Modern Training

Top 4 barriers to frontline enablement—and how to overcome them

Posted on: August 24, 2023Updated on: April 17, 2024By: Maliyah Bernard

You won’t need to completely overhaul everything you’re doing to get ahead of the enablement barriers in your workplace. But you will need to know where to start.

Axonify’s recently-launched 35-plus page ebook outlines everything you need to know about meaningful frontline enablement but don’t be intimidated by our comprehensive guide. Instead, identify the changes you can make starting today to overcome the most prevalent enablement barriers and positively impact the employee experience for all.

Frontline enablement for hospitality, check-in desk associate

What the frontline sees as the biggest barriers to enablement

Knowing what impactful frontline enablement looks like and recognizing its value to your frontline is a great start. But turning investment into business impact requires understanding and resolving the potential roadblocks along the way. 

Learn more about meaningful frontline enablement and how to put it into action

1. Lack of time

Frontline employees can’t be pulled away from critical time on the floor, in the driver’s seat, on the phone or the production line, serving your customers. The operational focus on the frontline severely limits the time available to develop skills or grow their knowledge.

Ironically, many traditional tools that promise to “enable” frontline workers demand time they don’t have to give. (We’re looking at you, LMS buried in the back office computer.)

Breaking down the barrier: 

Processes and tools introduced to your frontline need to fit into their workflow, not vice versa. Enablement should be purpose-built for their availability and agility—only taking up a few minutes each shift to protect their limited time and attention and keep them where they’re needed most.

2. Wrong-fit tools and technology

Informal processes, spreadsheets, paper-based training and performance support are still surprisingly common in frontline environments. Even when digital tools are available, employees often have no option but to dig for the information they need. 

Axonify’s Deskless Report revealed that 73% of corporate leaders believe their organization invests in new technology for frontline workers, but only 39% of workers agree. Picture this: managers leave written tasks on a breakroom whiteboard, critical communications are pinned to a bulletin board or pushed out sporadically in an informal WhatsApp group the manager set up and schedules are on a different system—is it really any wonder there’s such a big disconnect between corporate and frontline perceptions when it comes to whether investing in new technologies is worth it?

This disparity is also likely due to differing ideas about what technology investment means. Traditionally, corporate has invested in technologies that drive operational improvements (e.g., automation-focused, like self-checkout at grocery stores). Frontline employees are more likely to see the tech as competition or a threat to their stable hours than a tool intended to improve their daily work experience.

Breaking down the barrier: 

Don’t force your frontline employees to go hunting for help. Instead, reevaluate your tech stack and keep only the tools that facilitate great work exactly when and where they’re needed. 

  • How do employees get help when they need it? 
  • What are their best opportunities to learn and develop?
  • How do they access and share information? 
  • Where can they get the latest updates? 

Think about their workflows and be open to strategies like BYOD so they can access tools and tech when needed. By shifting technology perceptions to a frontline enablement mindset, employees can internalize how technology gives them back time in their day to focus on more rewarding activities.

Not sure if your tech stack… stacks up? Learn about doing a tech stack audit here!

3. A lack of belonging or lackluster employee community

46% of frontline workers believe a strong employee community is a top driver of frontline happiness and success. If your organization doesn’t prioritize belonging and community, it could have company-wide implications. 

A lack of workplace community is one of the six root causes of burnout. Recent research also found that 47% of frontline workers don’t feel a sense of belonging at work, which leads to performance issues at the employee and organizational levels. 

That feeling of being “at home” at work has never been more important, but how does a time-strapped, poorly-enabled frontline workforce build meaningful connections with managers and co-workers when they’re just trying to keep their heads above water? 

Breaking down the barrier: 

Making room for meaningful connections at work pays off in the long run. Gallup research shows that having just one good friend at work increases employee retention by 50% and makes someone four times less likely to experience burnout. Creating psychologically safe workplaces also encourages employees to speak up without fear of reprisal. 

But most of all, it’s crucial to embed this sense of community and belonging into the employee experience from the start. According to McKinsey, companies that invest in relationship development with co-workers and managers beginning with onboarding, win. Employees who reported strong relationships with both their co-workers and their managers were more likely to stay with their current company. The bottom line: foster relationships early to build strong bonds over time.

4. Unsupported managers

People want to work for great leaders, not just great companies. And managers play the most significant role in a frontline employee’s perception of and experience with enablement. 

But right now, the burned-out are leading the burned-out. Over the past few years, frontline managers have dealt with massive disruption and workload. 49% admit to feeling overburdened and burned out on a daily basis. We know this because they told us. They’re battling staffing issues, sickness, fractured communications and, with employee burnout sitting at 46%, an increasingly overwhelmed workforce. When the burned-out are leading the burned-out, disengagement and turnover are inevitable.

Unfortunately, despite the pivotal role managers have to play in frontline enablement, it’s hard to move forward with initiatives when they’re overburdened. They’re just trying to keep their locations staffed and their teams happy, but without the right tools or infrastructure in place, they’re leaning on ill-suited or even personal tools that belie any chance at work/life balance. And with managers burning out at an alarming rate, they’re at risk of undermining your enablement efforts before they even begin.

Breaking down the barrier: 

Managers are often promoted to the job because they’re solid individual contributors. This doesn’t always translate to great people management skills. If a manager gets promoted today but has to wait for the next in-person manager training retreat four months from now, a lot of frontline engagement and motivation can slip through that gap.

Managers also need right-fit enablement to help them be incredible leaders to their teams. In some cases, that means giving them tools to reinforce the right behaviors with their teams. In other cases, it means simplifying their jobs so they can get out of the way.

What frontline enablement means for managers

Frontline managers have an enormous role in the operational and business success of organizations, and making a tangible investment in their enablement frees up their time and focus on tasks that matter. 

42% of corporate leaders say their investment in management enablement has increased this year. Support your managers better by leveraging the three identified pillars of frontline enablement so they can do what they do what you hire them to do—lead.

  • Standardize and automate admin tasks: Managers often take on the brunt of onboarding and employee training, tasked not just with skills and knowledge transfer, but also with driving engagement and retention. With proper enablement strategies in place, learning and development shifts to personalized learning paths, leaning on AI, machine learning and scientifically vetted methods to standardize and automate the process. 
  • Put an end to communication bottlenecks: Communications are often funneled through frontline managers. When speaking to frontline workers for our Deskless Report, we asked them where they receive information, and 80% said their “direct manager.” This not only leads to bottlenecks, it also makes it hard to track who’s heard important messages and who hasn’t. An enablement strategy streamlines information sharing. Managers can still have the power to send communications when they need to contextualize messages to their local teams, but by releasing them from being the primary communication channel, you free up more time for them to focus on driving business outcomes and actually leading their teams.
  • Make sure tasks get done: Task management tools—whether high-tech or analog—are often exclusively used by managers. The burden is on them to communicate the right tasks to the right employees and then make sure the tasks get done. But what if guided task management could be directly accessible to frontline employees, with checks and balances in place to give managers visibility into tasks at risk?

The barriers to frontline enablement may seem daunting, but by resolving these common roadblocks and approaching each with a clear end goal, there’s a big return on investment waiting for you on the other side.

Maliyah Bernard's Headshot

Maliyah Bernard

Maliyah Bernard is an academic writer turned content writer. As a former frontline worker, she loves writing about all the ways organizations can support these essential workers smarter.

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