5 Reasons Your Frontline Employees Need Digital Tasks to Be Productive

24 March 2021

Operations | Employee Experience

The world went digital years ago. But for frontline employees, using paper to complete routine tasks like checklists and inspections is still the status quo, even in 2021. 

A whopping 73% of frontline employees are still using paper forms in the workplace, according to our latest survey.

Related download: 2021 Frontline Employee Workplace Survey

And 71% of frontline employees know they’d be more productive if their routine tasks were digitized. 

Businesses depend on frontline employees in industries like retail, hospitality, manufacturing and logistics to deliver their brand promise, every day. So when frontline employees receive and complete tasks in the exact same way they did decades ago, they won’t be able to deliver your brand promise as quickly and accurately as they could do - and want to do. 

Your frontline employees need digitized tasks to perform their best. Here are 5 reasons why. 

 

1) They don’t have time to look for information. 

Paper-based tasks soak up vast amounts of time and interrupt the flow of a frontline employee’s work. That’s because frontline employees spend most of the day on the move, and printing, finding, organizing and storing paper tasks takes them away from their work. It takes 23 minutes to regain focus after distractions like these. This is time frontline employees just don’t have, especially these days when their workloads and extra responsibilities are bigger than ever. 

These workflow interruptions also have serious consequences for productivity, efficiency, engagement and even sales. A retail employee who has to run to the back office to print off window display guidelines isn’t available to help customers. A warehouse employee who has to step off the factory floor to find procedure guidelines in a filing cabinet is instantly less productive. 

Digital tasks, on the other hand, can be sent straight to an employee’s phone or tablet. No more productivity destroying trips to the back office, printer or filing cabinet are needed. Interruptions are minimized, so employees are more engaged in their work and have more time for more impactful parts of their jobs. Which leads us to our next point...

 

2) They have higher-value work to focus on

Time spent on paper tasks is time frontline employees no longer have to spend on higher value activities. This isn’t to say that completing tasks isn’t important. But when tasks are paper-based, a disproportionate amount of time goes into admin work that would be more impactful if it were spent on core revenue-driving activities.  

For retail employees, this could be helping customers. For logistics employees, this could be making sure products are delivered on time. Simply put, high-value work is what your frontline employees were hired to do, and paper-based tasks take time away from this work. 

Since there’s no time-consuming admin work involved with digital tasks, frontline teams automatically have more time to spend where their actions have the biggest impact on the business. Another upside of this is that because employees have more time for fulfilling and impactful work, job satisfaction and engagement levels go up. 

 

3) They need clear, detailed and descriptive instructions. 

If a picture says a thousand words, how many does a piece of paper say? Not enough for busy frontline employees to execute a task perfectly the first time. Frontline teams don’t have time to sit down and decipher instructions. And while whoever wrote the instructions might think they’re crystal clear, employees on the receiving end could very well think the exact opposite depending on a whole range of factors like age, seniority and individual learning styles. 

Speaking of learning styles, 65% of the population learns and processes information visually. That means a substantial chunk of frontline employees may struggle to understand text-heavy instructions - which tends to be the default for paper-based tasks. And circumventing this issue by including more pictures and diagrams in paper instructions isn’t the answer. That’s because no matter how many diagrams and descriptions paper task instructions include, they’re still one-dimensional and don’t actively show employees how to execute perfectly. The result of all this is that frontline teams will need more time to interpret paper instructions and are more likely to make errors. 

With digital tasks, instructions can be presented in visual and interactive ways. This could be an interactive step-by-step checklist with a photo for each stage, or even a video. There’s a reason we’d all rather watch a Youtube video than read an instruction manual - the first option shows us how to do something, while the latter just tells us how to do it. 

What’s more, when tasks are digitized, organizations can experiment with different instruction formats to see what works best, and even ask frontline teams for their feedback.

 

4) They don’t have time for do-overs. 

Paper-based tasks are error-prone, so there’s a higher chance employees will need to redo them down the line. 

Frontline teams can’t ask a stack of checklists for clarification on instructions, or report that they don’t have the materials they need. They also don’t get immediate feedback on whether or not they’ve completed the task properly until a manager has time to review it. That means errors go undetected, soaking up more time down the line when they have to be fixed. 

And by continuing to use paper, organizations contribute to errors that are difficult to catch until they snowball into something even bigger. That’s because organizations have little visibility into paper forms, checklists and instructions until someone manually enters data into Excel or another system. No one knows if specific employees, sites or even entire regions are using outdated or incorrect task instructions. Updating paper-based tasks and making sure everyone is using the right version can take months, if not longer. 

Digital tasks open up a communication channel between frontline teams and the rest of the organization. Employees can ask for help and report problems. Managers can give feedback and catch errors as they happen. Outdated tasks can be updated in an instant, so everyone has access to the right version, wherever they are. 

 

5)They want to be recognized for their hard work. 

On the flip side, paper-based tasks also don’t give organizations visibility into who’s doing an outstanding job and deserves recognition. Lack of recognition is one of the biggest challenges facing frontline employees in 2021. 

Download our 2021 Frontline Employee Workplace Survey to learn more about the top 5 challenges facing your frontline teams! 

Building accountability into task management is an effective way to address this challenge. But the problem with paper-based tasks is a signature, date and time scrawled at the bottom of a page is the most accountability you’ll get. It could take months or longer before employees get any recognition for their contributions. What’s the point of going above and beyond on a task if no one will ever acknowledge you for it? 

With digital tasks, finding out who’s behind stellar task execution is a mere mouse-click away. Accountability and transparency are built into digital tasks, which is a stepping stone into boosting engagement levels by giving your frontline teams the recognition they deserve. 

Digitized tasks make frontline employees more productive, reduce the risk of error and increase job satisfaction. To give your hardworking frontline teams the tools they need to be at their best in 2021, toss the paper-based tasks where they belong - in the recycling bin. 

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71% of frontline employees think digitized tasks would make them more productive. What else do they need from you to perform their best this year? We surveyed 1000 frontline employees to find out. Download the full survey report to learn more! 

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