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Why Frontline Employees Need to Learn in the Flow of Work

Jun 25, 2021 4:52:28 PM

Training & learning | Employee engagement

Imagine a ‘13 going on 30’ or ‘Freaky Friday’ scenario where you wake up and find yourself in the body of a deskless worker. You head to work at a store, restaurant or warehouse instead of the office. Think you’d be able to handle it? Could you pick up the required skills easily?

Chances are, you’d be out of your depth. Frontline roles are a completely different ball game to working at a desk. You’d be physically exhausted from being on your feet all day, in a mental frenzy from constantly interacting with customers or colleagues and frantically attempting to squeeze admin tasks into the gaps between your other responsibilities. Frontline roles are fast-paced, demanding and intense. 

This means that for deskless employees, learning in the ‘flow of work’ means something quite different than what it means for office workers. They can’t go somewhere quiet, sit down with a coffee and put headphones in to ‘get in the zone’. They are always on the go, rushed off their feet and often interacting with customers or colleagues. 

But this doesn’t mean they can’t achieve a flow state. In fact, for frontline workers to learn and progress in their roles, it is imperative that learning is integrated into the flow of work.

This post will explain what a flow state means for frontline workers, how to help them achieve it, and why learning needs to be done in the flow of work to be effective.


What is a ‘flow’ of work?

‘Flow’ is a state of mind where you are completely immersed in the present and focused on what you are doing. It’s a fusion of being focused and emotionally content, a combination of purpose and happiness. It’s productivity kryptonite and a perfect recipe for employee fulfilment.

Flow state is not necessarily something you slip into by chance. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi interviewed highly successful individuals across a range of professions and discovered that they shared the ability to enter the state of ‘flow’ frequently and deliberately. But how can this be done?

Research demonstrates that a flow of work can only be achieved when all external distractions are eliminated. It takes at least 10-15 minutes of working with undivided attention to get into a flow state and an average of 25 minutes to refocus after a distraction. The challenge for frontline employers is to create an environment for workers where this can happen in a workplace that’s full of distractions.


How to help frontline employees get in the flow of work

Emphasize value

As previously mentioned, flow state occurs when focus is combined with a content and happy frame of mind. One of the key factors in employee happiness is fulfilment. Over 66% of workers consider the social purpose of a job to be more important than the salary. Therefore, employers must regularly draw attention to the positive social impact of frontline employees’ work - this can take the form of good reviews from customers, team shout-outs or individual rewards for effort. When employees understand that their contribution is valued, they will feel more positive when in the workplace.

Clear objectives

To enter flow state, employees need to be fully focused on the task at hand. Employees cannot be immersed in their actions if they have to overthink each step of what they are doing, are confused about priorities and are worried about whether they are making the right decisions. Highlight priorities clear on a daily basis: Clear objectives and instructions leave no room for doubt.

The right music 

If you play music during work hours in your stores, restaurants or factories, be mindful of what you put on the playlist. Instrumental music like techno, classical or trance can help employees to focus if played on repeat or in a looping playlist. Novel sounds and unfamiliar tunes compete for our attention, so it’s crucial to limit how often new songs are added to the playlist. To reach a state of flow, familiarity is key.

Stay hydrated

Hydration is crucial to focus. Drinking enough water enables us to think 14% faster. The human brain is 75% water and not drinking enough makes us feel fatigued, mentally slower and therefore less productive and further from reaching a state of flow. If you want your employees to be switched on, they need to stay hydrated on the shop floor. Make sure they have a space either on a work surface or as part of their uniform where they can put a water bottle.

Make feedback frequent and instant

Build feedback loops into workplace processes. Only 28% of millennial frontline employees find it easy to understand whether their work meets company expectations. Regular feedback gives employees a clear idea of whether they are on the right track, enabling them to work with clear purpose and relax in the knowledge that they are completing processes correctly. This makes flow state achievable. Providing instant feedback on tasks helps employees to maintain a flow state as it avoids them needing to come back to a task later in the shift losing focus through task switching. 

Helping employees get into a flow state is only half the challenge, employers also need to find ways to integrate learning into the workflow in order for employees to truly benefit from being in a flow of work.


What is learning in the flow of work?

Learning in the flow of work was a term coined in 2018 by Josh Bersin, meaning ‘learning accessible during work in the workplace environment’.

It’s inevitable that sometimes frontline employees will need to complete a process for the first time or will need a refresher on how to complete a task. This does not necessarily need to be disruptive to a flow state. Workflow learning tools meet employees at their point of need by filtering training into the flow of work and embedding processes into muscle memory, so employees can complete them automatically. 

Related: How to Create a Culture of Learning for Retail Teams

There are numerous benefits to training in the flow of work:

  • Increased productivity

Workflow learning enables employees to access knowledge at their point of need. They don’t have to waste time running to the back office to search for information, leaving a frustrated customer waiting. Time is money, and having everything at their fingertips means that employees are able to use their time more productively, which boosts profits.

  • Better customer experience

Employees who can learn without breaking their flow state provide better customer service. Jumping in and out of the flow of work to search for information disrupts focus on the customer, which leads to opportunities for sales slipping through employees’ fingers. In contrast, employees who can easily access learning on the job have enhanced expertise which will drive sales and increase conversions. Not having to worry about searching for training manuals or product information enables employees to fully focus on the customer, offering a superior, highly personalized customer experience. 

  • More fulfilling for teams

Investing in high quality training tools which allow teams to learn in the flow of work proves to employees that their company cares about their development. Employees are more likely to be retained by an employer when they feel valued and invested in, 93% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers. Prioritizing the ability or teams to learn in the flow of work therefore reduces hiring costs and improves employee loyalty.


How to help frontline employees learn in the flow of work

Make learning accessible on the job

People learn better by doing, and frontline employees aren’t “doing” when they have to disrupt their productivity. Their roles are hands-on, so the way they train has to be as well - 70% of frontline employees would prefer app-based training. Providing learning content via an app that can be accessed from personal and company mobile devices is the best way to make workflow learning accessible for frontline employees. 

Related: How to Find the Best Digital Learning Platform for Frontline Employees

Make learning short 

Workflow learning often takes the form of microlearning: delivering bitesize capsules of information in digestible chunks which can instantly be applied to practical work. Providing training in this format allows learning to blend easily into frontline employees’ flow of work, which is typically comprised of jumpring between lots of different small tasks.

Related: How to Make Your Microlearning Courses Short & Sweet

Make it engaging

Making learning interactive, gamified and fun is a sure-fire way to make employees want to engage with it. Learning that is engaging holds employee focus and prevents their mind from wandering, ensuring that the flow state is not disrupted.

Related: How Gamification of Training Boosts Employee Retention

Make it social 

Often socializing is part of frontline employee workflow, as interacting with customers and colleagues is a huge factor of the job. Making learning a social activity is therefore a great method for incorporating it into the workflow. This can be done using incentives, competitions, leaderboards and rewards for teams who complete the most learning. 

Related: Social Learning: What It Is, And Why It’s Crucial For Frontline Employees


YOOBIC has enabled over 300 brands to achieve real, measurable results by providing frontline employees with training that fits seamlessly into the flow of work. To find out how you can create learning that's better tailored to your employees' needs, schedule your demo today!