Of course, when we think of “frontline staff”, our minds immediately go to the real “heroes of the hour” (of every hour!) - our frontline NHS staff, whose standing in our collective consciousness remains at new heights as the pandemic continues to flood our hospitals with Covid patients. But, in this article, I’m not just thinking about those frontline staff.
Who are your frontline staff?
Are they customer-facing? Are they creating your product(s)? Are they selling them? Maybe, they’re on the road for you. Or perhaps they’re on a shopfloor, in a factory, in an office, or working from home. Regardless, they are the people who are making things happen. They are, without doubt, amongst the most important people within your organisation.
They have, historically, also often been amongst the most overlooked, in terms of the priority of recognition and comms from the top.
Since the first lockdown, different organisations have faced different restrictions and scenarios. For some, frontline staff had to stay in place whilst management and centralised/support functions were asked to stay away. For others, all staff were suddenly assigned home-worker status. Other businesses are dealing with a fluid workforce of furlough, reduced hours, reduced headcounts and more. All of this has brought to the fore the needs of the frontline workers and the issue of how to keep them motivated and feeling appreciated, as well as the wider issue of effectively communicating with them, under these new conditions.
At a time when there is a risk of frontline workers feeling more detached from their leaders, communication and recognition have become more important than ever.
Worst still, customer-facing frontline workers are potentially putting themselves at increased risk of catching the virus simply by being at work. Meanwhile, many work-from-home frontliners are juggling home-schooling with Zoom meetings, customer calls, and the needs of their jobs. For almost all workplaces, absenteeism is up because people are sick and/or self-isolating, thus putting even more stress on those that remain.
Recognition and appreciation cannot be put on hold just because large-scale in-person team meetings are an impossibility.
Quite the opposite, in fact… Now is the time to enable frontline workers to thank their colleagues for the emotional support they give in a structured and recognised way. Now is the time for leaders to express their gratitude in a personal way to the individuals that are showing their loyalty, their bravery and their commitment. The boost to morale is much-needed and almost invaluable.
Similarly, the importance of key messages reaching our frontline workers cannot be overstated. We now all know that it is no longer acceptable to post a memo on the scarcely-visited company intranet and hope that your frontline workers get to see or hear about it. Even a send-all e-mail can be more miss than hit these days – and that’s assuming your frontline workers have been afforded the luxury of a company e-mail address and access to the required IT.
This is where there is no substitute for a full & robust health check of your internal comms. Going external for this will almost always return better results. You need to know which channels are working, who is and isn’t receiving your messages, and what can be done to ensure those all-important frontline staff are empowered with the knowledge they need to do their job, deliver your vision and maintain your culture. There are many technologies, platforms and blended options for managing a permanent hotline to your frontline. Some of these have been borne out of, or benefited greatly as a direct result of the pandemic. Either way, you may need to revisit (or write for the first time) your Internal Comms Strategy to work these in.
As the country reflects on the invaluable work of our frontline staff over the duration of the pandemic - keeping our supermarket shelves stocked, our patients cared for, our nursing homes open, our public utilities and transport running – we need to make sure we maintain focus on keeping our own frontline staff informed, recognised and feeling valued.