Businesses must learn to prioritize frontline workers

man making a sales call in an office
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The pandemic dramatically changed the way we do business, and we all had to learn how to work from home overnight. However, when compared to the risks that frontline workers were taking with their work lives every day to ensure that the rest of us could function as normal, remote working doesn’t seem as difficult an adjustment.

About the author

Ujjwal Singh is Head of Product at Workplace from Meta.

Frontline workers were some of the most exposed and the least protected during the pandemic, yet office workers have been the predominant focus when discussing working practices since we entered lockdown two years ago.

The way we work has evolved since then. Organizations must consider all of their people when making decisions about the way they plan to work moving forward – especially if they want to retain talent.

The way we work is changing more rapidly than ever and organizations can't afford to get it wrong. The Great Resignation is one example of the heightened dissatisfaction that frontline workers are feeling, and this is having a huge effect on businesses' ability to keep employees on board and manage the business effectively.

If organizations fail to support their employees in all of the specific ways they need, then they risk isolating certain groups within the business. Frontline workers often experience this more than others by the nature of their work and the fact they’re often the most disconnected from the business. This can lead to the unintentional creation of siloes that will end up hampering long-term growth and success.

So, companies need to put tangible measures in place to ensure their frontline, hybrid and remote workforces are all equally connected to the business – and they need to do this now.

Frontline workers are being isolated

Frontline workers are often overlooked in the remote workforce conversation because they had to go to work as normal during the pandemic. This has led to dissatisfaction across the frontline, and according to our recent Workplace from Meta research, 45% of UK frontline workers are considering leaving the frontline altogether, with only half (54%) saying they feel connected to their organization's HQ.

The frontline’s frustration is evident and made worse when coupled with the effects that isolation can have on mental health. Often frontline workers don’t have access to company technology and emails, exacerbating the feeling of alienation.

For example, while the rest of us have been engaging with each other through online work groups and events, or re-creating those watercooler moments with virtual drop-in sessions, the frontline has been left to its own devices. Many frontline workers have not had access to these means of connecting that are now so commonplace to the rest of us, and have had to keep the business moving in the midst of constantly changing restrictions without regular access to the rest of the organization.

We’ve also been hearing about huge issues when it comes to frontline wellbeing. In our research, 77% of UK frontline workers told us they’re either suffering from burnout or feel at risk of it. Clearly, employers need to do more to create a level playing field for frontline workers and ensure they feel prioritized, and this starts with really listening to what their people need to ensure they can put in place the right solutions.

Why employee experience matters

As organizations create long-term plans for hybrid working, it’s becoming clear that a powerful employee experience will bridge the gap between remote workers, including those on the frontline, and business leaders. This can be achieved by increasing focus on employee wellbeing and making sure people are connected across the business.

So far, frontline workers have been left out of this conversation. Many aren’t offered the perks and benefits that make them feel valued, and they’re not being offered any means to excel at work, with more than a third (39%) of frontline employees saying they want more training and education in their roles.

Managing the employee experience for all parts of the workforce is crucial to an organization's success. Creating positive experiences has the potential to improve wellbeing, as well as retention and productivity. So, businesses need to renew their focus on workers’ day-to-day experience if they want to retain and attract frontline talent.

Connection is key to creating a better culture

Many countries (the UK included) are struggling to fill the high number of vacancies, with the CIPD finding that almost half (47%) of employers report having vacancies that are hard-to-fill, and more than one in four (27%) expect these vacancies to increase in the next six months from the date the research was conducted.

Business leaders can try to avoid the effects of the Great Resignation and retain their frontline staff, but only if they make time to understand and action the feedback they’re receiving from these workers.

So far, frontline workers are highlighting the need for better technology tools that foster a more nurturing business culture. 86% of UK frontline workers believe that good communication technology should be standard, while over half (56%) see themselves moving to another frontline role if they had better tools and technology to support day-to-day work.

UK C-suite executives agree that there is a frontline labor shortage and 69% say one of the main causes is that frontline workers aren’t being offered jobs with tools to make their day-to-day easier. And a staggering 92% say they need to start prioritizing frontline technology in the same way they’ve historically prioritized office and desk-based technology.

It’s good to see the C-suite mirrors the frontline’s desire to implement technology across the business – now they need to act on it. The next steps here are clear. Companies need to connect their frontlines and empower them with information that better engages them, enabling them to deliver a great service. There are tangible solutions out there to achieve this, leaders just need to make sure they’re delivering these across the business, and not siloing access.

Moving the needle for frontline workers

As companies continue to consider how their remote teams will operate, they need to make sure they don’t isolate any of their workers. Every kind of employee – whether working on the frontline or behind a desk – deserves to have an equal employee experience that focuses on community, inclusion, wellbeing and having a voice.

This will in turn benefit the business as they create a more engaged workforce that wants to produce results for them because they feel valued. Technology can achieve this by creating a platform for organizations to bring everyone together and build a culture of belonging.

Check out our list of the best business laptops.

Ujjwal Singh is Head of Product at Workplace from Meta, a position he has held for over two years. Prior to this Ujjwal was CTO at GoFundMe.