Working late, having back-to-back shifts, being unable to attend on-site meetings—being stationed on the front-line can mean any of these things.
For the people who make up well over half of the workforce population, this can lead to feelings of being disconnected, and doesn’t exactly set them up to be as engaged with the organization as their in-office counterparts.
These workers are the ones who are on the ground, using their provided digital tools every day and—most importantly—representing their organization often face-to-face with the public.
With the negative impacts of poor employee engagement far-reaching and serious, it’s mission critical for leaders to focus in on their front-line teams and make their experience a great one.
To combat this ‘perfect storm’ for employee engagement, here are some of the best tips internal communications teams and leaders can start to put into play so your workforce can stay aligned, connected and engaged.
Why Front-line Employee Engagement is a Different Game
You can have a great, thorough engagement plan set and rolling, but still miss the mark for your front-line, deskless teams.
This gap can leave leaders scratching their heads: Are my managers not engaged enough to keep theirteams engaged? Am I delivering the wrong message?
There are many things that make the experience for employees who aren’t tied into what goes on at the office different.
Challenge: No face-to-face interactions or ‘connection’ to organization’s day-to-day
With ‘front-line’ being an umbrella label for the workforce, keep in mind that this challenge shows itself differently for each employee. A nurse on the front-line will see their colleagues regularly, but might feel aligned with their organization. But a utility worker working away from a central location could lack both of these.
Whatever way you look at it, it’s clear that front-line employees face a disconnect that in-office and regular staff don’t. Shift work and irregular hours, different work sites, working alone are only a few of the ways their situation(s) make it easy to feel disconnected.
Challenge: No digital tools or less-effective tools than the rest of the organization
Too much technology can make getting work done harder, but the majority of front-line workers want to digitize their toolbox.
This ‘digital divide’ is very real, and poses a big problem for employee engagement. Employee experience management thrives on digital platforms, tools and employee apps. Limit access to those—like organizations do for their front-line—and you’ve got a recipe for an employee who is both removed from the ‘connection’ and removed from any digital employee engagement efforts.
Challenge: Even when they do have tech, there’s no time or it’s not accessible enough
Technology should make work easier, not harder! For front-line employees, even when they are given devices and apps to tune into their organization’s engagement messaging, it’s likely that the tech isn’t easy to use or gets in the way of the work they’re doing.
Other times, it’s just not possible to have a computer on hand where they’re stationed.
In a nutshell, the more simple, mobile and easy-to-use, the better.
4 Ways to Start Engaging Your Front-line Employees
Once you know what the challenges are that are blocking your employee engagement efforts, it’s time to start building a new approach to take when reaching out to your front-line teams.
1. Meet the front-line where they are
So, you know now that one of the biggest barriers to engagement is that even when front-line workers have technology to use, the tools are often inaccessible and not user-friendly for their work conditions.
Access gaps like this can be patched up with digital tools geared towards the front-line. Think along the lines of a platform that offers the full list of functionalities right from a phone or tablet, and is easy enough to use that they can quickly get in, see the latest survey, poll or post and get back to work. This way, every piece of your engagement strategy will reach them and they’ll be tuned into the daily communication loop—because no one likes being left out!
2. Engage from before day one with onboarding
Honestly, it’s an even better idea to view the onboarding phase as something with no set end date. The first few weeks of a job are always some of the most memorable: Everyone is messaging you, you’re learning new things and hearing from the organization regularly throughout the day.
Onboarding shouldn’t be seen as just an opportunity to pass along courses and documents. It’s the time to set the tone and lay the foundations for a great employee experience. Set the precedent, and let front-line teams know that ‘this is how it will always be’.
3. Keep communications to the point and digital tools uncluttered and targeted
We’re borrowing from this excellent article by engagement expert Suzie Robinson with this point, but it’s worth really driving home: The front-line workday demands efficiency and practicality above all else.
Both communications and tech fall into this one. If an organization’s messaging is targeted, to the point and clear, then it’ll be much easier for an on-the-go deskless employee to engage with it. Avoid communication overload, and help clean up your workers’ digital environment so engagement can grow.
For apps and digital tools, they likewise need to be uncluttered. Ensure that everything from protocol documentation to ‘liking’ and commenting features are easy to find, not buried under irrelevant posts and resources.
4. Extend company culture to the front-line
For organizations with a workforce made up of diverse teams working remotely, in the office and on the front-line, it’s important to make sure that whatever culture you’ve been building is extending to everyone.
Feeling like you’re working in a community is invaluable and can really give whatever work you’re doing that extra bit of motivation to get up and at it. This can look like recognizing the work being done by front-line teams on a social channel and targeting it out to the whole organization, or giving everyone the ability to post, ask questions and have those ‘watercooler chats’ that deskless teams don’t get to have.
While their situation is unique, and other great strategies acknowledge that by tailoring a unique answer or tool, for company culture it’s best to keep things consistent. Don’t make the gap between the different types of employees even wider, but rather bring them all in on the same values, objectives, vision and so on.
A culture of digital inclusivity is one that will help every employee—not just the ones on the front-line—feel far more engaged and aligned!
Employee Engagement for Front-line Teams Doesn’t Have to be Challenging
Do the research, gather feedback from your teams and really understand what they’re saying and doing, and you’ll be able to take these tips and build a great experience and engagement strategy for the whole organization!
Front-line employees may work separately from their office colleagues or in different settings than other companies’ teams, but they still want to be engaged and given the digital tools that’ll help them be just that.
Cameron is iTacit's Digital Marketing & Demand Specialist. A storyteller and passionate communicator, Cameron is busy most days researching the latest trends, keeping content relevant and engaging.