Bridge the gap: 4 ways to unlock frontline employee engagement

Of all employees, non-desk staff have the highest turnover rate and the lowest engagement scores. In this blog, we consider how modern digital workplace technology is combatting frontline employee engagement for leading enterprises, considering British Airways' cabin crew portal story as a prime example.

Bridging the frontline communications gap

Your frontline employees have a crucial role to play in your business' success, yet it is these employees that suffer the most from lack of corporate communication. Without the proper channels, your frontline is at risk of disconnecting from your organization’s values and mission. As the customer-facing arm of your brand, ensuring these employees are engaged and informed is mission-critical. No amount of strategizing at HQ will be effective without buy-in from the people responsible for enacting your grand plans. 

The cost of failing to engage your frontline is well documented. Gallup recently found that disengaged frontline staff cost your organization an average of 34% of an employee’s annual salary and lead to:

  • 37% higher absenteeism.
  • 18% lower productivity.
  • 15% lower profitability.

There is a clear disparity between the value offered by engaged frontline employees and the lack of channels to engage them. The good news is, this communications gap presents opportunities for your organization to get ahead of the competition, reduce high turnover rate and drive more value from the frontline. The challenge for your enterprise is to acknowledge this gap and implement the appropriate infrastructure to outperform the other 89% of companies primarily competing on the basis of customer experience.

Frontline employees have the highest turnover of any department

Non-desk and customer-facing employees make up the backbone of your organization, but also have the highest turnover rate of any department. This can, in part, be attributed to the more temporary nature of the position. For many, frontline roles are a gateway to progression - however, also accountable, is the low employee engagement levels which are highest amongst non-desk employees. 

Turnover is costly business. There's the initial price tag attached to the re-hiring and re-training process, but often overlooked is the impact on culture brought about by high turnover. A revolving door of frontline employees can be hugely disruptive to staff morale and leaves teams in a constant state of flux, unable to really make progress. 

One of the main reasons frontline employees leave is because they don’t feel valued or aren’t engaged in their organization’s culture. There are over 2 billion frontline employees acting as the link between their business and its customers, however, 85% of them feel they are left out of the loop. And leadership, it seems, are aware of this problem, with a recent survey by The Harvard Business Review revealing that 78% of executives believe that connecting and empowering frontline employees is critical to their overall success. So how do we combat it and what role can the digital workplace play?

Front line employee using mobile device

Engaging frontline employees with a digital workplace 

Despite having a vital role to play in the success of a business, frontline employees are notoriously hard to reach. By their very nature, frontline employees operate outside of usual office-based communication and are therefore often isolated from the central nervous system of your business. 

Traditionally, companies have relied on information trickling down from HQ through middle management and line managers to keep on-the-ground employees in-the-know. This can lead to a 'Chinese whispers' effect that breeds inconsistency. Other methods for engaging the frontline are ad-hoc conferences, training events, printed corporate material and, of course, the old favorite: email. 

What we're seeing now is leading companies taking advantage of mobile-first enterprise communication solutions to arm their frontline with the tools for success. Below we outline the key innovations in the digital workplace space that are being capitalized by savvy employers to combat frontline disengagement.

#1. Mobile access

Your customer-facing employees are, by design, not tied to a desk and therefore unable to access traditional desktop intranet experiences. For years this has prevented businesses from using the technology they were seeing drive engagement in desk-based employees to combat engagement on the frontline.

The irony is that frontline employees are perhaps the most in need of engagement since they are the closest to your product, service and customers. You rely on their service, expertise and embodiment of your values to deliver the perfect customer experience. 

Now here we are, nearly two decades into the new millennium, and the mobile-first digital workplace is well and truly here. It's been here for a while, but it's now being trusted and rolled out by some of the biggest brands in operation (we'll get to some customer examples in a moment) - which means it's only a matter of time before every business needs mobile communication solution to compete with the competition.

If you're a retail business or service provider, one of the key issues you will have had to overcome is getting your communications into the hands of employees beyond HQ. They probably won't have a work email address so if you need to get an urgent message out or there's an important change coming that you want to manage with clear, consistent messaging you're totally reliant on line managers to get that information across. Now mobile intranet solutions mean that every employee can access corporate updates from their personal device simply by downloading their company intranet app

With a native mobile app you can share business information like upcoming company-wide campaigns, employee initiatives or incidents likely to disrupt employees working lives in real-time via push notification, keeping your frontline updated and informed minute-by-minute. 90% of all SMS messages are read within 3 minutes, so with mobile-first design you can deliver messages that will reach those that emails simply can’t.

#2. Social features

Your frontline employees are just that: on the frontline, and unlocking their voice within your organization can have transformative results for your business.

Whether they're customer-facing, based in a factory, or out on the road transporting your product, they will have a unique insight into areas of your business that you just can't see from HQ. Frontline workers are often the first to identify problems but tend to lack a direct channel to communicate issues back up to HQ where scaled changes can be made.

A typical scenario might be: a worker in a manufacturing plant confronts a problem in the production line and finds an innovative way to solve it. He tells his colleagues that work alongside him and as a result their output increases as does their job satisfaction. Meanwhile, their counterparts working the same job in a different manufacturing plant still struggle with the same issue, their productivity suffers and morale is low. They are siloed away from the solution by geographical barriers. 

What enterprise social networking does, is offer a solution whereby employees can communicate, share solutions, participate in open discussions, ideate and solve problems using combined expertise. It also offers HQ a direct line into the frontline water-cooler where they can pick up on reoccurring issues, temperature check morale and open up a channel of communication.

#3. Bespoke experiences

Whatever digital communication solution you choose, it needs to be adaptable in order to meet the needs of frontline employees, because making sure your frontline feels valued is a major part of reducing frontline turnover. Targeted communications, bespoke experiences and personalized user profiles all help to engage customer-facing employees and prevent them from feeling like an afterthought.

Homepages and targeted communications tailored for frontline employees deliver a custom experience, providing relevant information and sparing them from unnecessary content. Additionally, personalized user profiles can be used to give frontline employees their own identity on your digital workplace, helping them to feel a valued part of your enterprise.

Managing a dynamic user base can be exceedingly costly without a robust user interface. Experience engines with user profiles ease this administrative strain and strengthen security, keeping accounts and credentials updated and secure. A study by Forrester Research found that digital workspaces consistently reduce the cost of onboarding processes and security remediation for frontline workforces:

  • Staff turnover reduced by an average of 8%.
  • Average annual saving of $679,000 in onboarding costs.
  • Average annual saving of $814,206 on communications solutions, identity management systems and IT support costs.

#4. Training & development

Digital workplaces offer the unique opportunity to make frontline employees active participants in their own training and career progression. Leveraging this capability has a variety of benefits such as identifying talent in your frontline, higher engagement and drastically lower turnover rates.

Including knowledge and learning portals on your platform make training and career development easier for end-users whilst also allowing your organization to efficiently gather data and analytics. Examples of these features include:

  • Scaled learning content encouraging continuous development.
  • Gamification features and interactive media inspire competition and increase engagement.
  • Company news and updates sent via broadcast centers inform your frontline.
  • Targeted content specifically curated for non-desk employees make communications more impactful.

With a digital workplace your organization has various features at its disposal that efficiently inform your frontline workforce, minimize risk and make training and development more effective.

British Airways: frontline engagement in practice

British Airways, a transnational aviation powerhouse, are a brilliant example of a global company with a diverse frontline workforce who have capitalized on digital communication technology to overhaul engagement. BA recognized the challenges facing their ground staff and cabin crew and overcame them with a mobile intranet called "ONE". "ONE" was specifically designed as a one-stop-shop to connect, inform and engage their frontline workforce with a single channel of communication.

Implementing a digital workplace optimized for mobile use has transformed the way BA’s entire enterprise communicates, providing a single channel that connects frontline employees around the world. Employees can access ONE from their personal devices where they can browse essential updates, corporate news, leadership insights, and social networking at their leisure.

British Airways also launched a new video communications channel BA:TV specifically designed to engage mobile users with a format suited to their device preference. By creating content that was easy to consume from a mobile device, they were able to get their frontline staff interested in stories from around the business that they would have otherwise overlooked. 

What is interesting about BA's intranet story is that the project was actually launched as part of a customer experience initiative. The company understood that by engaging its frontline employees with rich communications, they could foster a brand ambassador in every worker that would noticeably impact customer perceptions.

British Airway’s mobile-first digital workplace is an excellent example of improving the quality of their customer’s experience through improved employee experience. Speaking on the success of their new platform Drew McMillan, Director of Colleague Communication and Engagement at British Airways, noted “by providing this new, mobile Unily intranet solution to our 44,000 colleagues, we are helping them to connect and communicate more effectively, which ultimately means a more consistent, high-quality service delivered to our valued customers."

British airways engage frontline employees with mobile intranet

Summary

The way to look at frontline engagement is this: your frontline employees are responsible for delivering outstanding customer experiences, so you need to make sure that their employee experience is just as outstanding. 

With enterprise social features, an intuitive mobile-friendly user interface, bespoke user experiences and a centralized hub for training, company news and collaboration, modern digital workplaces have the ability to connect your frontline employees to the rest of your organization and engage with them on a level previously impossible.

With these features, a modern digital workplace solution helps your organization foster collaboration, share information, increase engagement and boost morale on your frontline. In combination, these factors all work to improve the employee experience you provide and, ultimately, drive efficiency for your business.

Want to transform frontline engagement for your business? 

Our consultants have worked with some of the biggest brands from around the globe. To take advantage of our wealth of experience creating modern enterprise digital workplaces to tackle frontline employee engagement, reach out for a free consultation today.

If you'd like to learn more about employee experience, download our free guide to discover the 5 best intranet design ideas to drive employee engagement.

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