Seatrade Maritime is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

The human element at work: How companies can use technology to empower frontline workers

Photo: Bigyellowfish Soma Sundar Gollakota (1)[92].jpg
As discussions and technologies around workforce empowerment and humanisation gain traction, one crucial aspect often overlooked is the human element at work for frontline workers.

While much attention has been given to empowering desk or office workers, paradoxically, the majority - over 80% - of the global workforce consists of frontline or deskless workers operating in sectors like maritime, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, and transportation. These frontline workers, often the face of an organisation, play a critical role in delivering products, services, and customer experiences. However, they face unique challenges that require specialized support and resources, leaving a significant gap in their empowerment and well-being.

The frontline worker operates in environments that differ significantly from their office counterparts. Let's take the example of the shipping industry. International shipping companies rely on millions of frontline workers, including ship captains and crew members, who handle valuable cargo and shipping assets worth billions of US dollars. This workforce also maintains standards and compliance with maritime regulations that potentially saves millions in fines. These workers face demanding and high-pressure environments, spending extended periods away from home and dealing with unpredictable work schedules, harsh weather conditions, and physically challenging work. Their performance directly impacts vessel operations and overall business outcomes. Without adequate insights into their productivity, performance, and mental health, managing critical aspects such as training, workload, crew fatigue, and morale can be challenging, and can lead to serious hazards.

Inefficiencies in this critical link of the global economy can have ramifications for other industries and could result in increased operational costs, missed delivery deadlines, potential penalties, and customer dissatisfaction. Therefore, understanding and empowering frontline workers in essential industries like shipping is crucial, as it can have a direct impact on global economic well-being and success.

According to Microsoft's Work Trend Index Special Report on frontline workers, 63% report needing more adequate communication from leadership. This challenge is particularly prominent for frontline managers, with 69% expressing dissatisfaction with their higher-ups' communication. Additionally, 32% of frontline workers feel their concerns and input about workplace issues go unheard. There is a compelling connection between empowering frontline workers and increasing organisational performance. As pressure and stress on frontline workers worsens alongside anticipated economic challenges and geo-political events, implementing effective communication and support measures for frontline workers has become more important than ever.

As a priority, frontline workers need tools that help them quickly adapt to changing circumstances, streamline workflows, and access real-time data insights for informed decision-making. New technologies can help automate and optimise processes, reduce manual effort, and enhance productivity, enabling frontline workers to handle higher volumes of work with consistent quality.

The success of these technologies hinge on careful design and deployment that prioritizes employee care. Introducing new technologies without considering training, recognition, and performance management will not address employee needs adequately. By keeping the human element at the forefront, organisations can harness new technologies to drive positive outcomes for their employees and bottom line.

Frontline workers require technology solutions that facilitate seamless collaboration with their peers and superiors to enhance their job performance. Effective communication and coordination among frontline teams in today's fast-paced work environment are critical for delivering efficient, high-quality services. Technology solutions such as messaging apps, project management tools, and video conferencing platforms can enable frontline workers to collaborate in real-time, share information, and seek guidance from their superiors, ultimately helping them excel in their roles.

Furthermore, these solutions must be lightweight, user-friendly, and adaptable to frontline environments. Cumbersome or complex technologies can hinder productivity and are unsuitable for fast-paced, dynamic settings. Lean and agile technology solutions that are easy to use, intuitive, and customisable to specific needs are more easily incorporated into daily work routines without causing disruptions or delays to business.

Further, these tools must prioritise data security and protect sensitive information. This includes data encryption, secure authentication methods, regular software updates, and adherence to industry standards and regulations. Addressing data security challenges is imperative to ensure frontline workers can use technology safely and confidently while safeguarding sensitive data from unauthorised access or breaches.

Providing effective on-the-ground training and access to company updates is a critical function of such solutions. Training and updates are crucial for frontline workers to stay informed, develop new skills, and comply with company policies. Accessing these features from mobile devices and wearables can empower frontline workers with information and tools needed to enhance their performance, remotely or on the go.

Internet connectivity may be unreliable or unavailable in some work environments, like Shipping and Oil Rigs. Therefore, technology solutions that offer offline functionality, allowing frontline workers to access critical information or complete tasks without an internet connection, can be highly valuable. This ensures that frontline workers can continue their work seamlessly, regardless of the availability of internet connectivity.

In conclusion, technology solutions have become indispensable for empowering frontline workers and driving operational excellence. As technology continues to evolve, organisations must prioritise the needs of their frontline workers and invest in solutions tailored to their unique requirements. By leveraging the power of technology thoughtfully and strategically, organizations can equip their frontline workers with the right tools and resources, resulting in improved outcomes for employees and businesses.