Reskilling/Upskilling Onboarding

Episode 2: Frontline Disrupted

In episode 2 of The 80 Percent, we tell the story of three people who have suddenly found themselves on the frontline in new jobs. We explore their unique transitions, including onboarding experiences and on-the-job support, as well as the emotional toll frontline work can have on even the most prepared employees.

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Episode overview:

The pandemic is forcing companies to rethink how work is done, especially on the frontline. Plexiglass now separates grocery clerks from customers. Restaurants that were dine-in only now offer delivery. And package deliveries no longer require face-to-face interactions.

Frontline workers are being asked to rapidly adjust and change habits they developed over the course of months or years on the job. But at least these employees can lean on their experience to help them stay safe and product at work. What about people who are brand new to these roles? How are people making the transition from long-term careers, which are suddenly on hold, to the frontline of a global health crisis? And what does it really mean to become a frontline hero?

Join us every two weeks as we tell new stories about how the 80 percent—the global frontline workforce—are making a difference in their organizations and communities. We explore how companies from a variety of industries are reimagining their frontline readiness to empower employees and transform the customer experience. You’ll take away practical ideas for improving your own frontline support strategy. And each story is told in less than 15 minutes. So you can listen to an entire episode while making breakfast or taking a walk after lunch.

You’ll find every episode of The 80 Percent on our website at You can also subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify so new episodes are automatically downloaded to your mobile device.

Do you have a frontline story you think we should tell on the podcast? Let us know via

Thank you for everything you do for your people, organizations and communities.

Be well. Be safe. And be kind to the frontline.

About the Host(s)

JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect
JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect

JD Dillon became an expert on frontline training and enablement over two decades working in operations and talent development with dynamic organizations, including Disney, Kaplan and AMC. A respected author and speaker in the workplace learning community, JD also continues to apply his passion for helping frontline employees around the world do their best work every day in his role as Axonify's Chief Learning Architect.

Richia McCutcheon, Community Manager
Richia McCutcheon, Community Manager

Richia is a builder of all things, from communities and brands to relationships and partnerships. Over the last 10 years she has become proficient at connecting people over their shared values, dreams and favorite things.

Episode Transcript

Speaker 1 (00:00):
The 80% is brought to you by Axonify. Take your frontline training to the next level and drive results for your business. Head over to

JD Dillon (00:10)
Episode two: frontline disrupted, recorded on Monday, April 27th, 2020.

Hi Richia.

Richia McCutcheon (00:19)
Hey JD.

JD Dillon (00:20)
Our story today is about transition. Millions of jobs have been impacted by the pandemic. People have been laid off, furloughed or lost hours, but while many companies are restricted or entirely shut down, there’s a large group that’s still hiring.

Speaker 2 (00:33):
It was the COVID 19 health crisis continues to grow, the economic impact is being felt at home, but while many businesses are being hit hard by Corona Virus, some industries are growing and hiring. As always, groceries are still in high demand and some chains are looking to expand and as many people are self isolating, delivery companies are being used more and more

JD Dillon (00:54):
Richia. What kind of frontline roles have you worked in the past?

Richia McCutcheon (00:58):
I have done retail. I worked at a clothing store for about five years and I’ve also worked in a call center.

JD Dillon (01:05):
So now let’s imagine that given the circumstances that are going on around us, what if you suddenly had to go back into one of those roles, what would be on the top of your mind about making that transition into those types of workplaces given what’s going on with the pandemic right now?

Richia McCutcheon (01:22):
First I’d want to make sure it was safe. I’d be very concerned about the safety of the place I was going into work and making sure that I was going to be taken care of from that regard. Also if I was going to have a manager to support me and what kind of training are they going to give me before I get started? Because it’s been a while since I’ve done either of those roles and I couldn’t imagine just jumping right in.

JD Dillon (01:44):
We hear a lot about the challenges of working on the frontline right now, but what if you’re brand new to that environment? What’s it like to find and start a new job on the front line right now and what’s it like to go from a career you’ve been working for years to being an unsuspecting hero of a global health crisis?

Bo (02:05):
But I think there’s other people that deserve a more of a medal than I do. And as far as first responders go.

JD Dillon (02:10):
Bo is one of three frontline workers with whom we spoke for today’s story.

Jackie (02:13):
I’m Jackie. I was an immersive event in theater producer and I now work for a grocery delivery service.

Bo (02:20):
My name is Bo and I was a bartender and now I am a lawn care specialist.

Ellie (02:28):
Hi, I’m Ellie. I was a user experience researcher. I am now a customer service support representative.

JD Dillon (02:35):
Jackie, Bo and Allie have all faced different types of job transitions as a result of the pandemic. For Jackie, it was a matter of finding whatever was available to make ends meet.

Jackie (02:46):
I was looking through articles online about companies that might be hiring during this time and came across this particular company, hiring a ton of new employees and I decided to apply. It seemed the path of least resistance.

JD Dillon (03:01):
Bo has actually been lucky enough to find multiple jobs over the past few months and they all came about pretty quickly.

Bo (03:07):
left the voicemail and he called me back within the day and said, Hey, get your voicemail. Do you know anything about the job? Kind of things like that. And we went from there.

JD Dillon (03:17):
Ellie didn’t have to go looking. Her new role found her

Jackie (03:20):
And then we also hit this huge increase in emails to our customer service team, which makes sense because there’s just this sort of unprecedented demand that hit. All of a sudden. I decided to take on some of that customer service stuff and respond to emails and help answer phone calls and help people place their orders online.

JD Dillon (03:41):
So they all find themselves suddenly in these new roles. Now, how do you get up to speed as fast as possible? After all, they’re all in these jobs because they’re needed right now. It turns out that this really shows how varied frontline training experiences can be. Even when you’re asked to learn a lot as you go.

Jackie (03:58):
It was entirely based. Uh, which was interesting. It was a series of training modules on an app that you just had to complete in order to start your first day. It was interesting not coming in contact with a human being. It was super easy and super fast.

Bo (04:15):
We went through a lot of “Hey, follow us, see how we do it”. Turned into a lot of, you know, go ahead and do it. We’ll let you know, we’ll give you notes on things. It’s simple things, edging and weed eating and, but like a lot of the stuff I had kind of already done growing up.

Ellie (04:30):
Well you’ve been given a script for particular things and it’s sort of an ongoing document. So as you continue to find particular questions, we’re kind of all invited to like crowdsource and add to it and then somebody goes through it at the end of the day to basically make sure it’s in line with our brand values and things like that.

JD Dillon (04:45):
Obviously with how fast these companies are moving. Some onboarding is going to be more effective than others.

Ellie (04:51):
It was about 50% effective. There were a lot of training things that I’m sure would be helpful with those situations arose such as someone like not having an ID or just these extraneous situations were kind of the basis of the training. But as far as day one, it took me forever to complete the first order.

JD Dillon (05:12):
But this just further stresses the need for timely support in the flow of work, making sure there’s consistent communication and someone to go to when you need help. As a new employee.

Ellie (05:23):
I think it’s super important because you’re in real time doing a task if proper communication is unavailable or if it’s you have to wait for a chat or wait to be able to talk to someone on the phone. It just doesn’t work and there is quite a bit of wait time because they’re overwhelmed at the moment.

JD Dillon (05:41):
And that support could be digital or it could be from peers or managers that you have to learn to trust quickly in this situation.

Bo (05:48):
Let’s keep you as safe as possible. Here’s somebody who knows the job because clearly I’m not, I can’t give you a week’s worth of training because we kind of need you now to start the job. So here’s somebody that you know, knows how to do the job, work with them. They’ll show you everything they can do and quickly and then immediately rip the band aid off and get you moving.

JD Dillon (06:06):
But even if you have the training and support you need to do the tasks your job requires, there may be other elements for which you’re just less ready.

Jackie (06:15):
I was well prepared to do it because I was well aware of the kinds of issues that people have, stuff that people are frustrated with or that they don’t understand or becomes confusing. What I wasn’t prepared for was the emotional toll and I was not prepared for how hard it would be to have to be in a position where I can’t fix it.

JD Dillon (06:36):
And this is something that came up in all of our conversations as we prepared to tell this story as managers or HR people or learning and development professionals, we have to remember that we’re supporting people first and employees second.

Ellie (06:50):
Just having the forefront of your brain that everyone is coming from super varied backgrounds and not necessarily prepared to do this kind of a job at all. So just to thinking in terms of how can we make this super easy and super accessible for people who have had all different types of jobs in the past and have worked in all different types of industries that are now doing this job.

Jackie (07:14):
The person that you’ve hired and asked to onboard really quickly is facing this panic to, you know, either they’ve been asked to transition their roles really quickly and they themselves have all these challenges at home that they’re facing or worry for their family members. And we all have to have that extra little bit of compassion to understand that reasonable is not reasonable anymore.

JD Dillon (07:37):
Obviously safety is a major consideration in every organization right now. But this story made me think about another form of workplace safety and that’s psychological safety, making sure people feel trusted and respected in the workplace so they can do their best work even in these challenging circumstances. Now there are a lot of things to consider when it comes to psychological safety, but one big factor is expectations. Making sure people know what to expect in their role as Bo actually encountered in his first frontline job.

Bo (08:06):
But it was explained to that I’d be out on the floor in front of people more often. I think I would have probably been mentally prepared to take the precautions and it may have actually changed my decision to actually take the job.

JD Dillon (08:18):
And that extends to the expectations we have for our frontline workers too and how we change the way we support them to help them feel safe on the job in every way.

Ellie (08:27):
That means that our expectations of each other and our expectations of what somebody might do to problem solve something needs to be much more directed. You need to explicitly spell out what somebody should be doing instead in that way. I think it takes off some of that cognitive overload of having to problem solve or feeling stressed out on a new job or being confused about what to do. Instead.

JD Dillon (08:52):
Managers have to be extremely clear with their instructions. They also have to be there to coach and reinforce along the way.

Bo (08:59):
But I think it has a lot to do with feeling safe and having the tools to feel safe and just being available to answer the questions that I might have.

JD Dillon (09:09):
This idea of feel safe in order to do our best work reminded me of a popular TED Talk by Simon Sinek.

Simon Sinek (09:14):
The world is filled with danger, things that are trying to frustrate our lives or reduce our success, reduce our opportunity for success. We have no control over these forces. These are a constant and they’re not going away. The only variable are the conditions inside the organization. You see if the conditions are wrong, we are forced to expend our own time and energy to protect ourselves from each other and that inherently weakens the organization. When we feel safe inside the organization, we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.

JD Dillon (09:51):
And Simon is right when the right conditions are there and people come together with a common goal and a common spirit. Good things happen.

Jackie (09:59):
It was kind of a nice core all in this weird frontline world together. And then as far as like people working at the grocery stores have been super helpful. They all have little tricks on like, Oh Hey, you worked for this company. Cool. If you’re doing multiple orders, let me put one in plastic and one in paper so you know what’s happening.

Bo (10:16):
I get to work outside of the physical activity, didn’t have to deal with people, wasn’t stuck inside, it was away from people. So I felt a little safer about the whole thing.

Jackie (10:24):
And then customers have also been really nice and really receptive of what you’re doing. It’s nice to be able to go out and do something for someone so that they can quarantine themselves and I think that they realize that segment.

Ellie (10:36):
I’m very, very grateful to have a job. I’m happy that I have a job where I’m able to help people right now in the moments when I’m able to fix it for somebody. Nothing feels better and I’m so happy that I have that outlet in life right now. I think there’s lots of people who are feeling quite helpless and I feel so grateful to be able to be a part of something that is doing something positive.

JD Dillon (10:59):
We don’t know how long the situation is going to last, and people who find themselves suddenly on the front line don’t know how long they’re going to be there. As long as we do all we can to support our frontline workers and instill in them a sense of physical and psychological safety, they’re much more likely to remain hopeful and realistic.

Ellie (11:17):
I really hope that something more aligned with what I want to do in the world starts to happen again. Though I will say in the interim, if that doesn’t happen, this is a really solid thing to have, so hopefully not. But if I have to do it, then I’m prepared to do it and I’m fine with it.

JD Dillon (11:36):
So Richia what are your big takeaways from today’s story?

Richia McCutcheon (11:40):
These are individuals who are leaving their daily lives and their regular routines to put themselves at risk and an environment where they’re not even sure of the circumstances anymore. It’s like going into a job scared times thousand, right? This is just not a normal situation and so we can’t expect them to work normally or feel normal. Everyone around us and around them needs to be reminded that they’re just trying to do their best and they’ve chosen to put themselves out there into this world to support everyone else and get us through this pandemic and we need to be really grateful for that.

JD Dillon (12:14):
For me, it all comes back to the last thing Ellie said when I spoke to her.

Ellie (12:18):
You know what? Stop with the hero tagline. Unless you’re going to follow through and there are many people who are following through with that sentiment. That’s great, but I really do think this like understanding of how to get what you need in a respectful way because decency goes a lot further than you think that it does.

JD Dillon (12:36):
It’s not just enough to refer to the people on the front lines as heroes. We have to treat them that way and make sure that they have our support in every way possible now and into the future. We only spoke with three people today.

Jackie (12:51):
My name is Jackie and I’m on the front line.

Bo (12:53):
My name is Bo and I’m on the front line.

Ellie (12:53):
My name is Ellie and I’m on the front line.

JD Dillon (12:55):
But they remind us that everyone on the frontline has a unique story worth telling. So I’d like to thank Jackie, Bo and Ellie for sharing their stories with us and thank you for taking the time to join us on The 80%.

Richia McCutcheon (13:08):
To listen to more of our frontline stories. You can subscribe to the 80% on your favorite podcast app. You can also find all of our episodes online at

JD Dillon (13:20):
We hope you’ll join us again in two weeks for another story about how organizations are helping frontline employees make a difference in their organizations and communities. I’ll see you then.

Richia McCutcheon (13:30):
I’ll talk to you soon, JD

JD Dillon (13:35):
Until next time, be kind to the frontline.

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