How to show your frontline teams you’ve got their back

Deskless teams account for a huge amount of the human capital in our organizations. Talent managers must notice, nurture and track that potential to get the most out of these vital employees.

The pandemic has put the spotlight on frontline employees. While the rest of us have hunkered down at home, field teams in stores, in warehouses or on the road kept on donning their masks and showing up for work to keep our machinery working properly, our products shipping on time and our vital infrastructure safely maintained.

These everyday heroes deserve our gratitude, of course. They also deserve a better toolkit to eliminate some of the pain-points that make mobile work far harder than it ought to be. Deskless workers are a vital part of the modern enterprise, accounting for 80 percent of the global workforce — but at far too many organizations, mobile teams are left using paper and clipboards instead of the enterprise-grade digital tools relied upon by every other part of their organization.

It’s time that changed. We need new tools to support these vital employees, optimize their performance and underscore their status as vital and valued members of our workforce.

Managing a distributed workforce

Making employees feel valued is far harder, of course, when those teams do their jobs out in the field, not at HQ where managers can stroll by and easily offer guidance or support. While deskless teams do usually have systems in place to report on the work they’re doing, those systems typically involve old-school systems and archaic, one-way communication tools that are inherently inefficient and leave frontline workers feeling isolated and undervalued. At best, deskless teams are left using digital tools designed for desk-bound workers, which inevitably create more problems and inefficiencies than they solve.

The result: managers frequently lack visibility into their frontline workers’ performance and lack the tools they need to communicate, collaborate with or motivate their mobile team-members. That’s been especially challenging during the pandemic, with organizations struggling to implement new standard operating procedures relating to health and safety, or new omnichannel strategies such as click and collect, curbside pick-up and return-in-store procedures.

Field teams are generally trusted to get the job done without much supervision or training —and while they’ve generally done an incredible job, the lack of digital infrastructure creates unavoidable bottlenecks and failure-points as teams seek to rapidly adapt to new strategies and changing business needs.

To solve this problem, we need a smarter approach that enables frontline teams to perform everyday tasks better. Just as importantly, we need a system that improves the employee experience of teams entrusted with the vital work of servicing customers. Employee engagement and motivation are key to providing good customer experience but also to retaining valuable workers.

Operational efficiency for all

Fortunately, digital technology is emerging that promises to help organizations solve these problems by empowering workers as they complete their tasks and allowing managers to support them better.

Smartphone and tablet-based apps can help field teams to manage tasks, share information and acquire new skills without interrupting their workflows, while simultaneously giving managers visibility into their operations as if they were on the ground. Look for apps that include communication and mobile learning features that allow deskless workers to surface ideas and mentor and support one another.

Combining digitized task management, communication and mobile learning in the flow of work makes a tremendous difference in employee experience and productivity.

All this might sound a little bit predictable — apps that help teams track their work and stay connected. Pretty straight forward, right? But if you feel that way, it’s probably because you work in an office where such apps and tools have been commonplace for years. In the deskless space, many of our most crucial employees still lack access to the powerful productivity tools that have transformed the rest of our organizations.

Unlock human capital

Talent managers must ensure deskless employees feel heard, are praised and rewarded for their achievements and are given real opportunities to grow into new roles and to advance within organizations. That’s especially important right now, as retailers and other businesses struggle to staff back up and prepare for the return to in-person shopping.

While many younger employees say they aspire to deskless jobs and roles that give them opportunities to learn and grow, they are also twice as likely to say they feel unfulfilled. Reengaging these vital workers is a critical priority for modern enterprises.

Investing in digital tools is an important step toward helping deskless workers reconnect with their organizations. But companies also need to recognize that digital apps aren’t a silver bullet. In addition to building out the right digital and mobile infrastructure, we also need to recommit to making our mobile teams feel genuinely included and giving them the recognition and support they deserve.

That will require significant management changes as well as new IT investments — but the payoff will be worth it. Companies that get this right will be better able to recruit and retain employees, boost the efficiency and engagement of their mobile teams and drive better results across the board.