Close the digital gap to frontline employees - 5 simple tips

You can receive great return on investment if you are able to include frontline workers in the digital flow and community of your organization.

A significant proportion of a company’s frontline workforce is computer- and deskless. In logistics, industry, the retail and service sectors, we’re in fact talking about up to 80 – 90% of employees. Many of them are completely cut off from the organization’s digital flow and community. But it’s costly not to integrate these employees digitally. Valuable insights and ideas are lost and digital alienation has a negative impact on their motivation, loyalty and dedication.

In this blog post, we’ll give you some advice on how to close the digital gap and boost frontline employees’ engagement.

Include frontline workers in the digital workplace

It’s relatively easy to unify an organization and keep the workforce updated on important news, trends, business strategies and so on if all employees spend their working days in front of a computer. But in organizations dominated by computer- and deskless personnel, such as the frontline staff in a service enterprise, this is considerably more difficult. And it’s in these kinds of organizations that it’s probably even more important to have efficient and real-time-based internal communications.

Digital exclusion is problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, your frontline employees know your core business better than most. They spend their entire working days in close proximity to the market and to your customers. Either that or they’re carrying out the operations that pay your bills. Usually, they have the busiest feet in your workplace, constantly on the move and seldom sitting down with the rest of you in the office. In many occupations, the frontliners also work on their own. So the digital gap often reinforces an already established physical exclusion.

As you’re no doubt already aware, informed employees are far better at their job than their uninformed colleagues. So just how large do you think the improvement potential is in an organization where three-quarters of the workforce are left outside in the cold without access to the daily flow of information?

Our customers often tell us about the time before they had a mobile-friendly intranet. Regular staff meetings, kick-off events, bulletin boards, and snail-mail were the only tools available to involve the deskless. Of course, we recognize that it’s vitally important to gather the team in time and space to bond and keep everyone on the same course. But it’s time-consuming and it’s costly.

Since virtually everyone owns a smartphone today, there’s really no reason not to benefit from the advantages that a responsive intranet offers. Below we’ll further discuss the importance of digital inclusion and provide you with five simple tips on how to digitally embrace frontline employees.

# 1 Acknowledge your frontliners as the heroes they are

In a business world where you are constantly scrutinized and ranked by rating sites like Reco, Google Review and TripAdvisor, the engagement of your frontline staff is crucial for your success. A single review can make or break a business. Yet most frontline employees are probably unaware of the impact their contribution has on the fortunes of their employer. If they knew, they would most likely put in that extra effort, especially if the hero status most of them deserve was acknowledged.

There might be one or two employees who find awards like Employee of the Month and This Week’s Customer Hero somewhat ingratiating and meaningless. But, when it’s their turn to be awarded, they’re as flattered as anyone. It works. And the world would be a much better place if we were all given a congratulatory pat on the back every now and then. Above all, it’s undoubtedly a harmless way of luring your frontline warriors into the digital warmth and boosting their engagement.

#2 Give their work a higher purpose

A fat wad of cash, an extra week’s holiday or similar sugar-coated benefits are no longer sufficient to attract new talent. Nor will they induce employees to stay longer or boost their work motivation. Especially not the Millennials. A Gallup study on How Millennials Want to Work and Live found that Millennials prioritize the purpose of their work, not the compensation their work brings. The report concludes that 60% of Millennials are constantly on the lookout for new jobs that can provide them with a greater meaning. This generation’s drive, or rather the lack of it, was also observed in the study’s engagement meter, in which the Millennials scored lowest with no more than 29%. In fact, more than 55% feel totally disengaged at work – the highest disengagement score compared to all other work generations. Amongst the Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964), as many as 48% feel disengaged in their current work position.

Having a meaningful job isn’t just to do with the actual work tasks or the position held by the employee. The context of the work is often more important. Even the most dull and monotonous job can be perceived as being meaningful if it has a higher purpose than just collecting a paycheck. And it doesn’t have to be about saving the world, the whales or reversing climate change. It’s often quite enough just knowing what the organization’s business goals and visions are, and how the work of the individual employee contributes to the realization of these goals and visions.

>One way of making employees aware of their importance is to regularly show, suitably with the help of graphs and illustrations, just how their unit is progressing in relation to the overall plan. The report can, for instance, be built on financials or other KPIs, such as quality errors.

You can also set up interviews, with a journalistic twist, with employees from different parts of the organization and publish the resulting articles on the intranet. And if you include references to the organization’s strategies and visions, the benefits will be threefold. You’ll be boosting the employee’s engagement; his/her colleagues will be enticed into the intranet as they are eager to read the story, and the employee’s work tasks and role will be described in the context of the bigger picture. Bingo! His/her job has instantly been blessed with a higher MEANING.

#3 Invite them to the Strategy Room

Most people find their work much more interesting if they feel they have a say in the strategic development of the business, the organization or the workplace. Particularly if management welcomes their ideas. That’s when they can really bond with the organization and start caring about its future wellbeing.

The permanent installation of a suggestion box on the intranet should indisputably be seen as a hygiene factor in any organization. Suggestions for improvements, processes that can be trimmed or eliminated, fun-oriented team-building activities – and opinions about almost anything – can then be posted to this digital box. But don’t forget to have a consistent and fast feedback routine in place first. Otherwise, the tactics might well backfire and instead result in a lower level of engagement.

The inclusion of employees in the business and strategic development process is a very rewarding engagement measure. And, contrary to what many management teams might think, it’s not all that time-consuming or conflict-prone. Using simple web-based questionnaires and polls, you can get the opinion of a unit or the whole organization on strategic questions and issues in minutes, hours or just a few days. It’s a fast and easy way of making everyone feel included and connected, while at the same time providing management with a much more solid foundation for their strategic decisions.

#4 Turn them all into whistleblowers

Don’t be alarmed! We naturally don’t want your internal secrets to be spilt to the general public. All we want is for you to convert every single employee on the frontline into a kind of human siren, so they can warn management of an incoming storm or just unhappy customers complaining about your product, services or prices.

By transforming your frontliners into whistleblowers, you will achieve three things. It will become more apparent to them just how important their job is (see #2 above); they will feel more included in your business development process (see #3 above); and management will get a much better grip on the market, business threats, and opportunities.

So create an alarm function on the intranet and encourage your employees to report as soon as possible if they observe customer dissatisfaction, malfunctioning processes, discordant prices, unexpected competition and so on.

#5 Ask for their autographs

If the carrot strategy doesn’t work, you can always use the stick. Sometimes it’s in fact a necessity, for instance when you need a read confirmation of critical information from everyone in the organization. In these instances, you can activate the Mandatory Read function on documents, pages, videos or blog posts that are essential reading for your employees. The targeted employees will then be nudged regularly and automatically until they have confirmed that they have in fact absorbed the information. For some people, this is the only way to get them to start using the intranet. But in time your coercion will be replaced by your employees’ own desire to be constantly updated on everything that’s going on in the organization.