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Three challenges for frontline employee experience

A moving van parked in a street with the sky above. 10 people in uniform sweatshirts stand and pose in front.

Three challenges for frontline employee experience

Labelled ‘hard to reach’ in the past, the frontline workforce has long been ignored. While the digital workplace industry has taken inspiration from consumer-oriented approaches and has begun to catch up with technology solutions for mobile, frontline worker needs remain unmet in many instances.

Over the past 18 months however, a shift in the digital workplace industry has given more prominence to frontline needs and solutions. While it’s great to see these changes, businesses and technology providers have the potential to address this sector even further. Clients are also raising the needs of frontline staff far more often than before. Clearly something needs to be done, but it can feel overwhelming working out how to address them.

The frontline workforce is coming into focus, but their challenges and needs must be handled in a different manner than desk-based workers.

What makes frontline worker needs different

The needs of frontline workers are quite different than those of office workers, bringing with them three key challenges to address.

Who is responsible for the frontline?

Frontline workers are typically responsible for practical tasks that directly serve a business’s customers. Any interruption impacts their personal productivity, which could impact the productivity of the location where they are working, which in turn hits regional / divisional results, and ultimately the bottom line. Therefore, unlike desk-based departments, there is a gauntlet of representatives — from local managers, unions, operations, planning, health and safety, and HR — to liaise with. Even knowing who to speak with is daunting. Conducting user research relies on navigating these complicated waters — but it’s a vital step to find the right solution.

The lack of clarity about who ‘owns’ frontline staff causes comms or IT teams to put frontline staff needs aside to tackle later. Businesses introduce passive communication methods such as digital signage as a result. While a step in the right direction, without a company device to find out more, such measures can lead to frustration. Alternatively, frontline staff are at times lumped into a desk-based solution that has an app “so that’s the frontline sorted — tick!”

All relevant departments need to address this challenge together. Alignment on what’s needed vs. what solutions are going to be made available (to avoid overwhelming users with multiple products) is vital. Technology can also help, which I’ve discussed below.

Retail worker.

No company devices

Companies rarely give devices to frontline workers, as the latter doesn’t typically need work-related email or access to most business systems. Paper-based or local processes are used instead (which are fantastic opportunities for digitization) and online activity is carried out on personal devices and accounts. Additionally, security and privacy issues surround the use of shadow technology that many frontline teams may employ. Implementing a ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) policy would therefore seem sensible, however unions and individuals may feel uncomfortable if the technology’s purpose isn’t clear.

User research is again vital, to uncover what will improve their daily lives (with business goals such as internal comms an aside). A clear communication plan for the solution’s launch should convey how the app will do exactly that. We’ve seen employee app vendors directly support these efforts, so look for this level of service from your vendors or their partners, even though it isn’t a technology solution. They have a huge amount of experience, so supporting large projects like this makes a big difference to the project’s success.

Time Poor

Everyone is busy, but frontline workers are directly serving customers (whether that’s in a coffee shop, building a house, or performing a medical exam). This means they can’t easily flick onto the intranet for a five-minute brain-break before starting their next task, as opening the intranet involves taking their phone out which they can’t do while driving a bus. Additionally, their breaks are time-prescribed and often short, making them precious.

Any technology (and content) must therefore be quick and easy to use, be justifiable if taking time out from daily tasks (such as to complete an incident report form) or be engaging should people want to use it outside of work. These three points are vital for delivering a good employee experience for the frontline.

The future of frontline solutions

The future employee experience for the frontline will address their needs, offer lighter and leaner technology solutions that cover practical tasks, simplify working practices, while also aiding company engagement.

The best frontline experiences deliver solutions for the most common user needs (such as viewing a payslip, booking holiday, or completing a uniform request form), combined with meeting business needs (such as aiding company communication, or presenting necessary training). These products are also light and lean, meaning the app only presents a few practical tasks or focuses on certain business areas, while also being quick and easy to use. Giving the user the option to ‘switch off’ through features such as ‘do not disturb’ are also very important and will likely become more prevalent in future.

Report cover. Two men in hard hats and high-visibility vests sit with coffee on a building site, looking at a mobile phone together.

There is a thriving employee mobile app market, and many intranet platforms are reconsidering their approaches to the app versions of their products. Many vendors understand the needs of frontline workers, in some cases even going down to sector-specific levels. Those that do, deliver the best employee experience. The future is bright for the solutions on the market, but businesses will need to do some careful user research to ensure they choose the correct product.

This article was originally published at Reworked.

Suzie Robinson

I've always worked with intranets, and have practical experience with all aspects of intranet management, including research, implementation, governance, and strategy. My roots are in internal communication and I focus on employee experience and engagement.

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