Deskless not voiceless: Workplace and WhatsApp to help connect frontline workers

By Christine Trodella
January 25, 2022
  1. Workplace is pre-announcing an integration with WhatsApp that will allow workers to receive information and updates over a channel many of them already use.
  2. New research shows that frontline staff feel disengaged from their organizations due to a lack of communication technology. The planned integration between Workplace and WhatsApp will give these essential workers ways to get information they need at their fingertips. 
  3. We’ve produced two short films that capture what happens when companies and leaders connect their frontline workers, and the difference this can make in challenging times.
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​​As soon as Virgin Atlantic resumed full operations last fall, the company’s CEO, Shai Weiss, headed to the airport to reconnect with his frontline teams in person. On his visit to the newly bustling operations at London Heathrow, he joked with greeters, asked ticketing agents for feedback, and acknowledged how hard the past year and a half had been.

About 10 percent of Virgin’s workers had been on furlough since the first throes of the pandemic forced the airline to ground passenger flights in the spring of 2020. “This is a great opportunity to reconnect with our people,” he said then. “Our differentiator is that human touch, the human connection, the smile.”

As much as Weiss reveled in the in-person bonhomie, he had been staying in touch with his frontline workers all along. During the quarantine’s darkest days, he relied on Workplace from Meta. Using the service’s ability to seamlessly connect entire organizations, Weiss kept employees apprised of the latest company updates, video broadcasts, and safety tips.

Building these types of connections is precisely why Workplace exists. Frontline workers are the heart of their organizations. They may be out of headquarters’ sight — on the road, in the air, in stores, manufacturing plants, or restaurants — but they account for 80 percent of the workforce and provide crucial services. They are the face of companies like Virgin Atlantic.  

To deepen frontline staff’s connections to their companies, Workplace is pre-announcing an integration with WhatsApp. Expected later this year, it will give companies the power to share vital information from Workplace via the world's most popular messaging application.

Frontline workers need better communication technology

Last fall, Workplace conducted our third annual frontline survey, polling 7,000 frontline workers and 1,350 C-suite leaders in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, France, Brazil, Mexico, and Australia. The results, embodied in new research called Deskless Not Voiceless 2021: The Frontline Barometer, highlights the challenges they face. Even though every C-suite executive we talked to identified the front line as a strategic priority, the workers themselves are still at great risk of feeling disengaged from their leaders. Only 55 percent felt connected to headquarters, while 74 percent don’t completely trust their organization to be transparent about news and updates.

Frontline workers are often physically separated from company leadership, and technologies that prioritize office workers only magnify the distance. Frontline employees rarely benefit from company’s investment in connectivity and communications; 44 percent told us that their peers in the office get better technology.

As a result, executives often lack a direct line to these workers. Managers tend to call or text individual staff members with pressing matters. If an executive wants to reach everyone in the company, she might send out an all-hands email and assume her job is done. But most frontline workers are not sitting at computers, and their work email accounts — or any email access — might not be available while they’re on the job. Those who do have email might clock in too late to respond to a message sent at the beginning of the 9-to-5 workday — like the announcement of a mandatory meeting that took place hours before the night shift. Even if managers go analog — tacking a printout to the bulletin board in the break room — what happens if the memo is taken down before everyone sees it?

Three quarters of frontline workers believe that good communication tools should come with the job. In fact, more than half would decamp for access to up-to-date technology. This is an often-overlooked factor behind the Great Resignation: Amid global worker shortages, almost half of frontline workers plan on leaving the front line altogether. 

Connecting with Workplace and WhatsApp 

Companies can help stave off a potential exodus of frontline workers by investing in technology specifically designed for their unique challenges, such as tools optimized for mobile and available asynchronously to suit their schedules.

With the new integration of Workplace and WhatsApp expected later this year, companies could reach employees on channels many already use. Many leaders already use WhatsApp to communicate with staff, and because Workplace is based on Facebook, 3.5 billion people already know how to use it — no training necessary. What’s more, it’s mobile first, meaning even without a corporate email address, frontline workers can benefit from the same level of communication as their peers in the office.

With Workplace’s Live feature, companies can also broadcast in real time to all their employees. (Shift staff who can’t watch live can catch up when it’s most convenient, and the content can be translated into other languages.) When the entire organization can see their leaders in action — giving speeches, moderating panels, or running town halls — that shared experience puts a human face on the C-suite, and it helps workers see that the company cares about keeping them informed.

Connecting with employees means more than just dispatching top-down information. Executives should foster a two-way dialogue that gives workers a voice. In Live, leaders can encourage discussion by posting a poll or taking questions in real time. Viewers can also add comments and reactions to videos — boosting their representation and allowing leadership to gauge their response. That conversation extends to other formats in Workplace too. When a manager posts an update, for example, anyone in the business can add a comment or ask a question, even days later and from another city.

That access to leadership democratizes experience among employees and inspires trust and loyalty. Shai Weiss discovered the importance of an engaged and united workforce early in the pandemic, during the long months with no flights. “I can honestly say that without their commitment to really getting through this crisis,” Weiss said, “we would not be here.” We filmed Weiss’s visit to Heathrow — as well as an ambulance ride-along with Eve Grau, vice president of human resources at the California-based Royal Ambulance service.

The films captured the magic when headquarters and the front line connect — when executives can show appreciation and staff members feel heard. “Being out there with the front line gives you a whole new perspective,” Grau said. “It would be ignorant to think that you get the full picture sitting behind a desk in the office.” But global executive leaders can’t be in all their factories, hospitals, or airports across the world at the same time, so Workplace lets them experience what Weiss and Grau felt: the true power of the front line.

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