How to Empower & Retain Frontline Workers
In this article
It's never been harder to attract and retain employees – and nowhere is that truer than with post-pandemic frontline workers. Retail organizations that equip frontline associates with more effective and engaging experiences are seeing significant benefits to their overall business performance and customer satisfaction ratings. As an added bonus, a better associate experience is directly correlated to a better customer engagement.
Throughout the height of the pandemic, retail workers bravely showed up to essential businesses–including banks, pharmacies, big box stores, groceries and restaurants–to provide people with the basics they needed. Today, many of these same businesses are short-staffed to the point of frequently closing down early, or entirely, because they don't have enough people to keep them running. The costs of these staffing shortages are steep and rising.
The causes of this situation are deep and varied. The most obvious, and arguably the most discussed, is the Great Resignation, but it is not the only trend contributing to this issue. The pandemic not only drove people to rethink their priorities and redefine the role of work in their lives, but it also catapulted businesses, employees and consumers online in numbers never before seen. The result of this extreme acceleration of digital transformation is that people now expect consumer-like experiences in all their digital interactions, whether as customers or employees.
Exacerbating this trend is the fact that many frontline workers are millennials and digital natives especially in retail. Millennials' job turnover costs the US economy $30.5 billion per year, and the retail and wholesale industry has the highest turnover rate, at 60.5 percent. Digital natives expect the latest, simplest, best technology and seamless digital experiences, yet many retail jobs challenged them to use legacy and subpar systems and devices – which one can only imagine is akin to torture. A recent study of 1000 frontline workers in retail, hospitality, manufacturing, logistics and healthcare found that millennial frontline employees felt the most dissatisfied of all groups. They also found that 34% of all respondents felt disconnected from their company and coworkers; 76% said they would feel more connected if they could access company information on a mobile device, yet only 59% reported using mobile devices on the job.
It's a perfect storm, and a tough combination – but it's not unbeatable.
8 Ways to engage frontline workers with end-user computing
Organizations can empower and retain their frontline workers with end-user computing–the foundation to delivering extraordinary digital experiences. Here's how.
Understand what they need.
It's important to understand what your workers need, what kind of tech works for them, and how they want to consume information. Your frontline workforce undoubtedly incorporates a range of people from various generations and perspectives – it's not just Gen Z and boomers, for example.
Take into account various personas, in terms of their needs, preferences and how to improve time-to-competency. WWT's dynamic persona model (DPM) includes information across many attributes and characteristics, and helps you quickly develop a robust framework with the express purpose of understanding work styles, communication preferences and technology needs. This model is used by organizations worldwide to help develop effective hybrid work models and to accelerate digital transformation, so it is ideal to help you make consistent, impactful decisions around building positive digital experiences for associates.
Know what they care about.
If you learn what your associates care about, you can find the connections with your brand and culture. Take millennials, who are digital natives, for example.
They tend to be ethos-driven; they care about making meaningful change including environmental impact. Providing them with information about your corporate values and environmental policies could build loyalty and connections to your brand and corporate culture.
Traditional ways of defining success of frontline workers no longer apply; today, it is all about time to competency, which means how quickly they can get to serving customers successfully. Replace long-form training and lengthy job induction curriculum with shorter-form "snack sized" content which has proven to be more effective in reach and retention with audiences.
Associates, especially digital natives, expect different devices and types of content than other workers, and if you understand them, you can speed time to productivity exponentially. UI becomes even more critical in this situation.
Your workers need to trust that the tech you ask them to use will help them do their jobs. The tech needs to be simple; it needs to work; and it needs to draw on real-time data that they can trust is accurate. Otherwise, associates may ditch the store-provided tech and by-pass in-store systems, choosing instead to rely on their personal cell phones and jump onto your ecommerce site to answer customer questions.
Less is more. Instead of throwing technological hurdle after hurdle after them, consider streamlining the number of systems and devices they have to use. How many would be ideal? One would be ideal, if possible.
Imagine one primary tool they could use to do their work, from clocking in, and checking out customers, to checking prices and inventory, all on their phone, onboarding and training would be a breeze, and retention would be a whole lot easier.
Benefits range from easier recruiting, onboarding and training to lower burnout, higher morale and greater retention. Furthermore, from a broader IT asset and service management perspective, this can lead to lower costs and ongoing hardware maintenance, security, risk mitigation and device compatibility/accessibility requirements.
Digital natives prefer to work from mobile devices, as opposed to being tethered to computers and locations. They respond much better when asked to use devices they are comfortable with, especially knowing their preferences have been taken into account when decisions are made.
All associates, not just digital natives, have preferences. Recently, an automotive parts company with a frontline associate demographic that skewed older and male, outfitted retail workers with devices including larger screens compatible with bigger fingers and diminished eyesight, in response to associates' needs and preferences. In a world where digital accessibility must be a consideration, remember that one size does not always fit all.
Digital natives are extremely adept at – and advanced users of - social media. If you have large numbers of digital natives as frontline workers, consider developing a work user interface that mimics Twitter or FB and training content that feels like Tik Tok.
Provide them with content in the form of job aids that are reinforced just in time. Through digital interfaces, you can provide them with information they need just at the time they need it without overwhelming or overloading them. For example, consider providing quick, visual "explainer" videos for training; digital natives generally prefer to learn on Youtube as opposed to reading employee manuals. Also, quick, stylized Tik Tok videos to communicate anything from news to tips or training may go a long way to engaging digital natives and building connections.
Digital natives are often adept at creating their own content and crave the ability to share and engage with communities through content. Consider user-generated employee sites to build engagement and connection, as well as peer education, information-exchange and support. Not only does this drive higher rates of engagement, but forward-looking organizations backed with mature analytics capabilities can harvest insights from these channels to understand associate satisfaction and identify trending topics to be proactively addressed.
BYOD creates difficult management, legal and security issues. Not only is it hard to secure, but associates are leery of allowing IT to install programming and applications on their personal devices. It also places a burden on support to write programming for multiple operating systems and versions and to maintain devices. And it raises issues such as: when associates opt out or leave, what do you do?
The cost and legality of purchasing company phones for associates comes into play for COPE, but when you're comparing turnover costs to the cost of a $500 device, it makes a lot of sense.
You can secure it with different profiles and containers for when associates are at work, or on personal time, like on a break or at home. The different profiles provide access to different functions. When the personal profile is activated, for example, they can use the phone to do what they want. At work, they only have access to what you give them. This gives you more control over efficient use and security. You don't want to create friction, but you want to make it hard to abuse the devices and systems.
A more traditional but still effective option is to provide shared devices that remain on-site.
Although with this approach training is much easier, it is still required. Training is a process and an important way to keep an eye on issues or drive increased productivity. It is also crucial to continue to identify, incorporate and share best practices on use.
By following these suggestions to provide excellent digital experiences, you can effectively engage and retain your frontline workers.
National Director of Sales, B2B Mobility for Retail at Samsung Electronics America
Joe's brain is split right down the middle between analytical and ideation. Trial-by-fire experience in retail operations, store systems and shopper experiences makes him a Swiss Army Knife when it comes to crushing a better mousetrap with mobility and display solutions. Joe graduated with a BSM from Pepperdine University, lives in Los Angeles (where he is based) and ran five consecutive LA marathons.
Senior Practice Manager - End User Computing, World Wide Technology
With over 20 years of Information Technology experience, Ivan held various leadership positions in the areas of business development, management and engineering with most of them focusing on the end user experience and security. In the current role, Ivan is leading the End User Computing practice focusing on transformational solutions dealing with modern device, application, and identity management.
Senior Digital Advisor, World Wide Technology
Derek has been crafting and delivering world-class consumer experiences for over 20 years. The first decade he spent with Accenture, delivering enterprise software and transformational technology projects for a Fortune 10 client. Since that time he has served in senior client positions leading global growth projects with Anheuser-Busch, New Balance and VP of Tech with an early stage startup. Most recently, he has served as the WWT category SME across Quick Service Restaurants and Retail digital strategy.