Frontline workers have had a taxing two years. They’ve been stressed beyond measure and pushed to the brink by an endless pandemic, crushing labor shortages, and unforeseen supply chain disruptions. But here’s the good news: tech can help.
In a survey of nearly 10,000 frontline workers, Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index found that 63 percent say they’re excited about the opportunities technology creates and, even better, say that technology is one of the top ways to mitigate their stress. (It comes just after better pay and vacation time.)
According to the report, frontline workers say that new tech can help with onboarding, team scheduling, automating repetitive tasks, and much more. But businesses won’t get to that promised land without a little guidance. To ensure workers successfully adopt and use technology, leaders must be intentional—and keep these four rules in mind.
1. Give workers the latest digital tools.
When workers have the most up-to-date technology, they can confidently rely on those tools for assistance and focus on what matters: doing their job. Forty-six percent of frontline workers say that better tech tools would reduce their workplace stress.
“If it’s frustrating for you to use the tools, your whole job is frustrating.”
Worker attitudes toward new technology are stratified by age, and according to the Work Trend Index report, older workers Microsoft surveyed may have a harder time adapting to new technology. But when the tools are outdated, workers under 40 find adoption frustrating, too. “The average hourly worker in a store now is a digital native who came into their first job with a smartphone in their hand,” Microsoft’s corporate vice president of retail and consumer goods, Shelley Bransten, says in the report. “They’re expecting the experience they have at work to match up with their experience outside of work, and that divide has not been crossed yet.” By helping bridge that gap, you’ll empower workers to be less stressed—and more productive.
2. Invest in training.
Even the most intuitive technology can be exasperating when there’s no onboarding. More than half of frontline workers say they’ve had to learn new technology without formal training or practice. “If it’s frustrating for you to use the tools,” says Kristina Behr, Microsoft’s vice president of product management for frontline workers and industry, “your whole job is frustrating.”
The proper training may take some time and resources, but trust us—in the long term, it will pay off. At Eaton, a multinational power management company, training is an integral part of work. Through a mixed reality app for Microsoft HoloLens 2, the company trains employees to conduct preventive maintenance on equipment. Says plant manager Javier Gomez: “The matrix hologram appears in front of you. It asks, ‘Javier, do you want to start with the welder?’ I stare at the word ‘Yes’ to confirm. You continue until you finish the checklist.” The process, he says, takes five to seven minutes. “It’s efficient and you don’t need anybody to show you what you’re looking for or what it looks like.”
Employees need opportunities to share critical insights from their perspective of dealing directly with customers or products.
3. Reinforce that AI and other technology can help make jobs easier.
After years of fear among frontline workers that new technology will squeeze them out of a job, they’re starting to express enthusiasm for the ways in which digital tools can help. “I come across a lot of people who are worried about being replaced by artificial intelligence, by machine learning,” says Darryl Willis, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of the energy and sustainability industry. “One of the things I say to people is that you have to see machine learning and AI as an assistant, not a replacement, for expertise.” It’s crucial for business leaders to underscore that sentiment.
Frontline workers tell us that communication from the top is often lacking or nonexistent. Workers on the frontlines can feel disconnected from company policies, culture, and directives, particularly in a time when those are constantly changing.
Leaders should make time to connect with frontline workers and managers to understand their experiences, share appreciation of their efforts, spell out the company’s mission and purpose, and explain how frontline workers are contributing to it. Employees need information and resources from the top to do their jobs, and they also need opportunities to share critical insights from their perspective of dealing directly with customers or products every day. There’s a big opportunity for the whole organization to learn—and grow—from their experiences on the ground.