How to bridge the frontline workforce communication gap with HR tech

The backbone of the American workforce is largely composed of frontline roles, which account for up to 80% of employment. Yet, communication from leadership doesn’t necessarily align with the daily dynamics of these workers.

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The frontline is an area that deserves attention, experts say. According to a 2024 worker pulse report by frontline engagement platform Beekeeper, attrition in the frontline population reaches 35% to 50% in most industries. In this survey of 8,000 frontline workers and managers across EMEA and the United States, people cited poor communication within the top three limits to productivity.

Many HR leaders are aware of the disconnect, and organizations that are invested in attracting and retaining a strong frontline are increasingly turning to technology for fresh ways to keep these employees engaged and informed.

Benefit from barrier-free communication

Historically, many workplaces have relied on an intranet or company email system to communicate with staff. Still, often frontline workers are deskless and may lack a company computer and email address. These individuals tend to be on the go—away from an office setting, delivering services directly to customers, patients or projects.

They don’t have the same time, schedule or equipment as in-office workers, and this reality begs for a unique HR tech solution to frontline worker communication. According to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index Special Report, which surveyed 9,600 frontline employees and managers around the world, workers cited better technology as the third most important factor in alleviating workplace stress.

According to Sean Nolan, CEO and founder of frontline employee tech solution Blink, when workers are challenged to access or convey real-time information, this barrier can lead to frustration, stress and a sense of disconnection, especially compared to their office-based peers. He warns that such negative experiences can cause people to feel underappreciated, uncertain about their career paths and left out of decisions and opportunities.

Sean Nolan, CEO of Blink
Sean Nolan, CEO of Blink

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Nolan says barrier-free access to information and communication “levels the playing field” and starts to close the digital divide, meeting the frontline where they are. Blink, for example, is accessible on personal smartphones and other devices and doesn’t require an email.

The tool also provides single-sign-on and self-service modes that ensure equitable access—regardless of location or shift schedule—to essential resources like pay slips, benefits information and training materials.

Getting employees to adopt new technology can be challenging, but Nolan advises HR to overcome resistance by adding tangible value to frontline workers’ lives with an experience that’s user-friendly, personalized and private. “Focus on things that make their work lives easier and empower them,” he says. Consider consumer-grade technology that looks and feels like apps employees already use in their day-to-day dealings, capitalizing on the reputation of tools that express proven value.

Nolan says that human resource and IT teams benefit from frontline communication platforms, too, thanks to fewer support tickets from workers asking about their passwords or other issues. Meanwhile, employees get a streamlined, intuitive experience that empowers and makes them feel connected to the organization.

Tailor the frontline worker communication experience

Rachael Knowles is the internal communication manager at luxury hotel and resort operator Kerzner International. She says that before adopting frontline employee experience technology from Unily, her company lacked a formalized employee communication platform, and crucial information was scattered across the organization.

With four unique brands operating across multiple destinations around the world, engaging Kerzner’s frontline workers—who have limited access to the company’s intranet—was imperative.

“To close this gap, we invested in a platform that provides a tailored experience based on the information our employees want and need,” says Knowles. She confirms that the frontline experience technology helped Kerzer International leaders support workers by boosting morale and recognizing success—which ultimately decreased employee turnover and positively impacted the bottom line.

Jenny Shiers is chief people officer at Unily, having joined the organization in 2023 from Salesforce, where she was vice president of employee success for UKI and North EMEA. She says that by digitizing internal communications, employees no longer have to look at a notice board or risk missing something that is being communicated verbally.

“For example, employees can look at a tablet in the break room and see key communications,” she says. “Having access to technology allows a wider range of communications.”

Jenny Shiers - Chief People Officer at Unily Jenny Shiers, chief people officer at Unily

Tech designed for frontline workers is distinguished by its ability to provide a unified experience. Integrating updates, notifications and essential information from disparate systems into a single platform is vital for relieving the burden on frontline workers, who would otherwise have to navigate multiple systems, explains Shiers.

Shiers has found that mobile applications allow employees to quickly and easily tap into communications from anywhere at any time, while video and audio enable access to a variety of messaging on the go. Offering different touchpoints also provides accessibility for those who are visually or auditorily impaired.

Shiers reminds HR leaders that employee communication tech should not rely on a wifi connection. Content should be available to download and be read later so messaging can reach people even when they don’t have direct access to the internet. “For instance, airline employees up in the sky can still catch up on downloaded content offline, so they are up to date with the latest insights,” she says.

AI tools for frontline worker communication

Shiers highlights another avenue for enhancing connection through the adoption of AI tools, especially at global workplaces like Kerzer International. AI-driven translation can facilitate conversational and inclusive workplace messaging, shifting away from corporate jargon to help people get content that feels comfortable to them. Some tools can even enable the translation of messages and social posts across all business channels into employees’ preferred languages, regardless of the original text. This is particularly beneficial when the frontline is positioned globally and relies on multiple languages.

Moreover, given the overwhelming volume of messaging employees must absorb—which is especially challenging for frontline staff with limited time—Shiers finds that AI summarization provides a succinct “TL;DR” (too long; don’t read) summary. This can be a breath of fresh air for workers on the go, enabling them to pick up important news efficiently and effectively.

New data sources to build engagement

Shiers also recommends utilizing analytics provided by frontline communication tools to gain insights into employee engagement. By analyzing which content resonates most with employees, HR leaders can identify areas for improvement and address content gaps. For instance, if analytics reveal high employee interest in a specific topic but limited content availability, HR can prioritize creating relevant materials.

Furthermore, leveraging technology allows leaders to align their communication strategy with a calendar, optimizing the timing of communications based on data insights. Recognizing that frontline employees may have different communication preferences compared to desk-based counterparts, leaders can tailor their approach accordingly.

Watch out for ‘shiny object syndrome’

Not all HR leaders will get the technology right the first time, advises Shiers, so don’t let the pursuit of perfection halt progress. To avoid falling for what she calls shiny object syndrome, Shiers reminds tech buyers to retain a view of the one piece of technology employees need to start their day with and focus on that.

“There is a lot of great technology out there, and it can feel easy to go out on a shopping spree and pick up too much tech in the process,” warns Shiers.

Madeline Laurano, founder of Aptitude Research, voiced concerns about plugging in HR tech that isn’t truly designed for the dynamics of the frontline. She says the industry has come a long way in terms of innovation in this space, but the reality is that organizations shouldn’t “put frontline workers through the same experience” as corporate staff.

Remember, communication goes two ways

While tech can ramp up the delivery of messaging, the source of communication should still have a human touch. Nolan reminds HR leaders to encourage participation in feedback opportunities and to demonstrate that frontline input is valued and acted upon.

“The goal is not just gathering feedback, but using technology to foster two-way dialogue and show frontline workers they are heard,” says Nolan. This exchange builds trust and a healthier working environment.

To guide HR leaders seeking to bridge communication gaps within their organizations, Nolan offers the following HR tech roadmap:

  • First, assess your organization’s unique needs, challenges and existing systems and processes. Identify the key points in the employee journey with the specific gaps to address.
  • Then, choose a solution that can seamlessly integrate with current human resource information systems, benefits platforms, scheduling tools and other frameworks employees use.
  • Communicate the benefits the new solution provides to employees in terms of access to information, resources and opportunities for feedback.
  • Ensure that the onboarding and user experience are intuitive and involve managers as champions for ongoing support.
  • Continuously gather and share feedback to improve the solution over time.
  • The trick is to create an environment where employees want to use it because it makes their lives easier and jobs more satisfying.
Jill Barth
Jill Barth is HR Tech Editor of Human Resource Executive. She is an award-winning journalist with bylines in Forbes, USA Today and other international publications. With a background in communications, media, B2B ecommerce and the workplace, she also served as a consultant with Gallagher Benefit Services for nearly a decade. Reach out at [email protected].