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 workers.

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 at this group.

Who are the frontline workers?

First, there are many terms being used to describe this category of workers, such as first-line, deskless, key, blue-collar, off-site, and field workers. In this article, we will use the term frontline workers, but you can of course pick your own term for any upcoming initiatives.

The term frontline workers include a variety of roles within different industries. 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.

The term can also include roles as factory or construction workers, 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.

When defined in this way, it is easy to grasp that this is a huge group of people – some say close to 3 billion people. Even though we do not have an exact figure on the total number of frontline workers, it is easy to understand that this is a considerable chunk of the global workforce.

What are the frontline worker challenges?

When investing in intranets and applications, it is easy to understand that most organizations would like to include the whole workforce. But since the frontline workforce has some challenging characteristics, they have often been left out of communication, collaboration, and productivity initiatives. So, what are these challenges?

To start with, 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.

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.

But technology has evolved and today there are ways to handle the challenges above. A digital signage setup combined with a ‘bring your own device’ policy can help remedy the device issue. There are ways to manage user accounts and licenses in a cost-effective way to provide access to content and apps.

In most cases, it should be possible to schedule time for frontline workers to take part in relevant information or use apps in daily work. And when it comes to responsibilities and priorities, we recommend that these should be clarified before you start designing or implementing any frontline solutions.

But still, the frontline teams have been under-served and over-run for years when it comes to a having relevant digital workplace. So even if you have addressed the challenges mentioned, do not become surprised if frontline workers are a bit suspicious when it comes to centralized initiatives.

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.

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 get answers about what tasks can be carried out more effectively or what are the bottlenecks that need to be solved. Topics like these should be investigated and answered in a group where representatives from Communications, HR, operations, and the frontline workforce work together.

Our experience is that a vital prerequisite in the design process is to engage frontline users at an early stage for UX research, hands-on testing, and preferably also a pilot. Working hands-on to design new apps is a great way to build user buy-in and verify that the solution will match user needs.

If you approach the frontline organization with the right mindset and the right questions, you will most likely come out with relevant information to help build a strategy and set priorities for 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.

How to drive the adoption of frontline solutions?

When moving ahead with new frontline apps, our recommendation is to start small and scale and improve the solutions going forward. You don’t want the frontline workforce to get overwhelmed by a big-bang launch of new solutions and tools.

Of course, 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 will need to be in place before you can launch any new solutions.

Then, 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. Focus on the prioritized areas and add other needs and solutions to the roadmap.

You will also need to have a plan for how to drive the adoption of the new solutions. This could be investing in support and training, but our best advice here is to have a network of internal ambassadors, spread out across the departments and locations, that can help you reach to the whole organization and get all users introduced to new ways of working.

We also recommend that you should have a channel for feedback from users and a way of working where user voice truly influences what will be improved going forward.

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, we wish to recommend the on-demand webinar How to design intranets that include and engage frontline workers.

Welcome to schedule a demo where we will show you how Omnia can support your organization in including and engaging the frontline workforce.