact that they are “often left out of internal communications” and receive minimal investment in digital workplace technology. It is imperative that the entire workforce is included when implementing new technologies and strategies in the workplace, from executives at the top to employees, most especially the frontline workers.
- According to scientist Kristine Dery of MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research, 75% of employees felt out of the loop when it comes to company policy changes, 84% stated that they don’t get sufficient information from management, while 50% say they have no clear perception of their company’s direction. Employee engagement is key to company success. The most engaged employees are those that have direct HR communication and engagement, and open lines of communication with management.
How to empower frontline staff: 4 steps
Step One: Develop a digital internal communication strategy.
In order to reach this workforce, companies must create a digital internal communication strategy.
But what is a digital internal communication strategy? It’s not as complex or technical as it might sound—but it does mean embracing more than just email as a way to send and receive messages from frontline workers.
To truly optimize your digital internal communication strategy, you should consider a workforce communications platform, which can help you reach workers where they are (whether they work remotely, from the road, or are “deskless” onsite), and when they are most likely to be receptive to receiving, responding to, or sending messages.
Company emails are just not as effective as a workforce communications platform because these workers are mostly mobile, don’t sit behind a desk, and often do not have company laptops or emails.
Frontline employees are busy and task-oriented. They’re not always thinking about how their behavior and efforts tie into or align with larger company strategies.
Communication can help fill that gap. Companies need to define how they will communicate with employees in order to align and unify their workforce with business goals.
To do so, IT should invest in a workforce communications platform that reaches all employees on the channels they prefer. This is called a multi-channel approach, and it allows communicators to inform and engage employees using various channels (such as an interactive intranet, mobile employee engagement apps, email, digital signage, etc).
Using a workforce communications platform, communications can be precisely targeted to different employee segments. Also, special channels or forums can be dedicated to them as well. A two-way dialog, in which employees can post questions or comments, helps leaders interact with frontline workers and offer updates, information, and answers in real-time.
Also, frontline workers would have access to file sharing, videos, and real-time notification features; all these elements can help break down the traditional barriers between frontline workers and headquarters.
Step Two: Invest in onboarding
Taking the time to create a thoughtful onboarding experience for your new hires provide a positive effect for everyone. And it is critical to businesses because about 28% of new employees quit before 90 days. Here are the main reasons why onboarding is critical:
- Onboarding boosts retention. Studies have found that 90% of employees decide whether or not they will remain at a new company within the first six months. If you invest the time and energy in the first few months, these new hires will feel appreciated, welcome, and important.
- It enhances employee engagement. It is more than just giving workers the tools they need for their job. Onboarding is when you introduce employees to your company culture and align them to the organization’s mission and goals. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), companies with an onboarding program have 54% higher employee engagement and 62% higher time-to-productivity ratios.
- A good onboarding program builds a company-wide recruiting culture. Employee referrals are powerful, and existing workers are often an asset when recruiting top talent.
A good way to create an onboarding program is with a workforce communications platform. Create special channels with all the right documents, videos, and tips to help new employees thrive. Then, introduce them to the entire organization with a post about them.
Step Three: Encourage a collaborative working environment.
Today, millions of workers can work anywhere at any time; this is especially true for frontline workers who sometimes operate in multiple locations and rotate shifts. Communications platforms and technology tools are valuable for frontline workers who share information in real time. Work flexibility has become vital to the day-to-day lives of employees.
Many collaboration tools can facilitate collaboration among frontline workers, such as file sharing apps and project management tools (Slack is a good example). These technologies provide access to necessary information and updates that help enhance productivity and boost engagement.
However, beware: these tools can burden employees with too much information and cause distraction; and that could have negative effects for frontline workers in manufacturing, healthcare, energy, hospitality, professional services, etc. Yes, tools like Slack can be beneficial, but there’s just as much evidence to suggest that misuse can actually reduce productivity. Chat features, internal team websites, document sharing apps have caused many people to reject the technology and cling on to the channel that they feel comfortable with, which could be a branded app, email, intranet, etc.
The key for internal communications professionals is to train frontline workers to use these tools in ways that empower them to collaborate effectively without draining their time, distracting them from tasks, or disengaging them from their work or their colleagues.
Step Four: Recognize your frontline workers.
Who doesn’t love being recognized at work for a job well done? Proper recognition can contribute to high levels of job satisfaction and even reduce turnover.
IT can partner with HR and internal communications to recognize frontline workers. Here are a few ideas:
- Publicize frontline employee achievements. This could include work anniversaries, birthdays, sales wins, and more. Publish these successes on your workforce communications platform to public channels so the entire company can celebrate.
- Digital “thank you” notes. Show your appreciation with a simple digital note. With technology, the appreciation could be a push notification via your employee engagement app or an update on a break room digital display.
- Flexible hours. Giving high performing employees flexibility, especially for industries like retail and hospitality, could allow them to spend more time with their family or work their preferred hours.
Learn more about the best technology tools for successful employee communications and engagement with the latest SocialChorus guide, Digital Transformation for CIOs: 7 Steps to a Successful Digital Transformation.