Additional Value Propositions: A Digital Frontline Workplace for Retaining Frontline Workers During the Great Resignation

frontline work

By Emil Bjerg

Hybrid work, remote work, digital nomads: many knowledge workers are experiencing a heap of new possibilities relating to how and where they work. Frontline workers, however, are often bound to fixed places and fixed times. In this talk with Mark Williams, Managing Director for EMEA at WorkJam, the leading digital frontline workplace, Williams discloses the way to a future of unseen flexibility for frontline workers and shares how companies can get help retaining valuable workers through WorkJam’s digital features.  

During the covid-crisis, many of us have changed how we work and primarily where we work. In Europe alone, during the pandemic, 100 million workers have swapped the office with working from home – for some, working from wherever they want. To many, this newfound freedom contributes to a better work-life balance. 

Those benefiting from this enormous shift in working culture are primarily knowledge workers. As Mark Williams points out, the conditions have largely remained the same for frontline workers, who still need to be in a certain place at a certain time. However, according to Williams, who, as WorkJam’s Managing Director for EMEA, specializes in the work life of frontline workers, this group of workers is looking for the same kind of choice and freedom: “Frontline workers want the same freedom. If they can work at a location in one city, why can’t they do it in another location where their employer operates??  

Frontline workers make up 60 to 70, sometimes up to 80 percent of a country’s workforce, but as Williams puts it, this group has often been ‘the forgotten workers’. WorkJam has set out to change this through several features that make work more fun, make tasks more approachable, and allow for easy communication between frontline workers and the main office. When Mr. Williams is confident that we’re about to see a change towards more flexible work forms, it’s because WorkJam has developed the world’s leading digital frontline workplace, a technology that enables frontline workers to be scheduled in more than one location, operated by their employer. As frontline workers in many big retailers have the same work procedures in multiple stores, an app that connects stores with their staff enables frontline workers to take a shift when is more suitable for them. 

And the new generation entering the job market enters it with new expectations: “You’ve got this next generation that is coming through, and they just want something different. They want a more connected workplace, they want a more dynamic, agile workplace. They want to work where and when they can,” Williams says. 

Giving workers this added agency, Williams says, is a fantastic value proposition at a time where any extra sign of appreciation is essential for retention: “When you are struggling to identify and recruit and retain the right workforce, you know you need all of these additional value propositions,” he says. 

More than a year inside ‘the Great Resignation,’ finding and retaining employees is a challenge for businesses, as workers seem to be a scarcer and more valuable resource than ever. Earlier this year, a survey conducted on LinkedIn disclosed that 58 percent of European workers are considering leaving their current job. In this context, dynamics between employer and employee have changed: “It’s no longer ‘if you don’t work for me, there are ten people that will take your job tomorrow.’ That’s completely flipped,” Williams says. 

So there are good reasons for companies to pay close attention to the contentment and well-being of frontline workers. Mark Williams has made that the theme of his career long before the Great Resignation as he’s been part of leading and working close to frontline retail operations for the last 20 years, working at Diageo and Shell before starting in his current position at WorkJam. 

His career in and around global retailers has been with the purpose of “trying to solve the complex dilemma of ensuring that frontline workers, the hourly paid workers, are engaged, embraced, feel part of the wider culture and the wider organization.” One way WorkJam does this is by helping companies create communication pathways that are intuitive to those who use them every day. 

Communication in real-time between head office and frontline personnel has been essential for worker safety in several cases. It’s also been the case in Ukraine, where WorkJam has helped ensure that co-workers were either relocated to safe parts of Ukraine or evacuated and housed outside the country. 

“Frontline workers are used to communicating on social media. They’re used to Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, TikTok, whatever it might be. Then you take them into the workplace and it’s almost forgotten. And then we start to talk to them via a back office PC or a handheld retail device that is completely alien to them compared to how they’re communicating in their private lives day in, day out with multiple people at the same time in multiple different ways. And all of these organisations across Europe need to realise that and then pivot and embrace this digital transformation.” 

Giving frontline workers access to technology – with an interface that feels familiar – where they can communicate with other frontline workers and head office colleagues allows for several possibilities to ease work life. One of them is a gamified and fun way to enable colleagues to swap shifts. WorkJam’s platform also helps colleagues to get to know each other with the platform sharing bits of information about who their colleagues for their current shift are, including some fun facts about each colleague. This creates a friendly environment that “enables fun and also gets the work done,” as Williams says.

Besides features adding flexibility and fun between colleagues, WorkJam’s platform also allows for two-way communication between the frontline workforce and head office: “It’s not just from the head office and down, we now give the ability to communicate back up. We connect head offices to the frontline workforce in a way that they’ve never been connected or engaged with before.” This also gives senior staff and executives ways of communicating business identity to the people presenting it on the front line. As Mr. Williams says: “Straight away you can have senior executives speaking directly to the frontline worker around the brands, around the initiatives, about the strategy, around their values, and beliefs. And it just changes the whole frontline worker culture.” 

Communication in real-time between head office and frontline personnel has been essential for worker safety in several cases. It’s been the case during the covid-crisis, where WorkJam’s platform allowed companies to communicate new policies and procedures or introduce new health and safety requirements. It’s also been the case in Ukraine, where WorkJam has helped ensure that co-workers were either relocated to safe parts of Ukraine or evacuated and housed outside the country. 

Worth mentioning in the context of creating company-employee loyalty are the features directed towards employee learning and growth. Here, WorkJam’s tools also look at creating long-term value for employees when it comes to learning and development. Williams says: “Often the frontline worker wants to develop, wants to think about what promotion might look like, what job, what prospects there are, what other roles they may be interested in. And they tend to get forgotten. They don’t know how to tap into that knowledge, so they don’t know how to go about that at work.” Giving frontline workers the tools to develop and experience upward mobility within an organisation equals higher chances of retention. 

Where Workjam’s tool gets really powerful, Williams says, is when all the functions are combined, allowing new forms of two-way communication, task management, professional development, and flexible planning. Surely we look forward to seeing how the future flexibility for frontline workers will play out!

Executive Profile

Mark WilliamsMark Williams is a Managing Director and is leading WorkJams expansion in EMEA. Before joining the company, Mark held the position of Global Enablement Manager of Retail at Shell, where he was responsible for all frontline digital transformation projects. Operating with different structures across the globe, Shell’s challenge was to provide consistently excellent service through a fragmented workforce, without a large directly managed footprint. Under Mark’s leadership, the Enablement Team rolled out WorkJam to 100,000 employees across 35 global business units. Unifying communications, learning, and task management revolutionized how Shell Retail worked, improving turnover, compliance, and employee experience.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.