One of the many, many lessons that we can take from the current annus horribilis is the importance and value of our frontline workers.
Of course, when we think of “frontline staff”, our minds immediately go to the heroes of the year - our frontline NHS staff, whose standing in our collective consciousness reached new heights as the pandemic flooded our hospitals with Covid patients, and the nation took to their doorsteps for Thursday evening applause. But I’m not just thinking about those frontline staff here.
Who are your frontline staff? Are they customer-facing? Are they creating your product(s)? Maybe they’re selling them. Perhaps, they’re on the road for you. Or maybe they’re on a factory floor, shopfloor, 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 comms from the top and in terms of access to technology.
That, thankfully, appears to be changing.
For some organisations, the past 9 months saw frontline staff staying 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 have dealt with or continue to deal 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 effectively communicate with them under these new conditions.
The importance of our key messages reaching our frontline workers – and these registering with them – cannot be overstated. It can make or break an organisation. It can define success or failure.
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 IF your frontline workers have been afforded the luxury of a company e-mail address.
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 emerged (or benefited) 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.
Another emergence off the back of the pandemic was the increase in the need for real-time information. The rapid progression of the virus and the government’s responses often rendered instruction or information out of date within days (or hours!) of it being published. And so instant messaging or pinned-posts on internal social feeds have replaced e-mails as the best bet for reaching your frontline people in time.
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.