5 ways to engage your frontline workers

Keep your messaging succinct, use strong visuals instead of chunky text, and empower team leaders to speak up.

Engaging frontline workers

Editor’s note: We are re-running the top stories of 2021 as part of our year-end countdown.

Frontline workers have the most direct impact on your company’s reputation and operational success, whether that’s providing services, helping customers, fixing problems on site, delivering goods or transporting people.

Making sure they are engaged is vital, but the nature of their jobs (dispersed, away from desks, shift working etc.) has labelled them “hard to reach” in the past. Here are five things you can do to help engage these invaluable employees.

1. Keep comms short and to the point.

Frontline workers usually have more constraints on their time than desk workers. They might work night shifts, or only work part-time hours, and they are away from screens for most of their workday. Short communications that are relevant to their jobs will be appreciated most, so longer story-based pieces will be ignored or skim-read. The inverted pyramid approach to writing is vital, as it will make sure they see what they need to know or do right at the start of your message.

2. Think beyond words.

As with any audience, you don’t just have to communicate using words. Creating a short video, an infographic, or a podcast for example, will feel more appealing to your frontline colleagues for certain topics. Video can work well because reading text on a small screen is harder work. Audio can be effective because it allows people to listen while doing other tasks. This doesn’t need to eat large chunks of your budget either, there are ways to deliver video on a shoestring budget.

3. Empower line managers and team leaders.

According to the Remotely Interested study, many workers still rely on information from their line managers; 72% said they get information about their department from line managers for example. Consider creating ‘briefing packs’ to go alongside the content you publish, or TLDR (too long; didn’t read) type summaries that line managers can pass on to their teams quickly.

While this method seems old-school, it’s worth pursuing, especially if you have no digital means of reaching the frontline. Line managers will also appreciate this approach, as it will help them be better informed so that they can help their teams directly. As a hybrid, you can always use line managers to deliver the headline, then follow up digitally for those that want more detail.

4. Create a sense of community.

Alongside managers, frontline workers value the news and information they get from their colleagues. You can tap into this source by introducing social or community spaces where people can ask questions, then receive answers from expert colleagues. You can also introduce communities for hobbies, sports, or pets, which will get people talking to each other and create a friendly atmosphere across your digital workplace. Where workers are more isolated, such as long-distance drivers, or work quieter shifts, community spaces will be even more valuable. Commvault is a good example of social spaces done well. Social spaces can bring an added benefit of being a good source for innovative ideas, where your frontline workers can share their experiences and potentially save or make your company money.

5. Give frontline workers practical features.

Any digital tool needs a hook to draw people in, as well as provide an answer to the question “why should I use it?” Whatever your communication channels are, there need to be good reasons for people to log on. Unfortunately, corporate news isn’t always enough. So, work out what practical tools are missing or would be a welcome addition to your digital workplace landscape. The innovation space that I mentioned above could be one, where it is presented as a way for colleagues to raise issues or pass on ideas.

Creating digital versions of common paper forms, or moving payslips online, are other broader-reaching alternatives. If you can provide these features on a mobile device, potentially even their own mobile phones, then that’s even better. For example, Stagecoach introduced an employee mobile app that included digital health and safety forms; they saw “near-miss” reports more than double, not because there were more incidents but because it was easier for drivers to file a report.

Frontline workers will find practical tools that improve their daily lives hugely engaging, which means they’ll linger and read some of your comms as well. Do what you can to be sympathetic to their restrictions. They are time poor and often away from large screens for example, and provide comms or features that really will make a difference to them. Combining these into an employee mobile app, such as Staffbase, Beekeeper, Dynamic Signal, or Blink, could be an excellent way to fulfil their needs and engage the frontline workforce.

Suzie Robinson is a consultant at ClearBox Consulting


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