Frontline workers are employees who provide goods and services directly to communities. Together they make up most of the global workforce and will account for 60 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2024. Frontline workers are present across all sectors, including healthcare, public safety, manufacturing, retail, education, and hospitality.
As task and service workers, these individuals spend most of their time away from desks and offices. They typically operate in the field or at job sites like stores, warehouses, public spaces, and healthcare facilities. Frontline jobs also tend to be shift-based, with rotating teams and schedules.
Frontline work is becoming increasingly digital, with employees relying on a variety of devices to access information, applications, and people. According to one study, 75 percent of deskless workers now spend most of their time at work using technology. This trend is bound to accelerate in the years ahead with rapid advancements occurring in areas like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), mobility, connectivity, and no-code application development.
Here are some common types of devices that frontline workers use daily:
- Shared corporate-owned, single-use (COSU): Examples include smartphones or tablets, rugged smartphones or handheld computers, mobile printers, barcode scanners, and XR headsets. Workers use COSU devices during shifts to complete specific tasks.
- Interactive kiosks and digital signage: Businesses often use corporate-owned interactive kiosks and digital signage in customer-facing scenarios to reduce wait times, direct people where to go and streamline administration work. These devices also help enhance workplace culture.
- Bring your own (BYO): A BYO policy enables employees to use personally owned smartphones for work and personal care. BYO is convenient for workers, and typically more affordable for the business.
- Corporate-owned, personally enabled (COPE): With COPE, employees use corporate-owned consumer smartphones for work and personal needs. This gives the business more control over device and application policies.
Unlike knowledge workers, frontline workers are usually on-the-go throughout the day. Many traditional management methods no longer apply for today’s distributed remote environments.
It’s common for organizations with frontline workers to experience the following challenges:
- Device or application downtime
- Inconsistent experiences across devices and applications
- Insufficient IT support
- Lack of communication and collaboration
- Connectivity issues
- Insufficient training
- Inefficient shift scheduling processes
The business also faces additional IT complexities that make it harder to enable and empower frontline workers, such as:
- Configuring devices and enrolling users: IT teams often must deploy devices remotely for users in different geographical areas. This can be exceedingly difficult in rural areas or overseas locations that lack connectivity.
- Maintaining security: To perform their jobs, frontline workers may occasionally access insecure public networks in places like hotels, coffee shops and airports. Companies must work harder to limit access to personally identifiable information (PII), financial data and trade secrets as they move throughout unpredictable networks and user environments.
- Eliminating data silos: More than ever, frontline workers depend on real-time analytics and automation. But many companies lack the ability to collect, process and move data efficiently into applications and services. This leads to a lack of readily accessible information, which makes it harder to complete tasks and streamline workflows.
- Enforcing device and application policies: IT administrators need to provide mobile solutions while retaining control over device and application policies. This is important for use cases like enabling shared devices, setting up interactive kiosks, or providing students workers with secure environments. It can be difficult to enforce device and application policies when using multiple management solutions across different deployments.
- Providing a positive digital employee experience (DEX): Companies need to provide optimal experiences across all devices to attract and retain skilled frontline workers and enable growth and innovation. Companies that have outdated and inefficient DEX risk losing workers to digital competitors.
- Offering effective monitoring and support: Because frontline workers don’t sit in an office, it can be difficult for IT to resolve device issues when they arise. IT departments need to be able to connect with workers remotely and in real time.
- Integrating technologies: Most frontline environments now have a mix of devices and applications. IT must be able to integrate existing devices and apps with new technology and connect disparate touchpoints to achieve real-time data flows.
- Supporting specific workflows: Frontline workers use mission-critical devices to complete their tasks. To support them, IT needs to use shared device management with remote worker support and data analytics tools.
To empower frontline workers, organizations must look to expand their existing device deployments and integrate technologies like IoT devices and wearable technologies as well as flexible BYO policies. In addition, collecting employee analytics and insights can help to maintain positive and productive environments. Considering this, frontline workers have unique needs and requirements compared to traditional desk workers, and addressing those idiosyncrasies can improve their employee experience. The best way to empower frontline workers in today’s data-driven world is to make sure they have reliable access to mission-critical applications, data, and devices. Frontline workers require secure and customizable digital workspaces with unified content and applications, automated workflows, and flexible self-service support options.
Use the following tips to position your frontline workers for success:
- Minimize downtime: Device downtime is becoming a rising threat as more processes and workflows go digital. Downtime can bring productivity and communication to a halt and create potential safety hazards. It’s especially dangerous in critical industries like healthcare and public safety, where employees require constant connectivity. As such, departments must be proactive about device health and safety to minimize downtime. For example, leveraging unified endpoint management (UEM) technology allows organizations to have total visibility across endpoints while easily pushing security and operating system updates. Being able to provide real-time support with remote view and control capabilities can help to quickly remediate device issues. And leveraging insights and analytics can help make data-driven decisions that strengthen security.
- Prioritize user experience: Frontline workers today expect seamless digital experiences, which entails near instant access to the latest devices and applications on a dependable network. However, many companies are using outdated legacy technologies that hinder workers’ experiences and consequently affect productivity. Companies that fail to provide a strong end user experience for employees are at risk for turnover. In fact, 82 percent of organizations cite digital employee experience (DEX) as a top business priority. That’s why it’s important to invest in DEX solutions that tracks device engagement, proactively identifies security or device issues, and enables self-service support.
- Improve customer experience: Many frontline workers also depend on devices like sensors, kiosks, payment systems and monitors to assist customers and drive sales. When these devices stop working, or don’t work intuitively, it can negatively impact the customer experience and lead to financial loss. Prioritizing customer-facing technologies and providing regular upgrades will help to reduce performance issues and minimize complaints.
- Boost efficiency and workflows with automation: With the recent emergence of generative AI services, frontline workers can benefit from backend automations, including easier device onboarding, access to the right apps, process paperless documents, and automatic security updates. Companies that invest in modern digital environments and give employees the best tools to work more efficiently. To illustrate, a company may choose to eliminate paper and offer digital forms that automate data collection and input—saving time for frontline workers, while improving accuracy and security.
Frontline workers are the lifeblood of an organization, as they are responsible for interfacing with customers, keeping supply chains going and providing critical health and safety needs. As a result, companies must do everything possible to empower frontline workers and keep pace in today’s fast-paced digital world.
For frontline organizations, this means providing workers with the right devices and applications while maintaining control over policies and security and delivering a frictionless user experience. This is possible using a digital workspace platform like VMware Workspace ONE, the intelligence-driven digital workspace platform to simply and securely deliver and manage any app on any device, anywhere. VMware Workspace ONE enables remote access control, unified endpoint management and application management for stronger security and less administrative work.
From delivery drivers to warehouse workers, store associates and nurses, frontline workers rely on mission-critical devices to complete the task or operation at hand. And when these devices fail, frontline workers can’t do their job, putting pressure on IT. Workspace ONE Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) is an intelligence-driven platform built to support complex mission-critical device deployments at scale.