How to communicate with your frontline in times of crisis

Every day is a learning experience. This is true now more than ever. We don’t have a playbook for the circumstances we’re currently facing. But we can learn from one another on the fly so we can get through this together in the best way possible.

Frontline operations and training leaders have shared details of what they’re doing to keep employees safe and productive in the face of disruption. The insights they shared are about more than training. It’s clear that they’re focused on readiness—doing what it takes to help people be prepared for what comes next.

A core readiness theme that stands out in every conversation, regardless of industry—from grocery and retail to logistics and contact centers—is communication. The workplace is in a constant state of change. Safety guidelines. Job processes. Product availability. Employees are having a hard time keeping up with it all. This is especially true for those who don’t have a work email. And without the latest information, they can’t do their jobs safely and productively. Awareness is the first step to improved performance. That’s why organizations are adapting quickly to prioritize frontline communication.

 

Here are 5 principles companies are applying to rapidly improve their frontline communication:

Simplify

Where do your employees go for timely, reliable information? This should be a simple question that every employee can answer. People just don’t have the time or patience to hunt for information they need to do their jobs. Provide a single source of truth. Make sure each tactic has a clear purpose and is used consistently. Don’t make employees scour bulletin boards and timeclock postings and intranets to find essential information.

Prioritize

Not every message is critical. A message may be extremely important to your department. But remember, every other department also has their own very important message for the frontline right now. When every message is important, employees then get bombarded with information and really important stuff ultimately gets lost in the noise. Work across departments to prioritize frontline communication. Push only the right messages at the right time. Make everything else easy to find on-demand when people need it.

Digitize

Frontline communication often becomes a game of telephone. The corporate office sends a message to regional management. Regional management forwards the message to frontline management. Then frontline management shares the information in a team huddle and posts the email on a bulletin board. This process slows down essential updates and leaves too much room for error. Digital communication eliminates the cascade problem and gets important information from any part of the company directly to the frontline. A bring your own device (BYOD) strategy that takes advantage of personal devices can give employees even greater access to workplace information.

Reinforce

Just because you’ve told someone to do something, it doesn’t mean they will. So how can you get your employees to do the new things you need them to? We’ve already established how overloaded frontline employees can get with information from executives, corporate departments and their local management. Reinforcement will help them recognize the most important information and put it into practice in their everyday work. For example, you can reinforce a new cleaning process by challenging employees to answer 2 or 3 brief questions at the start of their shift. Managers can also reinforce important workplace behaviors through on-the-job observation and coaching.

Share

By improving your frontline communication, you’re creating an opportunity to share more than just important job updates. It’s a chance to recognize people for their efforts. It’s a medium for telling stories about the work your people are doing in their communities. It’s a direct connection between your frontline and their executive leadership. It’s an opportunity to include everyone in your organizational culture.

Communication has been a longstanding challenge for frontline employees. We hope these principles from our customers and partners will help you kickstart an improved communication strategy in your business at this critical time.

Creating your action plan

We’ve curated a playlist of short, easy-to-watch videos focused on how to build a resilient frontline workforce. See how the conversation shaped up around the important role communications will play in preparing frontline workers for what comes next.

Thank you for everything you’re doing for your people, organizations and communities. Be well. Be safe. And be kind to the frontline.

JD is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. His practical approach integrates science, technology, storytelling and pure common sense to enable employees, improve performance and drive business results. For 20 years, JD has executed strategies for global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company.

Looking for more information? We’d love to talk.