Developing solutions that engage frontline teams

Join forces across the organization, form a roadmap, solve the basics, start small, drive adoption, and improve continuously. These are some of our recommendations if you want to become more successful in developing solutions that include and engage frontline teams.

Over the years, we have seen organizations invest in great intranets to drive productivity and employee engagement. But in many cases, the solutions have only been made available for information workers and not for the deskless workforce. We now see that priorities are changing, and that reaching and engaging frontline teams are important in initiatives to improve communication, collaboration, knowledge sharing, and productivity.

There are still considerable challenges that need to be solved before we effectively can support frontline workers with relevant tools. But since technology has evolved with this group in mind, we believe that there are no showstoppers for realizing solutions that cover the needs and requirements of the complete workforce.

In this article, we discuss the needs and challenges of frontline workers and provide advice on how to design and implement solutions targeted for this group. If you want to learn more on this subject, sign up for our webinar with guest speaker Suzie Robinson from ClearBox Consulting on October 13.

Who are the frontline workers?

The term frontline workers include a variety of roles within different businesses. Often, this group consists of employees providing essential services close to an end-customer, such as nurses and doctors within health care, public transportation workers, personnel in stores and restaurants, taxi drivers, and sales, service, and field teams.

But in this article, we believe that it makes sense to also include roles as factory or construction workers, factory, warehousing and distribution staff, and similar roles in the term frontline workers – even though some of these groups might not have direct contact with end-customers.

We understand there are several different terms used for the employees that we here will call frontline workers, and some of these are first-line, deskless, vital, key, blue-collar, offsite, or field workers. In this case, we will call this heterogenous group frontline workers, but you can of course pick your own term for continued internal discussions and/or form your own definition of which roles belong to the group.

What are the frontline challenges?

When aiming to develop and deliver digital solutions for frontline workers, it is vital to understand and handle the challenges connected to this group.

First, we are talking about a group of people that do not have a desk or perhaps even a designated workplace. In many organizations, these employees will not be found in the user directory, nor do they have a company device, e-mail, or access to applications. Also, employees in this group have limited time allocated to taking part in internal news, group conversations, or sharing knowledge with colleagues.

Based on these challenges, organizations might struggle to lead and motivate frontline workers. There are limited ways of getting information on processes, instructions, and templates through to this target group. And the lack of communication channels will lead to challenges when it comes to connecting with and keeping frontline workers motivated.

Furthermore, our experience is that the responsibility for serving and including frontline teams often is spread out across the organization. Communications want to reach frontline workers with news and announcements, HR wishes to have self-service forms or push for e-learning, and the priority for operations is to provide tools for increased productivity. We recommend that you should clarify responsibilities and priorities as a first step before you can start designing and delivering apps and solutions to improve the ways of working.

As you see, there are several challenges connected to driving efficiency and engagement of frontline workers. And when realizing that this group is a huge chunk of the global workforce, some say close to 3 billion people, it is easy to establish that the overall frontline challenges are considerable.

How to design solutions for frontline teams?

Since the opportunities for improvements regarding how to support frontline teams are obvious, it might be tempting just to start developing apps or portals that can help address some of the needs you already know of. But as you probably already have guessed, this is not the way to go.

In many organizations, the frontline teams have been under-served and over-run for years when it comes to a having relevant digital workplace. Therefore, do not become surprised if frontline workers are a bit suspicious when it comes to centralized initiatives.

Instead, we believe that you should join forces across the organization to start researching the needs and priorities of the frontline teams. This is the best way to answer questions on what tasks can be carried out more effectively or what are the bottlenecks that need to be solved. Questions like these should be investigated and answered in a group where representatives from Communications, HR, operations, and the frontline workforce work together.

If you approach the frontline organization with the right mindset and the right questions, you will probably also come out with relevant information to form a strategy and decide on how to proceed. A wisely formed roadmap, agreed upon by all involved roles, will be an important step for making frontline teams feel more connected with the organization.

Our recommendation when forming the roadmap is to start small and to scale and improve the solution going forward. But before you can start launching new tools, you will need to solve the ‘basics’ regarding user accounts, decentralized management of users, accounts life cycles, corporate or personal devices, onboarding, easy log-on with support for shared devices, and similar challenges.

When the basics are in place, you can go ahead with ‘simple’ and prioritized solutions such as finding a colleague, posting leave requests, handling expenses, or accessing forms for recurring tasks. Our advice here is to not try to solve all 'simple' needs in the first release, but instead, add these to the roadmap.

When it comes to designing and launching apps and solutions aligned with the roadmap, we have the following advice on the process:

  1. Engage users: Bring in frontline end-users early in the process for UX research, hands-on testing, and preferably also a pilot. Working hands-on with new apps is a great way to build user buy-in and to verify you have designed the right solution. 

  2. Drive adoption: Invest in resources like training, ambassadors, support, etc. to help drive adoption. Our experience is that having a network of internal ambassadors might be the most important activity to make sure the solutions will be well-used.

  3. Continuous improvements: Do not go for the 'big bang' and launch a too overwhelming solution. Instead, start with something good enough and improve/scale over time. So, you better make sure that you have a channel for feedback and prioritize improving apps to deliver further user benefits. 

We expect that your existing best practice for introducing new solutions covers other the steps that need to be covered in the design and development process.

Learn more about solutions for frontline workers

When it comes to designing, developing, and implementing solutions for frontline workers, our overall recommendations cover joining forces across the organization to research and decide on the needs of frontline teams, and to form a roadmap designed to start small and scale over time. Then, make sure to solve the ‘basics’ and involve end-users early when developing new apps. After launch, your focus should be on driving adoption and continuous solutions improvements.

If you wish to learn more about frontline workers' solutions, sign up for our webinar with guest speaker Suzie Robinson from ClearBox Consulting on October 13.

Suzie has worked with intranets for 15 years and has practical experience with all aspects of an intranet lifecycle, from research to implementation, to ongoing governance, and overall strategy. Suzie’s intranet experience has grown out of the roots of internal communication, so she has a focus on employee experience and engagement, plus strong content. Frontline users were often the core user base for the intranets Suzie managed, so she has extensive experience in finding ways to engage and connect a broad audience range.