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Managing Frontline Employees: How to Empower Your Team in the Digital Age

Managing Frontline Employees: How to Empower Your Team in the Digital Age

For companies to thrive in the 21st century, they must be able to adapt to the demands of the digital age. Part of that evolutionary process with the digital workforce means empowering frontline employees. After all, frontline employees are a business's first point of contact with a customer — hence the name “frontline.”

Lately, frontline jobs are being filled by a fairly new generation that has entered the workforce.

More Millennials on the Frontlines

Much of the frontline workforce today is made up of millennials, a mix of twenty-somethings and young thirty-somethings that have grown up alongside the eruption of digital technologies. Having been raised on a steady diet of smartphones and the internet memes, millennials almost epitomize the term “digital age.”

They are the trendsetters of our era, at the forefront of the latest technologies, and companies can learn from millennials the habits needed to empower frontline employees.

1) Turn Your Company Into a Village

Long gone are the days when working at a company meant that you were only on a first-name basis with your cubicle neighbors and managers. This is the digital age — the age of social media — and the entire world is connected by a tangled net of signals.

For better or worse, nearly every single person is a simple Google search away. Companies that haven’t internalized this “digital world is a village” lesson are going to stutter and spurt until they finally crash.

How do we translate the lessons learned by living in an interconnected world to the office to empower frontline employees?

2) Use an Employee App to Build Community

Companies using the right app or organizational and operational communication software can transform their vast employee roster into a small village where everybody knows each other's names — or at least has access to them.

With the right app or software, frontline workers can send a direct message to any other employee through a simple click. This allows dispersed teams to communicate with each other in real time, right from their own personal mobile devices. 

In this digital age, frontline employees shouldn't have to wait for a message to make its way through a maze of communication channels before getting to the right person. With an employee app, they can directly contact the staff member they need to speak to. That means no delays in communication, more employee independence, and better customer service.

Hear from RHW's COO Chandler Thayer on why implementing Beekeeper has resulted in increased employee engagement, and has saved the company time and money.

3) Encourage Recognition

Having an interconnected network in the form of a digital workplace, also makes it easier for employers to commend their frontline employees and to say “Thank you" to their frontline teams. 

Research by One4all Rewards found that

71% of respondents would forgo a higher salary to work for an employer that regularly says thank you.

It’s not clear where the financial cutoff is, but the finding is still significant. The study went on to reveal that one in five workers have never received a “Thank you” at all from their employers.

There’s no excuse in the digital age for lacking P’s and Q’s when an entire office has an internal communication solution. A simple salutation makes any employee — especially frontline employees who represent a business — feel like a valued member of a team.

4) Establish Personal Leadership

Jim Collins’ now classic book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don’t discovered a striking similarity between every successful business: employees that are empowered to act on their own.

This means that managers aren't breathing down their frontline employees' necks, asking them what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Micromanaging doesn’t create a positive work environment for anyone.

As Collins explores in his book,

The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake.

A sense of trust and personal responsibility among employees is often what sets great companies apart from good ones. 

Establishing a sense of personal leadership in your team is a great way to empower your frontline employees. They don’t need to constantly call up a manager and ask whether or not action X or Y or Z is the appropriate response. Giving employees the ability to act independently has never been easier than it is today.

5) Give Them Freedom to Choose

We all know the saying “knowledge is power.” Essentially, the more information you have, the more freedom you have to make decisions.

Where are we going with this? People these days are saturated with information, and companies are too.

Empowering frontline employees means giving them the information they need to make good decisions, because businesses that thrive in the digital age give employees the information they need to be autonomous.

Today, there are solutions that do exactly this. Team collaboration and internal communication tools enable two-way communication between managers and frontline employees and give everyone access to important information without the use of email.

There are other solutions such as Qminder - a queue management system that provides data to frontline employees so they can improve customer experience metrics.

These innovative solutions give frontline employees the information they need to make informed decisions on their own. It goes over particularly well with millennials, who tend to value freedom even more than money. So, give them freedom.

If people are free, they will be drawn to what they really like as opposed to being pushed toward what they have been told to like. So they will personally do better; they’ll be more enthused to do things.

- Chris Rufer, CEO of Morning Star Company

6) Overcome Hierarchies

Traditionally, corporate decisions are locked behind a hodgepodge of bureaucracy. Not only is this kind of decision making inefficient, but it’s also demoralizing. In the traditional system, frontline employees can sometimes feel like just a cog in a machine whose voice is barely heard.

“The problem isn’t the occasional control freak; it’s the hierarchical structure that systematically disempowers lower-level employees,” the Harvard Business Review points out.

The article goes on to say, “Narrow an individual’s scope of authority, and you shrink the incentive to dream, imagine, and contribute.” Overcoming corporate hierarchy means that managers must become better leaders and overcome these boundaries.

Adaptability is Key to Managing Frontline Employees

Adaptation is not easy. The rate of technological change makes it seem nearly impossible to implement a strategy that incorporates the latest trends from the digital age. But don’t worry!

Cultural changes within corporate institutions will always be slower and more complex than the technological changes that necessitate them.

- McKinsey Quarterly

Once frontline employees feel the first slivers of empowerment from managers, the necessary changes to continue the trend will naturally flow. It’s the first step that’s hardest. But recognizing that it has to be taken is an empowering act in itself.

Ready to empower your frontline and boost engagement? Download our eBook, "15 Best Practices for Employee Engagement" to get started!