Using Technology to Empower Frontline Workers

The critical importance of frontline workers, including those in the healthcare industry in their fight against COVID-19, has been one of the defining lessons of the current pandemic.

And one of the key takeaways from this has been growing recognition that frontline workers need to be provided with the tools – and respect – they require to do their jobs well, says Dirk Prinsloo, Mint Group’s Specialist Modern Workplace Consultant.

“While the economy has taken a hammering, there has been broad consensus since the very first lockdown that things would have been a lot worse had the technology not existed for the widest possible range of previously office-bound workers to continue with their jobs from their homes,” Prinsloo says.

“At the same time, it has become clear that frontline workers, who are being stretched to their limits by the new demands the pandemic and the lockdown are placing on them to save lives and keep the economy afloat, often don’t have access to the tools that are enabling their desk-bound counterparts. Thanks to cloud technology, these tools are available – they just need to be harnessed.”

The frontline worker – the coalface of your business

Prinsloo defines frontline workers as those at the coalface of the organisation: the person with whom a customer (or patient in a healthcare setting) interacts directly in a face-to-face setting. In a hospital setting, for example, it’s not just the doctors and nurses, but also the porters, the radiographers, the physiotherapists and the receptionists – everyone who interacts with the patient and the patient’s family.

Frontline workers are to be found in many other industries as well – financial, government, hospitality, retail and even mining, where they literally are at the “coalface” of the operation on which their company depends. In many instances, these frontline workers constitute up to 80% of an organisation’s workforce.

Digital transformation and the forgotten frontline worker

According to Prinsloo, the pandemic has highlighted the fact that frontline workers have been neglected from a digital transformation perspective. While they need to be connected and to have access to their organisation’s information to be as productive as they can be, this is seldom the case.

Prinsloo maintains that a reason why frontline workers have been excluded from digital transformation initiatives is that the planning and execution is completed in silos in the back-office by decision-makers who have little contact with or understanding of the needs and challenges of their colleagues out in the field.

For example, all employees of a company should have direct access to updated corporate policies and procedures. While this has always been a problem for frontline workers who generally are expected to physically visit a central office to review and accept these policies, it’s only now that remote working has become the norm for many previously office-bound workers that this type of issue is starting to receive more attention.

In other sectors, issues around the needs of frontline workers have been recognised but are still largely to be addressed. Take, for example, frontline workers in financial institutions, particularly those working in the field who need to be able to verify names and account information but often don’t have the means to do so.

Auditors are also frontline workers. They often have to disseminate sensitive client information and use their private mobile devices to do so, even though this is neither secure nor compliant with industry regulations.

In the mining industry, frontline workers are ideally placed to report on potential safety and health concerns. Giving them the ability to log details of potential or actual incidents in real-time to their company’s back-end systems, thus triggering appropriate alerts, will result in a more efficient, responsible and transparent system, enhancing safety conditions for workers and improving productivity.

Empower your frontline workforce

Prinsloo says that as the pandemic continues to rage around the world, harnessing the power of this transformative technology has never been more important or urgent. And it is proving its worth.

A US hospital group, for example, has given frontline workers powerful tools to collaborate, discuss patients, find and secure information and improve overall healthcare delivery. Previously, multiple, overlapping communications systems – some manual, some random apps – contributed to information overload for the healthcare providers, and made it difficult for them to fully comprehend a patient’s case without piecing together fragments from multiple sources.

Cloud apps – the technology enabler

Now, a single application is used as a hub for caregiver collaboration, making it possible for the entire care team – doctors, nurses, allied professionals such as physiotherapists, radiographers (the patient needs an urgent x-ray) and even hospital porters – to have access to real-time, relevant information about a patient’s condition and care. No more “But I SMSed you” or “Didn’t you get my email?”

At the same time, because sensitive patient data is being accessed via individual mobile devices, the system used safeguards it. Technology is in place that not only identifies and blocks any malicious software before a breach happens, but also provides a way to react quickly and effectively in the event of an actual breach.

“Our experience of the pandemic over the past year has highlighted the fact that frontline workers in all industries need a platform that enables communication, collaboration and consultation; ensures the security of shared data; and improves productivity through appropriate automation and process streamlining,” Prinsloo concludes.