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To say the past year or so has been challenging is an understatement. Throughout the world, companies have adapted to the new way of working. Home became offices, and offices, empty shells. Those of us who were largely office-based have adapted to the ‘new normal’ in our own way. But all the time we’ve been working at home, another category of people have not been working this way. They’ve been working away, keeping everything running smoothly and without fuss: the world’s frontline workers.

The most valuable workforce

Frontline workers are the backbone of every industry; from retail stores to manufacturing floors, from planes to trains, and everything in between. They’ve been the unsung heroes of this pandemic. However, as recently as a few years ago, frontline workers were rarely considered in business decisions. That’s changed. Today, 90% of executives believe digitally connected frontline workers will be a competitive differentiator in their industry within two years.

Meeting the needs of frontline workers

Microsoft is here to help and we’ve learned a number of lessons about this previously underserved group of people.

  1. There’s a need for better communication, transparency, and a strong culture throughout the company. From HQ to the frontline, this is changing from a nice-to-have to a must-have.
  2. There’s an accelerated need to digitally transform outdated manual processes.
  3. Working conditions have become unpredictable. This means it’s essential that you have tools that can keep your frontline teams and operations agile and everyone informed. This is all the more important where there may be fluctuating working conditions, such as having to unexpectedly close locations.

Worse still, these challenges come at a time when one-in-four frontline workers feel they don’t have the right tools to do their job. In addition, over 80% feel disengaged from the rest of the company. Yet these are the very people likely to be the first ones to speak to your customers. They are also the group that’s the first to be hands-on with new products. Without a doubt, they are a source of highly useful information and insights that can benefit the organization. If you’re not engaging your frontline workers, you’re looking at some serious challenges to the longevity of your business.

The question then becomes, how do we keep this group engaged? Each industry is different but in retail, daily active users (DAU) of Teams has grown more than 280% year on year to support the accelerated digital transformations taking place in response to the pandemic. What’s more frontline workers have increased their reliance on the Teams mobile app to perform their jobs. Across the board, DAU has doubled since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

The different needs of frontline workers

At Microsoft, we see frontline worker needs falling broadly into four categories:

  1. Communication – the need for timely communications about products, changes, or processes, from top to bottom.
  2. Operations (tasks, scheduling) – streamlining task management and giving people access to their schedules on any device.
  3. Process improvement (replacing outdated paper processes with modern tools). We can help modernize paper-based routines with digital apps and empower citizen developers to learn new skills and grow.
  4. Security – giving the right access to the right people and removing worries about data leaks or breaches; a huge challenge in the frontline.

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It’s time to digitally transform these vital workforces

We’re working on empowering every person on the planet to achieve more – including the 2bn+ frontline workers globally. Where we are now is really just the beginning. We’re working with industry-leading providers in all categories to build a strong ecosystem of partners. Together we can help our customers realize the benefits of digitally transforming their vital workforces.

The bottom line is this: as of now, it’s not about when, but about how to successfully empower frontline workforces. Our partners at the Cloud Communications of NTT are here to help you just that, so do find out more about how your business can lead from the front with your frontline Workers.