Throughout the pandemic, national lockdowns and new regulations have meant SMEs have had to grapple with the challenges of digitising their business, as they move to remote and hybrid working models. But even pre-Covid, the challenges of workplace communications were being experienced daily by frontline workers – the 80% of the workforce working on the ground in customer facing roles – who were often disconnected from their office-based colleagues.
With the latest lockdown, keeping every employee connected, informed and empowered is mission critical – both for a businesses’ bottom line and for employee safety and wellbeing. Using insights from how communications has impacted the relationship between frontline staff and desk-based workers during the pandemic, SMEs can develop an effective communications plan in this new normal.
Where is communications not working for businesses?
In small businesses, frontline managers hold a particularly critical role, sitting both between the customer and frontline employees on the one hand, and HQ on the other.
It is important there is a seamless communication route from frontline managers to the business. This is because the frontline position is critical for customer and market feedback, while ensuring HQ have an awareness of the wellbeing of staff and that processes or tools are fit for purpose. With new safety guidance released sometimes daily, it’s also a health imperative that policies are delivered quickly – though this has not been easy through the pandemic.
Research we conducted pre- and post-pandemic last year found that both frontline (59%) and HQ leaders (65%) in the UK agree there is a need to communicate more regularly. As many as 43% of UK frontline leaders have missed important information from HQ during the pandemic, and only 48% of frontline leaders feel valued by their business.
When communication between the frontline and HQ isn’t working, staff can quickly become demotivated and business-critical information lost. Ensuring communication is seamless between teams, departments, and levels can be the difference between being a business that just holds on, and one that thrives.
What does this divide look like in practice?
One area where we’re seeing this most plainly is through the communications channels used by different parts of the business. Email, for example, is better suited to office- or desk-based workers, though when companies choose it as the primary method for their strategic or critical communications, it disadvantages those on the frontline.
Research from the ground confirms this, showing that while 84% of UK HQ leaders rely on email to communicate, just 29% of frontline managers do the same, opting instead for mobile methods such as texting and calling. This makes it difficult for the two groups to communicate with each other or the business efficiently, since each community naturally gravitates to different channels.
There is an opportunity then for small businesses to unify their communication channels, to ensure everyone in the organisation gets the same information at the same time.
Why is it important?
Addressing the divide between desk-based and deskless workers is key to the productivity of a business. Frontline managers across the UK believe they are wasting an average of 394 hours every year due to lack of communication with head office ‘ the equivalent of 11.8 working weeks every year. SMEs know that even outside of difficult times, one good day can be the difference between meeting a month’s targets or not.
One example of this is UK-based SMB, Biscuiteers. The pandemic meant that the business needed to close stores, transfer office staff to remote work and operate on a skeleton production team – all while receiving more orders than usual as people turned to online gifting in lockdown. To help counter the effects of this, they turned to Workplace to connect employees, keep everyone motivated and get work done. In doing so, they were able to maintain company culture, keep everyone aligned and manage a huge increase in online orders.
Biscuiteers is a great example of a small business using communications as a tool to empower both a remote team and their desk-based HQ support together, to lead the business through a tumultuous period.
With streamlined communications tools and a solid two-way framework for information sharing, small businesses can empower frontline managers to be connected, informed and decisive. Those that succeed will ultimately foster a stronger culture, where greater connection leads directly to more staff empowerment. This is the transition that will help SMEs foster better business outcomes for the future.
1. Based on the average UK full-time employee workweek at 33.3 hours (Office of National Statistics 2020)