Eighty percent of the global workforce is comprised of frontline workers. The frontline workforce is the outward-facing representation of a company’s brand values and, often, the first engagement point for current and future customers. Yet, too frequently, these essential employees are treated with less consideration than they deserve.

A recent survey by McKinsey & Company highlights a significant gap between what frontline employees want from their work and what managers deliver. As a result, many frontline workers are not getting the resources they require to excel in their jobs; this includes adequate communication, skill development, and opportunities for career advancement. 

Globally, this deficit in support results in high employee turnover and increased human capital expenses for companies. In the U.S. alone, voluntary employee churn costs employers over $1 trillion per year.

Implementing open channels of communication is one significant but often overlooked step organizations can take toward closing the divide between what employees require and what employers assume they need. These communication channels should include upward flow from frontline to upper management and lateral flow between employees for the best possible outcome.

Frontline workers are actively seeking supportive managers and employers

According to the McKinsey & Company survey, 70% of frontline workers have applied to career advancement opportunities with their current employer or an outside company. While most employers assume such a move to be purely profit-driven, frontline workers’ motivations appear to trend more toward desiring an improved work life.

The most common reasons frontline employees give for switching jobs include wanting to take advantage of a learning opportunity, seeking to work under a more supportive manager, and looking for roles that allow them to do more meaningful work. 

These workers must be seen, heard, and acknowledged to build the skills required to excel in their roles and scale their careers. An atmosphere of open communication makes frontline workers’ contributions more transparent, and their career paths are easier to plan. Organizations with this type of environment are also able to retain more employees.

Why lateral and upward communication matters

Too often, organizations rely on an outdated downward-only style of communication that impacts a frontline worker’s ability to contribute meaningfully to a company. In this type of communication flow, the only information an organization values derives from upper management. In contrast, lateral and upward communication allows employees to freely engage with one another as well as managerial staff.

While downward communication is obviously necessary for disseminating company directives and relaying protocols for how things get done, there are multiple problems with a downward-only communication flow

  • Employees are left operating in a silo. Thoughts, ideas, and firsthand observations are never shared with management or other employees. This means frontline workers are left isolated, unable to disseminate their knowledge or to absorb knowledge from their peers. This also effectively cuts them out of management decisions that directly impact their capacity to do their job.

  • Employers act on assumption. The frontline is a rich source of firsthand experience. These employees know better than anyone else what is working in their jobs and what is interfering with their ability to meet customers’ needs. While executives and managers can rely on analytics and other quantitative data to draw assumptions, these numbers only relay half the story and lack full context.

  • It breeds frustration and stress. When frontline employees are forced to work in isolation, they can only react to situations based on information provided by upper management. Information from management can be weeks, months, or even years out of date. If the information given to them fails to rectify an issue, they’re faced with deciding to follow protocol to avoid getting into trouble or coming up with their own solution. This can put them at risk of facing disciplinary action. If their solution proves to be high-value, they may never know its ultimate impact or receive any acknowledgment for it.

  • It creates poor team dynamics. When employees within an organization are siloed off from one another, they tend to have little to no knowledge about how their role impacts the work of others or how other employees’ work impacts them. This can lead to a slew of problems, including low-quality performance, toxic competitiveness, and an inability to effectively cooperate with other teams or team members.

5 Ways to start empowering your frontline workforce with better communication

By now, it should be obvious that multi-flow communication is preferred over a top-down-only information stream for better employee performance. Multi-flow communication builds trust and team cohesion. It empowers employees to contribute ideas and encourages faster resolution to problems. It also allows managers to source actionable experience data directly from employees instead of basing frontline and customer support decisions on assumptions.

Since an increasing number of frontline employees are mobile workers, bridging the communication gap is essential to maintaining efficiency and productivity for any business that wishes to remain competitive. If switching to a multi-flow communications model is an entirely new concept for your organization, below are five effective strategies to help you get started.

Implement organization-wide soft skills development

Soft skills are attributes that enable people to interact effectively with other people. They include capabilities such as emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, and, of course, communication. Soft skills are crucial for human management, team-building, and conveying information. If your organization has functioned chiefly on a top-down communication model, consider upskilling your workforce on soft skill development to get employees up to speed and establish expectations and ground rules for person-to-person engagement.

Adopt the right digital tools

Digital tools are required for any organization to remain effective, productive, and competitive while managing a mobile frontline. With the proper technology, team leaders can quickly deploy time-sensitive direct messages at scale, implement lateral communications, efficiently upskill an entire workforce, and access 360-degree engagement data to track frontline performance. However, it’s worth emphasizing that finding the best technology is critical to achieve a positive impact.

In a recent Forbes article, 60% of frontline workers expressed dissatisfaction with the technology their employers had selected, and 56% said they resorted to using their own technology to do their work. Not only does this present efficiency problems, but it can also introduce security risks. 

Disprz’s award-winning skilling platform is prized for its highly effective mobile learning features, but as a bonus, it also excels as a multi-flow communications solution. Once employees are added to the application, managers can easily receive and answer employee inquiries, and push notifications in real-time, and provide pre-scheduled targeted content for individuals or teams.

Institute personalize, mobile-first learning

Traditional corporate models make two common mistakes: focusing only on desktop learners and forcing employees to go through one-size-fits-all training programs. The modern approach to skilling employees prioritizes personalized learning journeys with a mobile-first approach.

Research shows personalized learning outcomes far outpace what’s achievable through traditional learning paths. Personalization focuses on delivering the exact information an individual learner needs to upskill, precisely matching their at-work goals or career journey.

Disprz’s AI-driven skilling platform is hyper-tuned to provide employers with powerful personalization tools, including custom pathways, skill readiness scores, and role-specific skilling journeys. Additionally, as a mobile-first provider, our UI/UX relies on human-centered design principles, resulting in a 95% skilling path completion rate. 

Go multilingual

It’s not unusual for large to enterprise-size organizations to have frontline teams deployed internationally. This can pose a formidable obstacle to upskilling & reskilling, and general communication. When selecting your communication and skill development technology, make certain it has robust translation tools. This will ensure that all team members, no matter where they are deployed, have equal access to career advancement opportunities and can provide their best work to your organization. Disprz natively supports multiple languages and on-the-fly translation for optimal communication.

Encourage social learning

A natural by-product of lateral communication is social learning. Frontline employees with the means to socially interact through technology will naturally engage in peer-to-peer learning. Just a few benefits that can be realized by organizations that facilitate social learning include higher employee engagement, improved team dynamics, and faster problem-solving. To truly harness the power of social learning, incorporate digital tools like Disprz that are built to help organizations foster a culture of quality communication and information sharing.

Conclusion

The secret to achieving higher frontline worker productivity and retention is not a secret at all. Facilitate quality lateral and upward communication streams within your organization to empower your frontline workforce and earn their trust. Recognize that what drives their performance has much more to do with the quality of their work experience, not just what they’re paid.

Use upskilling to help incorporate soft skills and improved communication throughout your organization, and you will likely outpace any competitor that is still treating the frontline like a dispensable resource. Use a Learning Experience Platform like Disprz to modernize your skilling cycle and implement multi-flow communications. Book a free demo with a member of our team today to get started.