A New Dawn: 2024 Will be the Year the Frontline Comes Online 

Technology Concept. A man holding virtual globe icon and mobile phone

By Sean Nolan

For many workers, the digital revolution has felt like a distant promise. 2024, however, marks a year of change. Mobile technology is finally catching up, with the development of user-friendly “super-apps” tailored to the frontline workforce. These innovative tools hold the potential to bridge the digital divide, fostering a more connected and efficient work environment. Imagine frontline workers with instant access to information, streamlined communication channels, and the ability to manage tasks with ease. This isn’t just about technology; it’s about empowering the people who keep our businesses running. 

Many of us assume work is already digital. In 2024, we seem to spend our lives in zoom meetings, replying to emails or messages, searching for documents or hearing our phone buzzing with notifications.  

But actually, for 80% of the global workforce who don’t sit behind a desk, work is still almost entirely analogue. They haven’t benefited from the convenience many desk based colleagues have come to take for granted, such as working from home, flexible hours, transparency, accessible benefits, ongoing feedback and recognition. 

But there is change happening right now. Leading organisations are leveraging the latest technology and new approaches to bring their frontlines online, transforming the work-life of frontline colleagues in the process.  

This trend is set to explode in 2024, with every organisation now looking to bring their entire organisation into the digital age. The result is 2024 will be a year of pronounced progress and positive change. Why? Because digitising the frontline brings about profound improvements in productivity, efficiency, safety, equality and job satisfaction.  

Most of the global workforce doesn’t sit at a desk  

The scale of the problem is vast – with about 80% of the global workforce deskless and working tirelessly on the frontline. Frontline employees often have antiquated technology experiences, leaving their connected, consumer lifestyles at the door each day and effectively going back in time to workplace environments that rely on clipboards, noticeboards, manually clocking in, reporting safety issues on paper and other outdated processes. This approach makes it harder for frontline workers to fulfil their roles, while leaving them isolated from their professional peers, and potentially even posing personal safety risks.   

Having frontline employees work predominantly offline has caused a vast disconnect at the heart of the workforce, leading to inequality of opportunity, information, and influence. The upshot is that frontline workers often feel undervalued and disconnected compared to their office-based counterparts, impacting their job satisfaction and contributing to higher attrition rates within organisations.   

A history of underwhelming tech rollouts 

In truth, many CEOs recognised this problem some time ago, and have attempted to fix the problem with different technology solutions aimed at improving connectivity between frontline workers and the mothership, enhancing efficiency, productivity and customer service, boosting engagement levels and reducing churn.   

From sentiment surveys to self-service rostering platforms, there’s been no shortage of effort to digitise the frontline. And yet, to date, these efforts have largely failed to achieve any meaningful impact because the technologies being implemented haven’t been suited to the nature of frontline work or simply been able to reach everyone.  

Software solutions that work so well in an office environment, where desk-based professionals are permanently online, have an email address and are easily connected to one another (and only a few clicks away from 24/7 IT support) do not readily translate to the frontline who sometimes are working solo, hours away from another colleague.   

For example, industries such as healthcare, logistics, manufacturing, or hospitality, rely on a vast cohort of workers who spend the bulk of each day on their feet serving customers or completing arduous physical work, dashing about as they fulfil their duties with little to no time baked into their schedules for desk-based activities – if indeed they have a desk to sit down at in the first place.  

In this context, the shortcomings of conventional software – such as multiple URLs, apps, and passwords, or tools optimised for modern desktops or laptops – quickly become apparent. Simple tasks like booking leave, accessing pay stubs or online FAQs, and even just checking on a parental leave policy, are often difficult, laborious and frustrating. Far from embracing these technologies, frontline workers typically view them as cumbersome and disruptive; an extra layer of friction on top of their already demanding roles. 

A frontline-first rethink is underway 

The good news is that there’s a growing recognition among CEOs and HR leaders that a top-down, desk-centric approach to digitisation has failed.  

Instead, they’re turning to mobile-first technology to address frontline challenges. And while it may sound counterintuitive, savvy business leaders are looking back to look forwards. Almost 20 years have passed since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone, which triggered a wholesale transformation of how people engage with technology. Unlike previous attempts to adapt desktop features for mobile use as Blackberry had done, Apple did away with the keyboard entirely, paving the way for a completely reimagined mobile experience.  

In the case of frontline workers, the solution isn’t to shrink desk-based technology down to the phone – it’s to rethink the approach entirely. This is the innovation that will, in 2024, bring an end to years of stalled digitisation efforts and trigger a transformation in frontline worker productivity and engagement. 

Mobile super-apps simplify and streamline the frontline experience 

Mobile-first technology is a prerequisite of frontline digitisation success, as frontline workers often lack regular, easy access to desktops and laptops, but typically carry a mobile device.  

But mobile technology also needs to be uncomplicated and fuss-free for frontline workers to get on board. Rolling out five different apps for benefits, rostering, internal comms, and so on just doesn’t work. Instead, the future of frontline digitisation lies in ‘super-apps’ that combine multiple workplace tools and systems within a single, easy-to-use interface – from secure mobile-first chats and organisational newsfeeds to holiday booking systems and digital pulse surveys. The digital front door to your work life.   

This isn’t a pipedream – enterprise super-app technology already exists and is already being used to great effect on the frontline by employers such as Elara Caring, RATPDev and Falck USA. Crucially, these super-apps enhance both companies and individuals. Workers gain skills, enjoy their jobs more and feel more connected to their colleagues. Companies can better serve more customers and are better equipped to grow sustainably with an empowered workforce. 

A huge economic boost is there for the taking 

While new technologies take time to garner trust and advocacy, frontline super-apps are gaining momentum. This isn’t surprising given the impressive metrics they deliver: 95% frontline worker uptake, a 3x increase in employee response rates to company comms, a 26% reduction in employee churn and a 46% increase in employee satisfaction levels.   

Imagine these metrics applied across the frontline workforce at large. The reduction in churn alone would be transformational at a time when most Western employers are facing a growing frontline labour shortage. And while it’s impossible to quantify the potential productivity uptick stemming from a more motivated, digitally empowered frontline workforce, we must surely be talking about one of the biggest economic boosts in history.  

I’ve arrived in bold proclamation territory, and we shall have to wait and see whether this new breed of purpose-built frontline technology achieves mass market penetration in the year ahead. We should not forget that creating a digitally inclusive environment for frontline workers also requires a cultural shift within organisations – one that values and actively supports the digital empowerment of every employee, regardless of role. And, of course, cultural change can take a lot longer than tech change.  

Nevertheless, I’m confident that as these technologies gain traction, the undeniable benefits will be impossible to ignore – encouraging other employers to quickly follow suit and finally take decisive action to bring their frontline online.

About the Author 

Sean NolanDriven by his early encounters with remote work challenges, CEO Sean Nolan co-founded Blink in 2014. This all-in-one “super-app” empowers frontline workers with the digital tools, connections, and resources they need on a mobile app. Blink bridges the gap between management and millions of individuals across industries, from bus drivers to healthcare workers, fostering engagement, belonging, and retention. 

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