A case for connection: Empowering collaboration for frontline workers
Did you know that there are approximately 2.7 billion frontline workers around the globe?
That’s about 80% of workers everywhere and growing. PwC reports that “62% of manufacturers [expect] their frontline workforce to increase over the next year.”
Given these statistics, it’s easy to assume that the workplace experience for frontline employees is a priority.
Unfortunately, this has not always been the case.
The dichotomy between the crucial role of frontline workers and their discontent in the digital workplace demands attention.
To put this issue into perspective, we’ll take a deep dive into the challenges of frontline workers in the context of the modern workspace before discussing potential solutions.
Table of Contents
Communication in the modern workplace
Contemporary workplace culture emphasizes open collaboration and seamless communication, and for good reason. With the rise of remote work, the ability to connect efficiently has become the foundation of a productive working environment.
Leveraging technology for a positive employee experience is non-negotiable. After all, 83% of professionals depend on technology to collaborate.
Hadfield continues, “We see this after mergers and/or acquisitions, where the acquired company often brings their legacy chat application with them. We also see coexistence when IT leaders empower departments or regions to choose their preferred chat tools. The marketing department might want to remain on Google Chat, but the engineering team prefers Teams.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about allowing employees to use the tools that suit them best. And with the power of interoperability, enabling choice has never been easier.”
But, the question arises: While we know this is true for knowledge workers, does this attitude also apply to frontline employees?
What is a frontline employee?
Microsoft defines frontline workers as “any individual—regardless of education or industry—who works directly with customers, clients, or other recipients of services.”
Examples of specific frontline worker positions include:
- Health care workers
- Protective service workers
- Production and food processing workers
- Maintenance workers
- Agricultural workers
- Truck drivers
Additionally, the National Institute of Health defines frontline workers as those with positions “where less than 33% of the occupations in that occupation group can be done from home.”
What are the benefits of empowering communication for frontline workers?
A better experience for frontline workers has positive implications on the entire company.
Studies show that investing in the employee experience directly improves the customer experience. Per Future of Work, “companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147%.”
This results in tangible increases in ROI, with “organizations that have the highest degree of digital connectivity and empowerment–that involves 75% of their frontline workers–[seeing] more than 20% growth” (Deloitte).
High turnover rates are another common issue among frontline workers, with annual attrition rates consistently measuring at 60%. Constant turnover affects company progress, productivity, and requires significant resources to hire and onboard new employees.
Frontline workers serve as the final link between the organization and end-users, interfacing directly with customers.
But what happens when the preceding links in the chain – those connecting leadership to office worker to frontline worker – falter under the pressures of the modern working environment?
Let’s closely examine the barriers to communication faced by the frontline workforce.
Communication challenges for frontline workers
1 – Inadequate technological support
Technology plays a vital role in connecting global teams. This puts frontline workers at a significant disadvantage when their tech options fall short.
Imagine if a retail worker was unable to communicate with headquarters about a product shortage?
Or if a factory manager couldn’t let corporate know about a machine malfunction in real time?
While the physical nature of frontline work serves as an extra barrier to accessing tech on the job, the need for supportive technology persists.
Deloitte reports that “only 23% of frontline workers believe they have access to technology they need to be productive, and 80% of frontline employees say that their company provides few connection opportunities at work.”
Access is just the tip of the iceberg. After all, it’s not just the ability to use technology, but the efficacy of adopted platforms that makes a difference.
“Most frontline workers have been relegated to technology from the early 2000s,” says Jake Bailey, Chief Commercial Officer, Mio.
“Their pay stubs are still paper. Their primary communication is still email. Companies are realizing that the way to retain frontline workers is to give them access to an affordable version of the technology that their knowledge-worker colleagues have.”
With 96% of frontline workers reporting that they want better communication technology, it’s clear where the work needs to begin.
2 – Fractured communications with upper management
Fractured communications with senior management create an environment lacking support and guidance for frontline workers.
A substantial 63% of frontline employees report not receiving messages from company leadership.
Additionally, 32% of frontline workers believe that their opinions are not heard when expressing concerns about workplace issues.
Without a foundation for building lasting relationships with upper management, frontline workers are unable to establish themselves as valued members of the company.
Additional reasons cited for high turnover rates include lack of opportunities for career advancement, burnout, and underappreciation. While fractured communications are not the sole cause of these issues, it’s easy to see how the two are linked.
The question of identity within an organization is one that all employees, regardless of role, must face. And in an environment without support and direction, answering this question becomes impossible.
3 – Workplace flexibility
Ask any remote or hybrid worker what their favorite thing is about working from home and the answer will almost always be flexibility.
Think of how easy it is for an office worker to fire off a Slack message to their team.
They can listen to a company all-hands on Zoom from the comfort of their own homes.
They can even travel the world, responding to emails and asynchronously completing tasks.
In contrast, the in-person nature of frontline work makes it difficult to achieve a similar level of freedom. This contributes to turnover rates, with 44% of frontline workers leaving their jobs due to a lack of flexible working options.
In-person work is by no means a negative thing. The face-to-face nature of a frontline worker’s role is part of what makes them crucial within the organization.
An additional challenge: The top-down buying dynamic
Compounding on broken communication is a general unawareness of the actual needs of frontline workers.
A 2018 study by Emergence Capital showed that “51% of buying decisions are made by the C-suite, 38% by mid-level managers and only 11% by the end user.”
This dynamic further enforces the concept that frontline workers have no voice within the organization.
Tying it all together
When we look at the above scenarios, we can see that they work in tandem.
Without effective technology, frontline workers have no way to communicate with their office counterparts and upper management. This isolation contributes to fractured workplace relationships and a culture that devalues the frontline individual.
A lack of flexibility, furthermore, creates a deeper rift in communication. After all, flexibility applies not only to location and time zone, but also to tools that best serve the individual.
Finally, a preexisting top-down buying dynamic compounds on a culture that doesn’t consider the actual needs of the frontline workforce into consideration. This missed opportunity to connect creates further distance between different factions of the enterprise.
But how can enterprises turn company positives–face-to-face interaction and crucial customer contact–into a positive for the individual?
How can organizations provide flexibility while maintaining the importance of real-time connection?
How to improve communication for frontline workers
Frontline workers need effective, collaboration-based technologies tailored to their needs.
Used by organizations such as the RSPCA, Lush, SCL Health, and ATB, Google Workspace addresses all aspects of frontline challenges and stands out as a powerful solution for collaboration.
When it comes to the challenge of broken communication, adopting new tools must be as seamless as possible.
The Google suite excels in familiarity. Many employees are already familiar with Gmail or Drive from personal use. Leveraging familiarity and prioritizing ease of adoption are strategies to rebuild trust with the frontline workforce.
A dynamic digital identity
Providing a digital identity is a key strategy to the success and inclusion of frontline workers.
“Every employee—whether you work in an office, in a factory, or in a store—wants to feel a sense of belonging and community,” Bailey says. “Digital identities foster collaboration, productivity, and retention, and GWS’s Frontline Worker SKU makes it easier than ever to give everyone a digital identity.”
Google Workspace provides a comprehensive set of tools that allows employees to connect on all levels of their workflow. From Chat to Drive, Workspace creates a dynamic environment where frontline and office workers can sync their schedules, collaborate on files, and communicate seamlessly.
One such example is Veolia, a Paris-based global water, waste, and energy management company. They have adopted Workspace, along with ChromeOS and ChromeOS devices, to establish digital identity and empower their frontline workforce.
“Although we’ve seen many benefits since we switched to Google Workspace and ChromeOS devices, the biggest is that our workforce has become truly connected,” said Hervé Dumas, Group Chief Technology Officer, and Philippe Benoit, SATAWAD (secure, anytime, anywhere, any device) project director, of Veolia. “Today, water systems engineers in Ecuador can work with finance managers in Paris, even when they’re separated by thousands of miles and several time zones” (Google Workspace).
Improved onboarding, additional flexibility
Without a tool to facilitate onboarding, the process typically takes 6-9 months. That time is reduced to 3-6 months with the addition of effective technologies.
Google Workspace empowers frontline workers with tools for effective communication, collaboration, and ongoing skills development.
Tools like Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drive facilitate training material transmission and storage, contributing to a positive employee experience.
Google Calendar and Gmail enhance flexibility, helping users to take control of their schedules and prioritize tasks.
With Google Meet and Chat, employees can easily communicate with upper management and their office counterparts.
By streamlining their workflows, employees can focus on what matters – optimized communication with both teammates and customers.
The importance of interoperability
But what if your office workforce is already entrenched in a different platform?
In the search for collaborative parity, forcing one sector to give up their preferred tool in favor of another is a giant step backwards.
Adopting two separate platforms, furthermore, creates new problems without solving the root issue of broken communication.
That is, without interoperability.
Chat interoperability is the ability to translate messages from one platform to the other. It allows employees to remain on their platforms of choice without compromising collaborative ability.
Interoperability is crucial to flexibility, allowing both frontline and office workers to communicate in the way that serves them best.
Mio and Google Workspace: Better, together
Mio is partnering with Google to empower cross-platform interoperability for frontline workers.
Whether office workers use Microsoft Teams or Slack, Mio acts as a bridge, enabling communication with no need for an additional app.
Frontline workers can use Google Chat natively, without a learning curve.
As Tom Hadfield, CEO of Mio, says, “‘Collaboration Nirvana’ is where everyone on the planet can collaborate with each other, regardless of which app they are using.”
With support in direct messages, spaces, and group chats, Mio enables frontline employees to establish positive and productive relationships with office workers and upper management.
Additionally, Mio supports features such as:
- Editing and deleting messages
- File sharing
- Emojis and reactions
- Threaded replies
Prioritizing security, flexibility, and the employee experience, Mio is a natural addition to the Google Workspace suite.
Want to learn more? Visit https://www.m.io/google.