Human Potential

Digital Transformation and the Forgotten Frontline Worker

The need to re-engineer the workplace has never been greater as businesses try to navigate the current pandemic. However, companies too often miss one critical aspect: the frontline workers.

Comprising nearly 80% of the workforce, these employees are the foundation of almost every industry. They range from luggage handlers, receptionists, hospitality staff, and other customer-facing service workers to on-the-run task workers, such as drivers, shop floor supervisors, and factory employees.

Despite the critical role they play in the success of their organizations, these core workers are largely left out of technological innovation planning. A Forrester study found that only 23% of frontline workers say they have access to the technology they need to be productive.

Most solutions designed to make office workers more agile and provide them with secure access and collaboration tools rarely account for the needs of the rest of the workforce. This often creates a disconnect between the corporate vision and frontline results — reducing the digital dexterity of frontline workers and restricting their ability to collaborate.

Furthermore, many workplace transformation initiatives are planned and executed in silos, without input from the entire team. When important stakeholders are excluded, the change-management committees make decisions with an incomplete — and sometimes misleading — understanding of their organizational structure and workforce requirements. This can lead to dueling governance between managers and the transformation team — a tug of war that no one truly wins.

A more inclusive and comprehensive approach can not only head off these disputes but create new opportunities for cost optimization, productivity enhancements, and overall profitability. To succeed, however, managers need to understand both the roles and capabilities of their workers before they design, prototype, test, and deploy solutions.

Organizations need to address the following questions:

  • Are frontline workers comfortable with the new solution?
  • Can factory operators adapt to modern tech equipment without training?
  • Do frontline employees understand the new app’s language or user interface?

After addressing those issues, companies can deploy chatbots, voice assistants, machine translation, and mobile device management. These technologies — often provided through subscription-based software services — enable employee applications to be smart, agile, and context-aware. In addition, they launch intuitive interfaces at the required time, often without user action.

Advanced technology, combined with comprehensive vision, can truly transform a workplace. Examples include:

  • Travel and hospitality — Robotic automation improves process efficiency across baggage handling, booking, and even billing while also enabling contactless operations. For instance, airline ground units need to constantly stay connected and monitor the transfer of luggage. Simple enhancements, such as automated baggage drop off systems or lost luggage kiosks, streamline frontline workers’ jobs.
  • Logistics and distribution — Technology creates new ways to more effectively communicate with drivers and warehouse workers, in various languages if needed. Furthermore, advanced package labeling streamlines warehouse sorting, which eases employee workloads. Wearable internet of things (IoT) devices completely transform supply chain networks. Those benefits include real-time notifications for vehicle maintenance, safer driving practices, temperature tracking for cold chain transport, simplified fleet management, and smoother last-mile deliveries.
  • Retail — Innovative solutions create operational transparency in retail, where most stakeholders are frontline workers. Line managers use smartphone apps to view operations and processes and to collect and manage work schedule reports. Intelligent vending systems automate stock tracking and malfunction detection which are otherwise tedious, manual operations.
  • Industrial manufacturing — Robotics reduce the need for manual labor in dangerous environments. IoT devices improve machine-to-machine communication and elevate worker experience. Digital twins aid workers in different phases of plant lifecycle management.

Unified experience for frontline workers

Almost every industry benefits from an increased commitment to technology that empowers frontline workers. Infosys implemented this approach for a leading mining company that lacked the digital collaboration it needed, particularly among its field workers.

Those frontline workers were traditionally disconnected from the organization in a number of areas, including communication, adoption of enterprise applications, and access to company information.

The result of this partnership was an app that provides a one-stop solution for offline viewing of document repositories, communicating with managers, and logging timesheets. The app’s personalization features, location awareness, and voice commands provide an improved user experience. When the app was updated with low-latency features, such as offline content viewing, adoption by frontline workers increased by 40%.

Reimaging the workplace

The true impact of workplace transformation can only be unlocked if the best interests of frontline managers and employees — however big or small their contribution — are aligned with those of senior executives.

To succeed, leaders need to ensure that their initiatives take into account the entire workforce, address their organization’s specific needs, and can be scaled up effectively. This is particularly crucial now as companies speed up their efforts to launch products, expedite processes, and match the pace of the evolving market.