There are more than 2 billion front-line workers around the world. They are healthcare workers, transit operators, construction crews, and retail associates, to name just a few. Now they go by another name—essential workers. They are the ones physically on the job during this global pandemic in order to provide the goods and services everyone needs.
With the weight of the world (and the economy) resting on their shoulders, these essential workers are expected to keep showing up. Despite already occupying some of the more risk-prone jobs, this workforce now must contend with a pandemic that continues to spread.
The current scenario is raising greater awareness of front-line workers and the need to prioritize their safety. Companies with large front-line workforces have implemented immediate safeguards to protect essential workers: Grocery cashiers are now behind plexiglass, airlines are seating passengers further from on-board staff seating, and almost every front-line worker now is wearing a face covering.
But maintaining a safe workplace must begin with clear, consistent, real-time communication.
Creating a Culture of Safety in the Workplace
Companies are realizing the benefits of digitizing operations and how it contributes to a safety culture.
With a digital workplace organizations can:
- Become more adaptable to build a resilient workforce
- Create more efficient workflows that eliminate risks
- Facilitate two-way communication for an informed, empowered workforce
- Enable real-time, seamless communication to overcome roadblocks due to siloed data
Here are five ways companies can leverage workplace communication tools to keep their front-line workers safer.
1. Employ a Mobile-First Digital Solution
Communication technology is only as effective as its reach. To ensure front-line workers are included in workplace communication, business leaders need to take a mobile-first approach. An employee app can serve as a conduit for all internal communication, including safety information and training, that can reach workers directly on their mobile device, especially those who don’t sit at a desk or have company e-mail.
Here’s how a mobile solution can support worker safety:
- Create a digital channel for safety announcements that replaces in-person meetings
- Provide real-time communication for rapid problem solving and troubleshooting in urgent situations
- Pivot from day-to-day communication to crisis communication to create a seamless information flow to enable business continuity and reduce workplace risks
- Align every worker on standard operating procedures (SOPs)
- Follow up with digital survey questions to ensure new safety protocols are understood by everyone
Including every worker leads to greater engagement, which is directly linked to a safer workplace. Low engagement leads to higher absenteeism and missed safety trainings. Engaged teams are present, focused, and feel a collective responsibility for themselves and their colleagues’ safety. In fact, companies with higher levels of engagement have 70 percent fewer safety incidents.
2. Keep Up With Rapidly Changing Safety Regulations
In the current climate, workplace protocols change almost on a daily basis. Traditional communication methods for front-line workers, such as notes tacked up on breakroom bulletin boards, don’t cut it. The need to immediately communicate updates requires a reliable solution.
A digital workplace allows companies to convey real-time updates. Managers can prioritize safety messaging in dedicated newsfeed-style streams. This can help a company stay compliant with industry- or government-mandated protocols as soon as they’re issued.
Automated reminders with push notifications are a simple, yet effective way to create messaging that ensures workers follow company, state, and federal safety guidelines.
For example, one aviation company has relied on its workplace app to continually update its protocols requiring all employees to wear a face mask while working during COVID-19. Management sends employees a reminder each day to bring their masks to work through automated messaging.
3. Communicate Clearly and Consistently
A digital workplace has multi-channel capabilities to ensure employees receive and understand communication. Whether it’s SOPs on a factory floor or the best masks to wear, management must clearly communicate these safety messages.
One way business leaders can effectively communicate with front-line workers is by posting safety videos on their workplace app. For example, one aluminum recycling facility created a “how-to video” on using a thermal temperature gun so front-line teams know how to use them properly.
Other features designed to reach on-the-move employees include:
- Document sharing so workers can access safety manuals and information as needed
- Inline translation so workers can send and receive messages in their preferred language for comprehension
- Read receipts and confirmation campaigns so managers ensure employees have read safety communications
4. Automate Operational Communication to Create Safe Spaces
Right now, front-line teams are working harder than usual. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a 700 percent increase in consumer packaged goods. This tsunami of consumer demand has created greater risks for this workforce by requiring higher production outputs in shorter timeframes.
As automation increases, particularly in manufacturing, workspaces have become safer. According to Deloitte, 68 percent of companies believe that automating internal systems can reduce workplace risks.
Automating operations creates a safer workplace in several ways:
- Machines handle physical labor while humans focus on tasks that are inherently safer.
- Automation reduces the number of humans on the production line, allowing greater distancing between workers.
- Working alongside machines, or cobots, is safer than alongside human colleagues.
- Machine learning enables systems to detect their own potential malfunctions before they happen.
5. Use Bottom-Up Communication to Create Data-Driven Safety Strategies
For far too long, the C-suite has made well-intentioned safety decisions without getting direct input from workers themselves.
Two-way workplace communication gives front-line employees the opportunity to provide valuable insights that can help leaders design data-driven safety strategies that accurately reflect workplace risks. A mobile communication solution gives employees the space to provide that vital feedback through direct messaging, pulse surveys, or HR chatbots. With a two-way mobile app, front-line workers also can send digital requests for personal protective equipment (PPE) to alert managers when supplies are running low.
Bottom-up communication has other benefits, too. Workers are more confident when they know leaders are listening to and acting upon their feedback. Also, worker fatigue is at an all-time high. A digital workplace can offer a shift schedules feature that allows workers to view their schedules from their mobile phones, which reduces absenteeism.
Front-line workers are in the spotlight right now. From this global pandemic to everyday operational risks, leaders need to establish a plan to create a safe environment for them.
Cristian Grossmann is CEO of Beekeeper, a mobile platform for front-line workers.