A frontline worker (also known as a deskless worker) is an employee who does not have a traditional office desk, workstation or access to a traditional digital corporate resources and software; rather these workers must be physically present to perform their job functions, which take place primarily in a field, port, warehouse or other non-traditional office setting. Frontline workers are often limited to the use of their own mobile device – calling a help line or waiting outside of an HR leader’s office during their shift – to stay connected to their colleagues and complete work tasks while on the move.

To some, this seems obvious – but after years of talking to hundreds of HR leaders and business owners, we have found everyone uses a different term for this workforce. It’s strange, if you think about it. If you heard the term “office worker” or “knowledge worker” – an image would immediately pop into your head of someone who works in an office, uses computers most of their day and maybe, if they’re lucky, gets to work from home.

So why isn’t there just one term to describe this workforce? They are the largest group of workers worldwide – making up 80% of the global workforce. And we now know, post pandemic, that they are vital. Internally, at Anthill, we call them deskless workers – which still isn’t 100% correct – because many customer service employees in hospitality roles, for example, work at a computer all day, but do not have access to company software and HR systems specific to their pay, scheduling or benefits.

Perhaps the reason that there isn’t a one-size fits all term for frontline or deskless workers is because they work across so many industries, performing the most critical jobs to ensure our world keeps spinning. Hopefully someday there will be one, respectful term to explain these vital and important employees. For now, frontline title examples include:

  • Retail: Sales associate, cashier, stocker, customer service representative
  • Construction: Carpenter, electrician, plumber, laborer
  • Delivery: Driver, courier, delivery person
  • Healthcare: Nurse, aide, technician, therapist
  • Food service: Server, cook, dishwasher, delivery driver
  • Manufacturing: Operator, assembler, inspector, maintenance worker
  • Agriculture: Farmer, rancher, field worker, harvester

(This is not an exhaustive list, and there are many other titles that may apply to frontline workers depending on the specific industry and job role.)

Besides not having access to company systems, resources (and a name!), there are several common myths about deskless workers that are just not true. The reality is:

  1. Frontline workers are as skilled or educated as office workers: Many deskless workers have specialized skills and training that are required for their job.
  2. Frontline workers are as productive as office workers: Frontline workers often face more physical demands on the job and may have less access to technology and resources than office workers, yet they are still able to complete their tasks efficiently.
  3. Frontline workers require the same level of communication and collaboration as office workers: Frontline workers often need to communicate with their colleagues, supervisors and customers to complete their work.
  4. Frontline workers are satisfied with their jobs: Many deskless workers find their jobs to be rewarding, and the lack of the office environment can be a plus for some.
  5. Frontline workers are important to a company’s success: Many companies rely heavily on the work of deskless workers to keep their operations running smoothly.

Frontline workers are very important to a company’s success, as they are often responsible for carrying out critical tasks and operations that are essential to the company’s overall performance. They play a vital role in keeping companies running smoothly.

Retail workers are responsible for interacting with customers, processing sales, and restocking merchandise, all of which are crucial for maintaining a positive shopping experience and driving sales. During the pandemic, we applauded retail workers for keeping our homes in-stock with food and crucial supplies, something they do during all world circumstances. 

Construction workers are responsible for building and maintaining the infrastructure that supports commerce and industry. 

Delivery drivers are responsible for ensuring that goods reach their intended destinations on time, which is essential for maintaining supply chain efficiency and customer satisfaction. 

Health care professionals are responsible for providing essential care to patients, which is vital for maintaining public health and wellbeing.

In addition to performing critical tasks, frontline workers also play an important role in a company’s bottom line. They are often directly involved in revenue generation, cost control and customer satisfaction. As such, companies that invest in the well-being, skills and engagement of their frontline workers often see improvements in productivity, customer satisfaction and overall business performance.

To improve overall business performance, there are several things companies should consider about their frontline workforce that can improve their employee experience (read: help retain and engage deskless employees):

  1. Productivity: Frontline workers are often responsible for carrying out critical tasks that are essential to the company’s overall performance. If these workers are not well-equipped, trained, and motivated, it could lead to a decrease in productivity and negatively impact the company’s bottom line.
  2. Employee engagement: Frontline workers often face unique challenges in their work environment such as working in remote locations, physically demanding work, and lack of access to technology. By addressing these challenges, companies can improve the engagement and satisfaction of their deskless workers, which can lead to better performance and lower turnover.
  3. Cost control: Investing in the well-being, skills and engagement of frontline workers can help to reduce costs associated with absenteeism, employee turnover and recruitment.
  4. Customer satisfaction: Frontline workers are often the face of the company and are directly involved in customer interactions. By ensuring that these workers are well-trained, motivated and engaged, companies can improve the overall customer experience, which can lead to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  5. Compliance and legal considerations: Frontline workers are often exposed to different risks and hazards in the workplace, and companies have a legal obligation to ensure their safety, security and well-being. By ensuring that their deskless workers are properly trained and equipped, companies can avoid costly legal disputes and penalties.

Investing in the well-being, skills and engagement of frontline workers can lead to improved productivity, lower costs, increased customer satisfaction, and compliance with legal and regulatory requirements. Companies that neglect their frontline workers may face challenges in their operations and customer satisfaction, and may be at risk of legal disputes and penalties.

Anthill helps to make employee engagement, retention and safety simple and compliant – while saving you time and money. To find out how much you can save, visit our interactive calculator at www.anthill.co/calculator or call us at 312-681-7758.

Jennifer Harris-Kroll

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