Over the last 18 months, during the worst periods of the COVID-19 pandemic, while office workers were able to sustain safety through distance work, frontline workers remained at the coalface of potential exposure.
Now, the focus turns towards a post-pandemic way of work, and how this context brings forth several workforce management trends. These are specific to those workers found in-store, at hospitals, down mine shafts and at the manufacturing assembly line.
Trend 1: The Need to Assess and Redefine the Needs of Frontline Workers
From the start of the recent pandemic, frontline workers have held the fabric of society together. Their continued commitment to their positions reassures us all that some normalcy can be sustained.
This highlighted how essential these workers are and how they must be recognised and rewarded for their incredible work. By improving working conditions for frontline workers, companies will also succeed in boosting operations.
If your organisation carefully assesses frontline worker technology needs and implements solutions that fill those needs, this will benefit all your stakeholders.
They are primarily related to your method of communicating and its tools that will help you to meet the needs of your frontline workers. Here are 5 specific steps you can take.
Provide ongoing training that responds to changing needs
Frontline workers need training, but that training needs to be an ongoing process. Workers crave continuous access to training materials, and 59% of workers want self-service access to training materials.
Implement clear policies and enforce them consistently
Hold employees accountable every time they break a rule. Ensure you establish and communicate your rules, in the same way, each time. Written rules are easier to refer to than those that are informally communicated. If you apply rules inconsistently or do not reinforce them, frontline workers will not apply those rules consistently either.
Give frontline employees the right tools
This does not refer to physical tools alone. Slow and outdated software obstructs operational efficiency as much as outdated hardware. It is essential to remain current with the latest technologies available for frontline workers. If you are planning to upgrade your devices, do your research and prioritise quality over upfront savings.
Make the user experience intuitive and easy to use
You can boost the effectiveness of any technology you adopt by ensuring the user experience is organised. With training and a well-designed interface, employees will get the most from their devices. They will be happier and more motivated because they are not hindered by factors that have nothing to do with their skill level (such as poorly designed interfaces).
Provide tech support infrastructure to minimise any downtime
Providing access to support shows your frontline workers that you care. Similar to good customer service, interactions in difficult circumstances tend to be more memorable. If there is a good support system in place, workers can get back to full productivity quickly.
More fundamentally, frontline workers must be assured that their wellbeing is important to their superiors. This means swiftly addressing their concerns and maintenance requests. If something malfunctions and takes a significant amount of time to fix, it implies that frontline workers are an afterthought, or worse, that their services are taken for granted. Either way, this negatively affects the motivation of frontline employees.
Trend 2: How Digitally Enabling a Workforce can Sustain Efficiencies in a Reduced Frontline Workforce
Health and safety guidelines compelled many organisations – including frontline organisations – to keep employee numbers to a minimum. And yet, operations were expected to continue uninterrupted.
Digitisation and democratisation will remove unnecessary hierarchical barriers to efficiency and enable employees to remain effective in an on-demand economy.
Empowering frontline employees through digital enablement helps connect workers even more closely, allowing them to be more productive and autonomous. This improves their ability to make a valuable contribution to their organisation.
By building a data-driven organisation, employees can access and use data on-demand, which adds to a frontline worker’s ability to make informed decisions and address issues effectively while enhancing their workflow.
This trend expedites an unprecedented level of knowledge sharing across the organisation, promoting an ability to forge productive business relationships beyond natural workgroups.
This is a critical development that emphasises that the traditional ‘create and push’ form of sharing information is insufficient to meet employees’ evolving needs.
For example, by digitising paper processes for mobile workers, you can transform the employee experience by fostering efficiency, innovation and growth, and:
- Increase the efficiency of each worker
- Improve customer service
- Deploy your workforce more flexibly
- Improve employee satisfaction
- Gain a competitive advantage through innovation in products and services
- Reduce your costs and minimise travel times
Trend 3: The rise and rise of automation
Robotics and automation are not new and have been used for years in industries such as manufacturing. The acceleration of digitisation has brought automation to the fore for frontline organisations.
Automation can eliminate dangerous and monotonous tasks, making the frontline workplace safer, cleaner, and more attractive to work in. There is also a growing trend in frontline organisations using automation to up-skill their existing workforce and redefine roles to focus on high-level strategy and decision-making.
Additional technological innovations often accompanying automation often includes various performance-based software and tools to enhance the efficiencies of frontline supervisors, corporate management, managers, and workers across an organisation.
Such technologies can perform multiple functions including:
- Workforce forecast and scheduling
- HR management
- Workforce analysis
Automation also tends toward increased adoption of a mobile-first internal communications tool such as an employee app. This is a digital channel that allows for several functions, including:
- Instant messaging
- Analytics and impact tracking
- Two-way communication
Employee apps for frontline workers often also have customised employee productivity tools that help streamline operations, processes, and routine tasks.
With a fast-moving digital workplace evolution, businesses need safe and secure tools that help them reach workers, no matter where they are. Supporting and upskilling workers to leverage these multi-purpose, mobile-first tools will be a crucial step in streamlining operations in a post-COVID-19 world.
Trend 4: An Increased Focus on Agility and Resilience
In the last two years, an organisation’s ability to adapt was sometimes the deciding factor in its continued existence. Consistency and quality took a backseat when it came to defining the indicators of success.
This was primarily supported by a company’s willingness to adopt digital tools to remain agile and adaptable.
According to a recent report by McKinsey, as companies adopt new ways of working at speed, executives are focused on the following actions:
- Moving to flatter, non-hierarchical structures
- Taking more radical approaches to decision-making
- Re-evaluating existing ways of working
The common delays associated with waiting for best practices to emerge no longer apply. CEOs have recognised the need to transition from adrenaline-based speed during COVID-19 to speed by design in the long term.
Companies that have harnessed the formula successfully are experimenting now and boldly.
This is presented graphically as nine key actions to unleash sustainable speed:
The pandemic has shown that it is possible to make decisions faster without breaking the business. Organisations are also increasing the cadence of decisions, which leads to tolerating mistakes that do not put the business at risk. After all, a slow decision can often be worse than an imperfect one.
The nature of our current circumstances does not mean leaders should tighten control and micromanage execution. Rather, because conditions are so difficult, frontline employees need to take on more responsibility for execution, action, and collaboration.
Building execution excellence does not have to sacrifice innovation: it can help discover powerful ideas and innovation from the frontline teams closest to the customer. What Is more, it will also drive excitement and loyalty among the employee base.
As our world moves from a sustained state of emergency, we should nevertheless acknowledge the indelible mark the singular global event has made. The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a new set of challenges for organisations. These compel us all to work toward adjusted scenario planning for employees, manage talent supply and demand in a more adaptable way, address mental and physical wellbeing, and create a new company culture more in line with the new reality.
Are you ready to learn more about how digital employee engagement solutions can help drive sustained momentum for your organisation?
Talk to one of our employee engagement experts.