When Frontline Workers Return to Work

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Nov 20, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

As people start, stop, and start again to return to the workplace, they are likely to see large-scale changes. Such changes will be especially paramount in industries and companies that rely significantly on frontline workers and location managers to engage customers — retail store associates, food services workers, and hotel employees are all likely to see massive changes. 

What will those employees find as they return to work? 

  • A smaller headcount — because the company needs to be sure it stays afloat and remains competitive after the economic downturn in the last few months (or at least while riding the continuing economic roller-coaster) 
  • An influx of new employees — to replace former coworkers who were laid off, furloughed, or who have simply chosen not to return (or a whole new set of coworkers if they were unable to return to their previous employer)
  • A new awareness of social empathy in the wake of today’s social crisis — another sudden and equally unanticipated storm that has affected how businesses project themselves to the world and their employees
  • Seeing themselves or those around them needing to wear three hats — because everyone left standing will need to help the company do more with less

Considering all these ongoing twists and turns, what can HR and business leaders do to steer their organization to success?

It won’t be easy. It will continue to require a herculean, multi-faceted effort that companies will need to deliver through constantly updated, keenly effective employee communication. The businesses that survive and thrive going forward  — beyond the recent return-to-work corners we’ve turned —  will be the ones that can engage their people with timely and meaningful information that gets everyone up to speed on the organization’s changes.

Tempting as it may be to sound a rousing battle cry and hand out marching orders for all hands on deck, your strategies for charting these new waters won’t be effective without purposeful and engaging communications.

Communication Strategies to Implement Now

  1. Streamline top-down communications. Engage employees by delivering relevant and timely communications designed to improve knowledge, morale, and execution. Real-time top-down updates are critical to ensuring your employees feel confident and competent during periods of rapid change. 
  2. Encourage information-sharing across your workforce. Surface powerful insights directly from the field to optimize performance and achieve better business outcomes. Leverage peer-to-peer and bottoms-up communication channels to encourage cross-team collaboration and increased levels of productivity.
  3. Enable staff to address gaps in the customer experience. Use your customer-experience data to identify areas of opportunity within your company and proactively address gaps by enabling staff to create great customer experiences. Encourage peer recognition to inspire employees to exceed expectations. 
  4. Listen to the voice of your employees. Real-time pulse surveys and strong feedback loops between workers and leadership will help HR leaders optimize each stage of the employee lifecycle, from onboarding and ramp-up to team-building and performance optimization. 

You’ll need to support and engage effectively with all employees, of course. But don’t forget the unique needs and expectations of your workers at the frontlines. They need relevant and timely communications that lean into what is meaningful to them, and that are clear and authentic. It’s the only way to adapt and accelerate performance for the new expectations of employees and customers.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.