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Nick Henderson Jan 19, 2022 4:45:14 PM 8 min read

This is no way to support frontline workers

Imagine starting every day with a stack of paperwork detailing all the tasks you need to do by the end of your shift. There are various instructions and tick boxes to fill in. This is the reality for millions of employees in retail, hospitality, healthcare and other sectors. But it’s not the right way to support frontline workers.

If anyone was in any doubt, the pandemic proved the vital contribution of deskless workers in providing frontline services. But that appreciation is not evident in the structures and systems that exist to support frontline workers.

It’s traditionally been a command-and-control approach, governed by checklists that are simplistic, fixed and onerous. Checklists do nothing to inspire, engage and support a workforce that desperately needs to feel valued and motivated.

Crippling staff shortages are affecting swathes of frontline workforces as the so-called Great Resignation takes its toll.

Recent research which surveyed over 1,000 companies to assess employee experience found that deskless industries lag behind in this important area. Researcher Josh Bersin found that a high proportion of employer / employee relationships were largely transactional, focusing on a basic exchange of work for money. 

Ending command-and-control to establish a more adaptable and productive way to support frontline workers should be a priority in 2022.

But what are the characteristics of a deskless working environment that supports frontline workers more effectively?

Improve autonomy to support frontline workers

Research has shown that giving people greater control over their working lives reduces stress and improves performance.  The command-and-control approach relies on everyone doing exactly what they are told to do, when they are told.

In deskless industries, work is often managed and monitored in the form of checklists. But this way of working leaves employees with very little scope to adapt to changing circumstances, add value such as customer or patient interaction or make quick decisions based on their experience. It strangles motivation.

Lack of autonomy is particularly prevalent outside of executive circles. According to research by Gartner, 72% of executives feel they can work out their own flexible work arrangement, whereas only half of employees feel they have that same privilege. It’s likely that number falls even lower in deskless workforces.

Meanwhile, a McKinsey report on replacing hierarchies with flatter structures said that empowering and enabling employees would accelerate decision-making and help teams get more done.  The report recommends empowering workers ‘at the edges’ with better access to information and more scope to be innovative.

The rise of intelligent operations platforms could have a crucial role in improving the flow of information to support frontline workers.

Increase flexibility to better support frontline workers

Times of crisis often inspire a shift towards agile ways of working. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic confronted organisations with a high degree of unpredictability and they were forced to become more adaptable in response. But rather than reverting back, there’s a case for organisations to embed this flexibility more permanently.

Analysts at McKinsey suggest  that “organizations should systemise working and operating processes that empower the front lines to make connections with customers”.

A new breed of intelligent operations technology makes it easier for employers to roll-out new processes to frontline staff, analyse the results of any changes and adapt procedures and training accordingly. The technology embraces both scheduled and unscheduled work, which encourages flexibility more than any amount of outdated paperwork.

Leaders, said the McKinsey report, need to “challenge orthodoxies about ‘how it has always been done’ to encourage the embrace of ‘the way we now do it’”.

Reduce employee effort to step up support for frontline workers

Customer-centricity has become a primary objective of organisations across a wide range of industries. But what are the operational shifts required to make that a reality?

According to analysts at Gartner, the number one action is to reduce employee effort.  In a survey, 64% of respondents acknowledged that unnecessary effort prevented their company from offering a better quality customer experience. The analysts reported: “Lowering the effort that employees must expend in their day-to-day responsibilities can have a positive impact on customer experience.”

How does that manifest itself in frontline operations? First it’s important to recognise that a lot of day-to-day responsibilities are vitally important in terms of achieving consistent standards, maintaining safety and controlling compliance. But there are easier ways to manage these activities than simply arming employees with bundles of checklists.

As an intelligent operations platform, Checkit prompts, guides and automatically logs the performance of essential activity via mobile devices held by frontline teams. Work can be completed and recorded more quickly and with significantly less effort. Staying late to complete the day’s paperwork need no longer be necessary. The other end of this equation is automation. There are often regular checks – such as fridge temperature checks – that can be automated with IoT sensors to remove yet another burden from frontline staff. These are effective ways to support frontline workers.

Encourage collaboration if you really want to support frontline workers

A lot of knowledge workers are still adjusting to the reality of remote working. For deskless workforces, operating remotely has long been a normal experience. Deskless workforces include individuals and teams who are dispersed across multiple locations, often working alone. Think of maintenance engineers, cleaners, kitchen staff and community healthcare providers.

As a result of poor technology access, it’s often hard for them to communicate with each other, apart from ad-hoc personal WhatsApp groups that exist far beyond the view of managers. This makes it difficult to collaborate efficiently, increasing the risks of some jobs being missed and others duplicated.

Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, said in an article that all workplaces should strive to be collaborative. Making that happen, she said, required a clear cultural standpoint, diverse networks, productive capacity and a sense of purpose that creates energy. 

With an intelligent operations platform that’s continuously available in real time, frontline workers can share updates, messages and photos with colleagues and managers. Whereas paperwork is indelible, digital processes can be trialled, measured and adjusted rapidly, enabling colleagues to collaborate on important work and complete tasks more quickly.

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Nick Henderson

Content & Communications Manager at Checkit

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