Most people around the world are introduced to the workforce through frontline jobs—as retail store associates, waiters, stocking store shelves, customer service representatives and many similar jobs. When the world shifted to remote work that upended these existing work practices, the entire frontline workforce dealt with the stress of the pandemic.
Enduring personal risk and disruption, frontline workers kept the grocery store stocked, provided essential healthcare services and delivered products. However, regardless of their immense contributions to keeping the business running, frontline workers remain underserved when it comes to technology, learning or growth. According to the Frost & Sullivan research, nearly one-third of surveyed organizations do not consider their frontline workers fully empowered and digitally well-equipped.
While investments in cloud, data analytics, artificial intelligence and other workplace solutions have benefited the white-collar workforce, the benefits of overall digital transformation are yet to touch the lives of frontline workers. According to Work Trend Index, one out of three frontline workers feel they do not have the right technological tools to do their job effectively, that number increases to every two employees out of five for those in non-management positions.
Digital innovation to make frontline jobs easier
During the Industrial Revolution, new machines made businesses more productive. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), prescriptive analytics, automation, advanced forecasting, mobile computing and robotics are at the forefront of today’s technological revolution. They’re powering capabilities like smart virtual assistants and image recognition, speeding up manufacturing, and improving frontline workers’ productivity overall by leveraging enterprise-grade Natural Language Processing (NLP), ML and Robotic Process Automation (RPA).
Technology bridges the communication gap—the key component of empowering front-line workers across all areas of the company. For instance, healthcare organizations adopted the concept of EPR/EMR/HER—the industry-wide EHR switch enabled patients to get more involved in communication with physicians and their health decisions.
Recently, Stansted Airport in the UK upgraded its baggage handling system by adding 180 automated carts to improve efficiency. Airports are enhancing process efficiency across baggage handling, booking and even billing by integrating technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), radio-frequency identification (RFID), robotics and blockchain.
In logistics, distribution and supply chain, technology is creating new ways to ease employee workload. From real-time notifications for vehicle maintenance, safer driving practices and temperature tracking for cold chain transport to advanced package labeling, streamlining warehouse sorting and fleet management—these are all taking up steams.
Innovative digital solutions are delivering operational transparency in retail. From line managers using smartphone apps to intelligent vending machines automating stock tracking, retail is finding new ways to shift towards employee-centric business models, while streamlining processes, reducing effort and increasing productivity. For instance, UK retailer Marks and Spencer is using technology to streamline work and free up time so that associates can serve more customers.
“We have built a culture around serving our customers how they want to be served. Today, a huge part of that is developing digital capabilities in our physical stores,” said Sacha Berendji, Group Property, Store Development and Technology Director at Marks and Spencer.
Technology adoption in frontline experience
“Frontline workers are critical to the success of every organization, and it is imperative to empower them with the right tools and solutions”, said Rakshit Ghura, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Digital Workplace Services, HCLTech.
Gartner predicts that frontline workers will benefit from 75% of new “mobile initiative investments by 2025”. In the next coming years, frontline workers are expected to be a large focus of technology investment across industries. Enterprises are increasingly investing in robotics and artificial intelligence to automate repetitive routine tasks or physically arduous processes, while freeing up workers with the data to make quicker decisions and do higher-value work.
Emerging technologies and mobile computing platforms such as smartphones, wearables and drones are well-suited to the needs of frontline workers, enabling them to work smarter and more efficiently. This is a reason why organizations should prioritize digitizing their frontline workforce as it is to the rest of their employees.
The frontline workers of Starbucks, Walmart and Virgin Atlantic are already using Meta’s software called Workplace, a communication tool that allows workers to access it via any mobile device to chat, stream or watch live videos and create groups.
Google’s workplace software—Google Workspace—helps retailers train new hires with its videoconferencing app Google Meet or use its collaborative word document app Google Docs. Even manufacturers can now build quality-control checklists with online-form builder Google Forms, whereas healthcare workers can share digital copies of X-rays and CT scans through Google Drive.
Recently, HCLTech announced a collaboration with Microsoft and Zebra Technologies to bring modern and connected workplace solutions to frontline worker populations across different industries. The frontline workers continue to use manual and paper-based processes and this collaboration aims to enable frontline workers to provide robust customer support.
“This comprehensive offering will help enhance productivity and efficiency of the frontline workforce and enhance collaboration with the wider organization,” said Ghura. The cloud-powered workplace solutions and services will enable workers—who rely on manual and paper-based processes—to get work done efficiently.
Frontline workers manage work under tremendous pressure with a tight margin for error. Capitalizing on digital innovations, tech tools and resources enables companies to streamline workflows and manage demand volatility while allowing frontline workers to ease their workload and improve cross-team collaboration—creating a workplace environment that fosters a culture of innovation.