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Frontline workers are the backbone of many organizations. Whether they're caring for patients, stocking grocery shelves or keeping the lights on, these workers provide critical services during the most challenging times and are typically the first people to interact with customers and represent a brand. But despite their vitally important work, frontline workers are often left behind when it comes to the digital employee experience

According to a Harvard Business Review report, frontline workers are not as empowered or digitally equipped as knowledge workers. These deskless employees must often navigate legacy systems and outdated processes, creating inefficiencies due to digital friction. Recent studies reveal shocking statistics about frontline workers' experiences, including: 

  • 76 percent don't have the ability to provide feedback to their corporate headquarters
  • 60 percent don't know where to locate important information
  • Almost three-quarters still use paper forms
  • Less than 60 percent use mobile devices as part of their jobs

With user expectations constantly spiraling higher, these statistics are problematic. Speed and customer experience are key when it comes to differentiating against the competition. But frontline workers can't possibly deliver on that brand promise when they're using limited tools and clunky technology. Instead, they're forced to rely on slow, old-fashioned ways of doing business: pen-and-paper, spreadsheets and flipping between disjointed applications to find the information they need.

In this article, we explore digital friction, its risks and how to improve the digital employee experience for frontline workers so they can work more productively and help achieve key business outcomes. 

What is digital friction?

Digital friction happens when workplace technology is counterintuitive, overwhelming or frustrating to employees and requires an unnecessary amount of effort to use. In many cases of digital friction, workplace technology is hurting employee productivity more than it's helping and can even prevent employees from doing their jobs entirely.

All employees — office-based, remote, hybrid, frontline — can experience digital friction; however, it's most prevalent among frontline workers as they're highly mobile and typically work in dynamic environments, such as hospitals, warehouses, power plants and retail stores. These environments make it more challenging to integrate workplace technology than at headquarters, branch offices or in employees' homes, which is why they're often avoided. 

Consider this example: human resources (HR) needs truck drivers at a manufacturing company to complete their benefits enrollment online. These drivers are constantly on the road with no access to a desktop computer, so they attempt to enroll on their mobile devices. However, the forms they need to fill out aren't compatible with mobile viewing. This creates digital friction, frustrates drivers and, in this example, prevents them from completing the required tasks.

How digital friction impacts the business

If organizations don't address digital friction with workplace technology, it can spiral into serious consequences. 

The first consequence that usually appears is decreased employee productivity. Digital friction points can make simple tasks cumbersome to do and create inefficiencies. This can slow down production lines, delay customer shipments and, for some frontline workers like nurses and doctors, reduce the ability to deliver quality care.

Additionally, frontline workers who are constantly burdened with ancient business processes and a lack of technology will become frustrated and disengaged, leading to higher turnover rates, which in turn increases costs. In fact, replacing an individual employee can cost up to twice the employee's annual salary.

With more frontline workers cycling in and out of a company, organizations lose their institutional knowledge, and the customer and patient experience can deteriorate. Without seasoned employees, it becomes difficult to maintain a superb customer experience because new workers don't have someone to emulate. Given that two-thirds of companies competing based on customer experience, digital friction can have a very real impact on a company's position in the market.

Create a frictionless employee experience

The goal of frictionless digital experiences is to provide all employees, including frontline workers, seamless access to any application on any device from any location. But delivering this "any, any, any" experience requires a deep understanding of employees' needs. 

By developing dynamic personas — groupings of employees that share common characteristics — organizations can identify points of digital friction in frontline workers' daily jobs and build technology requirements around them. Having this list of requirements is critical for selecting the right technology to support a frictionless experience, from modern management platforms to collaboration tools to custom applications and more. 

At WWT, we've helped many organizations — including our own — create a frictionless employee experience. Our internal IT team deployed Workspace ONE, a leading digital workspace platform, so office-based, remote and frontline workers could easily request and access the applications they need from a unified catalog using the device of their choosing. 

Additionally, we helped Clayco, a leading design and build company, improve its digital employee experience by reducing digital friction when joining video meetings. As part of this engagement, we installed Cisco Room Kits at jobsite trailers so project teams, architects, construction workers and customers could collaborate in real time to increase efficiencies. 

Reduce digital friction to improve CX and EX

Frontline workers are a critical component of any organization. It's time to start prioritizing their digital experience. By reducing digital friction for frontline workers, organizations have everything to gain in employee productivity, business speed, improved customer experiences and long-term success. 

We can help your organization on its journey to creating frictionless experiences for your frontline workers. Our long-standing partnerships with leading digital workspace vendors - VMware, HP Poly, Microsoft, Cisco, Samsung, Apple and Appspace- along with our ability to combine strategy and execution, makes us an invaluable partner for the digital employee experience. 

To help you get started, we've created a Digital Workspace Priorities for 2023 research report that outlines the top five priorities that employee experience leaders should tackle first along with step-by-step guidance on how to successfully implement them, including how to create great digital experiences across your entire workforce. 

WWT Research: Digital Workspace Priorities for 2024Access Report