Frontline workers often feel disconnected from fellow employees and company processes. In the first part of our blog series, we’ll discuss how you can use Microsoft Teams as a digital hub that joins your entire business.
Frontline workers (FLW) are some of the most essential parts of your organization as they are the first to engage with customers. Thus, they are the first to represent your brand. We recognize these workers in hospitality, retail and healthcare, among others.
If you want to enable collaboration for your frontline workers and managers, you are probably struggling to work around the challenges these workers face – both from a technical and a non-technical perspective. As your organization modernizes its applications and information flow, the gap between the frontline workers and the office or knowledge workers becomes even more significant, thus leading to even greater challenges as the frontline worker begins to feel left out, forgotten and disadvantaged.
To help set the stage, consider the FLW working in the manufacturing industry – although similar scenarios and challenges exist for FLWs in other industries. For the maintenance FLW who is working on a new job site for the first time, on-demand access to information is crucial to ensuring maintenance is performed safely and efficiently.
The maintenance FLW – whether new to the job site or seasoned – relies on work orders, past maintenance data, procedures, inventories and inspection checklists to keep equipment operating smoothly. A new job site may also warrant a quick brush-up on training materials, photos, diagrams or other documentation from co-workers, for example.
Instead of relying on one-and-done training and word of mouth, maintenance FLWs should be fully supported from their first day on the ground at a new job site. That support should come in the form of modern, digitized tools with the same level of ease as using a smartphone. Instead, that support is too often siloed away in the form of indirect maintenance workers – knowledge workers – as well as clunky manual processes and disparate systems for retaining data.
Direct maintenance labor makes up just a portion of your total production cost – meanwhile, loss of production capacity chips away at your bottom line. Real-time ease of access to the support people and information required to maintain and repair equipment not only reduces the impact of costly errors and downtime but also instills a sense of trust in the processes and management in place.
Keeping the FLW equally engaged and connected demonstrates their value – and helps close the gap between FLWs and knowledge workers.
Recognizing the Technology Gap for Frontline Workers
In this case, the FLW needs access to information and processes to help accomplish their tasks. Traditionally, they gained this information through face-to-face interactions with the plant or floor manager or accessing information from bulletin boards (company changes, operational changes, safety briefings, discussions around job opportunities and performance, job openings, training on new procedures and so on).
Additionally, managers performed these processes through manual, analog solutions (safety checklists, signing paper forms, reading from a binder on new procedures and more). These forms of communications and task management are extremely inefficient and rather ineffective as they prove to be:
- Difficult in accessing, updating and tracking across multiple plant locations
- Difficult or impossible to ensure everyone has access since they depend on plant managers to be timely, accurate and effective communicators across the organization.
When one plant manager has all those attributes, their employees have a significant advantage over their peers who report to ineffective managers. Lastly, due to these inequalities between the FLW and the traditional knowledge worker, the FLWs are disadvantaged, as the knowledge worker has access to immediate, timely and accurate information.
These knowledge workers also have more control over their promotions and advancements since they are significantly less dependent on their managers to access information, gain knowledge and perform their tasks through the automated tools afforded to them, which the traditional FLW lacks.
Thankfully, you can significantly decrease this gap using a variety of Microsoft 365 tools and applications, specifically using Microsoft Teams as your frontline worker information enabler. Throughout this blog series, we will present specific challenges and ways to overcome them, helping to make your company a leader in your industry as you elevate your frontline workers to the same playing field as the rest of your employees.
Setting Up Your Frontline Workers for Success
By addressing obstacles FLWs face, you will give them enriched communication, increased access to employees, faster skills development, better access to shift-scheduling and task-management tools, and overall, improve their efficiency by automating tasks through digitized workflows.
Within the frontline worker space is a key role with unique characteristics: the frontline manager (FLM). These employees manage people and critical areas of your production line, such as safety, reporting, training and staff scheduling. These managers are the primary interaction point between your company and the FLWs who make your product.
Given the importance of these two manufacturing roles, it benefits you and your company to give them the tools and knowledge they need to be more efficient and effective, especially in today’s competitive employment landscape. Supporting your FLWs and FLMs can take form in many ways, such as:
- Simplifying their work
- Reducing their frustrations over tedious and time-consuming processes
- Automating manual processes
- Pushing critical information to them where they work
- Providing educational opportunities to encourage their skills development for further advancement opportunities in your company
- Improving how they provide feedback loops to management to make improvements across the organization.
Depending on exactly what you implement to support these workers, the outcomes could vary widely, such as:
- A workforce empowered through knowledge sharing across the organization using modern tools
- Increased safety of your employees and reduced downtime due to safety incidents
- Improved morale across the workforce as you level the playing field between FLWs, FLMs and traditional knowledge workers
- Increased workforce retention by connecting frontline workers, providing a sense of wellbeing, engagement and belonging
- Attraction of new, highly skilled recruiting candidates
- Improved knowledge transfer across the workforce
- Decreased operating costs due to digitizing manual processes
- Increased ROI of your Microsoft 365 investments
- Simplified and streamlined information dissemination and business processes
- Accelerated onboarding of new FLWs and FLMs.
Microsoft Teams: Your Hub for FLM and FLW Teamwork
Given the vast number of tools and applications a fully digitized FLW or FLM could use, you need a single digital work hub.
For example, these employees interact with many, if not all, of the following in one way or another: inventory systems, HR systems, education tools, the company intranet, safety checks, reporting systems, scheduling applications, pay systems and so on. Currently, your FLMs are that interaction point, thus making them more of an information provider than a true manager. Digitizing much of what those FLMs do today will have an immediate positive effect.
Providing immediate, on-demand access to on-demand access to information helps the FLW with day-to-day activities. This information includes, for example:
- Upcoming procedure changes
- Company changes
- Plant floor operations
- Digitized safety checklists
- Digitized forms
- Access to training materials
- Immediate dissemination of plant floor issues (pictures of broken equipment, video instructions on the operation of equipment, and so on),
- Access to new job opportunities.
The secondary effect is that the FLMs can be much more effective at managing people rather than information.
Microsoft Teams is the digital work hub you need. But to make this a true digital work hub for your frontline workers requires more than flipping a switch. Instead, it requires focusing on enabling areas such as:
- Simple, quick and secure access from any device
- Simple yet strong identity management
- Easy management of end-user accounts and devices
- Assured access that meets regulatory and legal requirements, such as the rules agreed to in unionized positions
- Simplified, focused, filtered information feeds that provide the right information to the right person at the right time and in the right format
- Streamlined and easy to access, learn and use digital processes.
Frontline workers and managers are crucial to your business’s bottom line, and the best way to ensure your business thrives is to set them up to succeed. In the subsequent blog articles, we’ll highlight problems and their solution approaches to help you use Microsoft Teams as the digital hub for your frontline team.
We’ll take a closer look at how Microsoft 365 can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of frontline workers processes. We’ll also discuss innovations that can enhance safety and compliance for your frontline workers. Finally, we’ll focus on how to simplify common technical barriers to adoption as well as offer up key planning and deployment considerations.