How to engage your frontline workforce

Frontline workers – those employees who provide an essential public service – make up around a third of the UK workforce. Comprising workers from the healthcare profession through to the retail and transport sectors, keeping them just as engaged as the desk-based workforce is key, however the challenges are far greater. The very fact that frontline workers are ‘deskless’ and work remotely, sometimes from changing locations such as haulier workers who are rarely in one place for any length of time, makes communicating with them extremely difficult. However, this doesn’t make it impossible and in fact, the solution to interacting with and engaging frontline workers may be more simple that you think – a mobile-enabled intranet!

Frontline worker challenges

More than forty per cent of global “deskless” workers are open to a new job, according to data published by Boston Consulting Group. The Group found that emotional issues, such as burnout, were among the top reasons why workers weren’t planning on staying in their jobs for much longer. These insights may not be a surprise considering many frontline workers have recently been displaying their dissatisfaction over pay and conditions through nationwide strike action.

Getting to the point where frontline workers are wholly dissatisfied with their employee experience doesn’t happen overnight, it’s the result of months, if not years of organisational failings. And these failings commonly include poor attempts at involving frontline workers in the organisation’s plans, goals and initiatives. Frontline workers are often the last to hear about news and their opinions are rarely sought (or if they are, it tends to be an afterthought). This is because trying to engage with frontline workers all too easily falls within the “too difficult” category, with over 60 per cent of frontline workers saying their company could do more to prioritise communication from the top. The results are poor retention, low productivity and high levels of sickness absence.

The reality is that frontline workers are unlikely to have work computers or company email addresses, with communications most likely passed on face-to-face or via a physical noticeboard/ memos. With few opportunities to connect with leaders and colleagues when physically away from their place of work, this can be isolating and makes providing feedback, sharing ideas and seeking support extremely difficult.

There are also other impacts of a poor communications infrastructure, for instance performing basic administration tasks such as claiming expenses, requesting annual leave and arranging shifts, is likely to be arduous and heavily paper-based. Plus, providing frontline workers with the means to communicate directly with the wider organisation, including HR, is rarely an option thereby limiting their access to development opportunities and employee support services.

In essence, frontline workers are still experiencing a working environment that has barely moved on in twenty years, while desk-based workers enjoy a technology-enabled employee experience in which communications and processes are streamlined.

So how can frontline workers be brought into the modern world, while allowing organisations to better engage them with its purpose, plans and initiatives?

The role of the Intranet

The intranet has a crucial role to play here, but it must be a modern, mobile-enabled intranet that the organisation drives all workers to, especially its frontline workforce.

By making the intranet mobile-enabled, this will allow workers to access it via their mobile devices. However the sign-on process much be as frictionless as possible – no-one wants to have to go through a time-consuming process and have to remember multiple passwords. This makes a single sign-on function preferable.

The intranet must also be easy to use and intuitive while recognising that a workforce is neuro-diverse, with some employees enjoying reading about company successes in detail while others will prefer information that has few words and more pictures/icons.

Importantly, the intranet must be a place where frontline workers have to go and not just choose to go, so that logging onto it becomes second nature. This means making the intranet a hub for everything – a place for requesting shifts and annual leave, viewing and downloading pay information, and taking advantage of employee benefits such as employee assistance programmes.

Once frontline workers understand that through their mobile phones and tablets, they can quickly and easily perform a number of tasks while enjoying access to far greater opportunities, they will start to get more engaged with the intranet and what it has to offer. Organisations must therefore consider how to keep frontline workers engaged with the intranet content and interacting with it on an ongoing basis.

A frontline worker recognition feed or ‘wall’ that spotlights workers who have gone ‘above and beyond’ is an effective way of making employees feel valued and appreciated. Even better is when workers can quickly and easily nominate their colleagues for a shout-out and ideally a reward, such as a voucher or meal-out.

Involving frontline workers in discussion groups is another way of encouraging them to connect with others and provide feedback to leaders. This should be done in parallel with intranet blog posts, in which frontline workers are invited to write about important and topical issues. For those workers who would struggle to write a blog, the organisation could offer to write it for them following a phone chat.

Furthermore, a range of learning and development opportunities that are suitable for frontline workers should be advertised on the intranet on an ongoing basis, such as online (and mobile-friendly) health, safety and wellbeing courses, and paid-for volunteering days at various UK-wide charities. Providing a range of opportunities for frontline workers to develop themselves both professionally and personally, will not only strengthen those important employee-organisation connections, but will help workers to feel ‘seen’, valued and cared for, inevitably leading to higher levels of engagement.

Reaping the rewards

Despite the many challenges with frontline worker engagement, a 2022 Gartner survey reveals that 58 per cent of organisations that employ frontline workers have invested in improving their employee experience in the past year. This is encouraging and is hopefully just the start, with more and more organisations helping frontline workers to feel part of a supportive workplace community. Giving frontline workers a voice, asking their opinion, ensuring they learn news at the same time as their desk-based colleagues, and providing them with access to a range of opportunities are important here. And this is only possible when a communications framework such as a mobile-enabled intranet is in place. Those organisations that prioritise frontline worker communications and engagement will reap the rewards, from attracting the best talent and enjoying low churn through to reduced absence rates.


Paula Darch

Paula is our marketing whizz and is passionate about intranet engagement and getting the most out of your intranet software.