How Technology Can Help The Relationship Between Frontline And Knowledge Workers

New tools can improve communication between—as well as the work experience of—all employees in your organization, says Jeff Schmitz, chief human resources and marketing officer at Zebra Technologies.
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Workforce shortages remain a top issue for many HR leaders, especially when it comes to frontline employees. For Jeff Schmitz, chief human resources and marketing officer at Zebra Technologies in Lincolnshire, Illinois, one of the best tools to attract and retain talent at all levels is employing new technologies.

Schmitz spoke with StrategicCHRO360 about how new technology can attract workers, enhance their work and forge better communication between frontline and knowledge employees.

The continued labor shortage is top of mind for many. As an HR leader, what would you say to fellow leaders about managing workforce shortages?

Recent research has shown that many workers have exited the workforce over the last two years and have no plans to return. Particularly on the frontline, labor shortages and supply chain disruptions, among other factors, are impacting global markets and business efficiency.

To retain and attract frontline talent, it’s important to create new opportunities for those workers that are aligned with their passions while reducing some of the monotonous tasks. With today’s technologies like robotics, automation and other workplace advancements, the opportunity is ripe for building a more engaged and healthier workforce where employees from the frontline to the C-Suite feel valued and productive.

Going forward, more jobs will require a high level of mobile technology competency. With many Gen Z workers with this capability set to enter the workforce, many of these jobs will be well-suited for them so we must ensure frontline HR processes are modernized, stimulating and efficient.

With much of the focus on knowledge workers, what role do frontline workers play in the conversation about the future of work?

Today’s “on-demand” economy offers consumers the opportunity to buy what they want, when they want it without having to leave the comfort of their homes. Frontline workers are pivotal to overcoming the challenges related to this megatrend, and yet, they are often forgotten in the bigger discussion on the future of work.

While many organizations have adjusted workstreams for knowledge workers to allow them to split their time between home and office or be fully remote, the same flexibility doesn’t apply for frontline roles. Fortunately, there has been an explosion of innovation in frontline roles over the last few years.

The pandemic has served as a catalyst for many things. On the frontline, it has led to a steady stream of positive workplace changes, such as improved working conditions, the use of technology to make work easier and less strenuous, increased wages and more flexible work shifts enabled by technology. These changes, among others, are transforming and ultimately elevating the frontline worker experience.

How can technology integration give companies a competitive edge for attracting talent, particularly on the frontline?

According to Zebra’s most recent Warehousing Vision Study, 92 percent of warehouse associates surveyed believe that technology advancement will make the warehouse environment more attractive to workers. While this only represents one industry, it applies across many industries as in the age of the Great Resignation, it comes as no surprise that many workers are still searching for greener career pastures, and technology may be the great differentiator on the frontline.

As HR leaders look to both retain and attract frontline talent, it’s important for them to be collaborating with the rest of the C-Suite to understand what technologies, if any, are being deployed on the frontline, and how those technologies can support career development for frontline workers.

Optimizing workforces with technology does not mean replacing the workers with technology, but rather enhancing how they work: in the field, in a hospital, in the warehouse and on the road. By enhancing their experience, which can be done through technology, a company is ultimately enabling frontline workers to do their jobs better, faster and smarter than before. This improved frontline worker experience equipped with stimulating, higher level work empowers organizations to keep up with the business demands of the ever-growing, on-demand economy.

What impact does a technology enabled, frontline workforce have on knowledge workers within the same company? What’s the relationship there?

The mutual benefits to both frontline and knowledge workers are increased business efficiency and a better work environment. When frontline workers are provided with the tools they need to reduce unnecessary tasks and uplevel their performance, there is an improved communication platform between frontline and knowledge workers. For example, technology that can be used to automate the movement of items around a warehouse eases stress on frontline workers and enables knowledge workers to have better inventory visibility in communicating delivery expectations to customers. Ultimately, a technology-enabled environment can also build greater career satisfaction and opportunities for all workers.

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