The report ‘Deskless not Voiceless: Communication Works’ by Facebook reveals that there is a major disconnect between those based at the Headquarters (HQ) and employees on the frontline. While 86 percent of employees feel connected to their direct co-workers, only 14 percent feel connected to their business HQs. Meanwhile, just 3 percent feel connected to their C-Suite.
The feeling of disconnect highlights the lack of communication between frontline workers and business leaders. This communication failure can affect business gravely, as valuable ideas and insights from the frontline employees might be missed out by business leaders. Organizations, therefore need effective ways of communication that can enable frontline employees and business leaders to engage with each other conveniently.
Currently, the vast majority of leaders (74 percent) stay connected with frontline workers through informal conversations and meetings. However, these methods have not proven to be completely beneficial. The informal methods of communication and meetings are mostly unplanned, random and happen only as per the availability of business leaders and frontline employees.
As both the groups are mostly swamped with a lot of work on a daily basis, what they need is a solution that helps them communicate with each other even amidst their busy schedule easily. This is where the technology enabled tools and platforms like messaging platforms, document sharing and video conferencing software come into the picture. In fact, as per the report, with such tools, a quarter (25 percent) of employees have been able to feel connected to their HQ. Further, the amount that feel connected to the C-Suite more than doubles.
To further deep dive into the communication crisis between frontline workers and business leaders and discuss the many opportunities such tech enabled communication and collaboration platforms hold, HR leaders from diverse industries came together in the Facebook office in Mumbai, the Philippines, and Thailand for the People Matters and Facebook Study Tour.
The immersive learning session was kickstarted by Ramesh Gopalkrishna, Head of India at Workplace by Facebook, who demonstrated the communication crisis business leaders and frontline workforce are dealing with. In an interactive session, he along with other HR leaders discussed a few strategies that may help businesses avoid the pitfalls.
"Your employees maybe deskless but should not be voiceless," exclaimed Ramesh.
Deskless not voiceless: The need to empower the frontline workforce
The moment employees step out of the headquarters, they feel a disconnect. It leads to frustration among employees as they start to feel disconnected and like they don’t have a voice in the company.
A research by Bain and Company which highlights distinguishing characteristics of companies who have delivered great results over time, identifies “frontline obsession” as one of the key qualities of such high performance organizations. In the initial phases of the company, when the team is small and the scope of business is limited, leaders are able to engage with their frontline employees regularly. However, as a company scales, the teams get larger, the business expands and communication starts to fade out.
But the “frontline obsession” must never stop. In fact, as the company scales, it becomes all the more critical for business leaders to know how the business is being delivered at the bottom line and being received by ultimate consumers. With a disconnect between frontline employees and leaders, getting such insights would be more challenging. The business leaders would miss out on important and relevant information.
One of the other distinguishing characteristics of high-performance organizations is their ability to innovate and the communications failure stops valuable ideas from rising through the business.
To ensure the business leaders remain frontline obsessed and that new valuable ideas don’t get missed out, businesses should provide a platform for workers to capture and share these valuable ideas and insights whenever they arise.
Jai Balan, Head HR, Bharti AXA, who took everyone through the challenges faced by HR leaders and HR teams in bridging the communication gap between frontline workers and business leaders in Mumbai, further emphasized the need to empower people and create connected organisations.
Jai shared how in the insurance sector, the workforce is largely distributed. The staff is mostly on the field and they have limited to no access to their desktops. So, the challenge is how do they access information that they might need for their work. There is hence a need to have technology enabled tools and platforms like messaging platforms, document sharing and video conferencing software in place to enable frontline staff to firstly, access information, and secondly, to share ideas and insights.
In the Philippines and Thailand leg of the tour, Mai Nguyen, a senior HR consultant based out of Vietnam, highlighted that globally companies today are spending very less on the technology for their deskless workers. Though they spent $300 Bn on software, only 1% is spent on them. This, despite the fact that 2.7 Bn of the global workforce does not have a dedicated desk. No wonder, engagement remains a concern in the APAC region.
Mai further pointed out that this problem is further compounded given the fact that a lot of millennials now comprise an increasing portion of the workforce, and are more difficult to engage given their heightened expectations of more opportunities for growth and development.
More so, they want to stay informed and not to be the last ones to receive information. However, the reality is that almost 74% of employees miss out on company information and news. This lack of information and timeliness of information from management is a major cause of disconnect, leading to drop in productivity. Thus in order to inspire loyalty and productivity, it is critical that companies leverage technology to enable, empower, and connect the deskless workforce with the business.
Dealing with communication crisis: Learning from forward-thinking companies
So how are companies dealing with the communication crisis on the frontline?
In India, Nikhil Menon, Workplace by Facebook shared with the HR leaders how some forward thinking organizations have dealt with the challenge. In his session ‘Connecting through communication’, he shared Workplace by Facebook use cases focused on frontline workers.
Nikhil threw light on some tangible and some intangible impact these organizations have been able to create by using a collaborative tool like Workplace by Facebook. For instance, Reliance Nippon Life Insurance conducted a few interviews to identify a few factors causing attrition. One of the factors that came to light was the ability to connect with the line managers. Another interesting insight was that changing the policies and products every month and the lack of connect with the line managers was causing an information gap and impacting their performance. Reliance Nippon then digitized their entire learning program and created small learning modules which could be shared easily on a technology platform. The frontline employees then had easy access to information they often required while doing business.
After running this program for nine months, the size of the product sold improved and fixed their topline. Further, the efficiency of new employees went up and to top it all, the cost in savings reduced.
The example of Reliance Nippon Life Insurance shows that the communication crisis can be solved with digitization. However, for its successful implementation, human insights are absolutely critical. The interactions helped leaders gain insights about the factors causing the problem and enabled them to create an effective and relevant solution.
Similarly, Fasai Pongpitaksopon, Enterprise Growth Manager, Philippines, Thailand & Singapore, who spoke at the Philippines and Thailand leg of the tour, also shared further examples of organizations who are already enabling their frontline workers and seeing tangible results such as Airtel Retail which uses Workplace to connect the leadership to the frontline workers to drive employee engagement and recognition. Or Vedanta which increased the number of new ideas and opportunities from customer facing employees. Similarly FamilyMart’s employees share best practices with leadership and each other through Workplace. Fasai also shared the example of PS Bank that has turned a company into a community.
One of the cases shared was that of Globe Telecom, which has been working with Workplace for almost a year. The platform has enabled them to connect their entire communication and change from one way communication to open two way communication across the entire organization.
In a nutshell, there is an immediate impetus for business leaders and HR teams to start embracing the digital communication and collaborative tools to give more voice to their frontline workforce and make them feel more connected with the headquarters and the C-suite.