What is frontline digital inclusion and why is it essential?

Frontline digital inclusion should be a business imperative. Find out why — and how to achieve it — in this guide.
What we'll cover

Digital inclusion is the ability of individuals and communities to access, understand, and use technology in a safe and meaningful way. More often, we hear of digital inclusion and digital equity as social concepts — do citizens have equal access to health tech solutions, for example, and do they have access to the internet in order to participate in society? 

But frontline digital inclusion and digital equity for employees are just as important.

Frontline digital inclusion is essential in order to bridge the connection gap between the frontline workforce and the rest of an organization.

By understanding frontline digital inclusion better, we can help create a more equitable global workforce where everyone has access to the tools, resources, and people they need to succeed. In doing so, we encourage increased employee engagement, and unlock productivity and performance for the business, so everybody benefits.

What is digital inclusion?

Before we get into the specifics of frontline digital inclusion, let’s start with some definitions.

Digital inclusion is an important concept in the modern world as access to technology and digital services play an increasingly critical role in people’s lives. It refers to the ability of individuals and communities to access, understand, and use technology in order to take part in society, regardless of their social or economic backgrounds.

On a larger scale, digital inclusion projects serve to create equity where it isn’t already: between those who have access to digital resources and those that don’t. Frontline digital inclusion is one example of this concept in action, as it refers to providing equal opportunities for frontline workforce members to use technology in their daily activities.

Digital inclusion comprises three key areas: 

  1. Accessibility
  2. Digital skills
  3. Connectivity 

Accessibility

Digital accessibility refers to the ability of all individuals to access digital content, tools, and services, including those with disabilities, sensory impairments, or neurodiversities.

On a global scale, improving digital access involves a wide range of considerations, such as providing alternative formats of content (such as audio or braille versions), designing websites and applications to be inclusive, and ensuring that digital services can be accessed in different languages or formats.

Digital skills

image showing statistic that 11.3 million people lack the basic skills to use the internet effectively
Source

Digital skills refer to a range of abilities needed to use digital tools, devices, and communications applications effectively. Understanding their purpose and how they can be used to benefit the user also falls under this definition.

Digital education and training initiatives are important for helping people to develop the skills they need to be digitally included. Digital skills are an essential part of being digitally literate in today’s world, allowing individuals to take advantage of all that technology has to offer.

Connectivity

Digital connectivity refers to the ability of individuals to connect to the internet and online services, as well as the infrastructure and internet connection that supports this.

Enabling digital connectivity involved providing internet access in areas where there is none, or setting up public Wi-Fi networks in remote locations. This is particularly crucial in developing countries, where access to the internet can be a huge advantage.

What would digital inclusion look like for the frontline?

Frontline digital inclusion includes everything from having access to devices and software, understanding how they work and how to use them properly, and being able to take advantage of the same digital services as those in higher positions or working at HQ.

Accessibility

Workers should have access to the digital tools needed for their roles, whether their job is desk-based or not. When frontline employees have digital equity, they are able to better perform their daily work tasks using relevant software and mobile-optimized platforms.

Language is particularly important to consider here. Frontline environments like healthcare are becoming more divergent and employees are speaking a broader range of languages between themselves and with their patients. Any technology provided to them has to be easily translated to avoid crucial messages being missed.

Digital skills

Digital skills can be thought of in two ways when it comes to frontline digital inclusion. 

One: is the tool intuitive for the frontline or has it been designed with desk-based workflows in mind?

And two: are frontline employees being offered relevant training, onboarding, and support for the digital tools provided?

You might need to create additional resources for improving digital skills, such as tutorials, videos, and webinars. You can also direct them to key employee engagement champions who can empower them to use their new tech effectively.

Connectivity

Connecting your organization from the C-Suite to the frontline brings about a huge wealth of benefits, from ‘soft’ benefits like belonging and inclusion, to ‘hard’ benefits like the effective flow of information and a faster time to response.

Mobile-first digital technologies — like accessible and engaging frontline employee apps — help ensure your teams stay connected in-field and are able to access everything they need.

The digital divide: understanding frontline digital exclusion

By now, you’re hopefully as sold on the idea of frontline digital inclusion as we are. It’s not only an ethical imperative, but a business one too.

So what’s currently stopping digital equity on the frontline? Why are so many frontline workers experiencing digital exclusion?

Frontline teams typically lack access to the digital resources needed to perform their roles. They may also be offered existing tools and services that fail to meet their needs. Digital inclusion barriers may come from a lack of familiarity or understanding of how to use the tools, a lack of technological infrastructure, or simply limited access to devices and software while working in the field.

To put the problem into numbers:

  • 34% of frontline healthcare employees can’t easily access workplace systems on their mobile devices
  • Nearly 20% of frontline healthcare employees aren’t using their company intranet
  • … and two-thirds of that 20% don’t know how to

With a digital divide like this, it's no surprise that frontline organizations are seeing a drop in the usage of and engagement with their digital channels (more on this below).

In short: we have to combat digital exclusion in order to deliver digital inclusion. And at work, that starts with the frontline.

Frontline digital exclusion in action

Digital exclusion wastes time and money. It can also be a serious contributing factor to employee disengagement. 

  • At home health provider Elara Caring, employees were choosing to drive up to an hour each way to collect their paystubs in person as it was too difficult to access this information online
  • For the same employees, a lack of communication between head office and the teams in the field left them feeling unsupported and disconnected
  • Transport provider Stagecoach hired a full-time role just to manage platform password reset requests from frontline employees

See how Elara Caring and Stagecoach achieved frontline digital inclusion with Blink’s frontline employee app today.

image showing the impact using Blink has had on Elara employees. Employees rated blink 9/10.

We know that bridging this digital divide adds value. 

Organizations with the highest degrees of digital connectivity and empowerment are able to grow in ways that other businesses can’t. Here’s why…

Why is digital inclusion important for frontline teams?

How digital exclusion impacts frontline engagement

  • Feelings of exclusion negatively impact employee engagement and therefore care and commitment
  • It becomes difficult to understand frontline employee engagement. Paper-based employee engagement surveys go unanswered and unanalyzed — and if you can’t understand engagement, you can’t improve it either

How digital exclusion impacts frontline performance

  • Employees will naturally drift away from your business objectives and mission statement when kept at a digital distance 
  • Frontline staff become less invested in their day-to-day activities and more burnt out, negatively impacting performance.
  • With fewer development opportunities due to digital exclusion, frontline workers don’t feel motivated to take on new roles or responsibilities and their growth becomes stunted

How digital exclusion impacts frontline profitability

  • Operations can easily become chaotic and ineffective without an efficient flow of information between co-workers and departments
  • Higher costs as recruitment and retention come under threat; the ‘leaky bucket’ of labor supply means that significant funds are deployed to the finding and training of a replacement workforce who might not stick around for long anyway
  • Fresh challenges arise around recruiting and retaining new employees as the business loses its reputation as a good place to work
  • Disengaged organizations see 23% lower profitability than highly engaged ones, and the longer employees remain in a disengaged state, the harder it is to turn around

How digital exclusion impacts frontline retention

  • Digital exclusion can result in rising frustrations, poor employee morale, and low satisfaction due to the lack of adequate tools and resources available
  • As 52% of frontline workers claimed they would leave their job over tech tools, it’s clear that these frustrations can have an impact on your employee turnover rate, too
  • The average annual employee turnover rate is estimated at 18%, yet some frontline industries and organizations are experiencing much higher turnover levels. US frontline retail employees, for example, have a historic turnover rate of over 60%

Three actionable tips to drive your frontline digital inclusion efforts

Now for the how: here are three actionable tips to consider when driving digital inclusion for your frontline employees.

1. Understand who’s responsible

First and foremost, you must understand who is responsible for driving digital inclusion in your organization. While traditionally this has been the job of the CIO or CTO, it's clear that others in the C-Suite such as Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) can have a major role to play. 

As one Forbes states:

“Given how technology has infiltrated the entire C-suite, it’s clear that while CTOs and CIOs are still in charge of which technologies to purchase and deploy, their collaboration across departments is expanding. They need input from the entire executive team to ensure their investments match and support the overarching goals of the business and leverage collaboration to have the greatest impact.”

Analysis by Deloitte (pictured below) also explores the role of the C-Suite in managing the hyper-connected workplace. Touching on how CHROs, CIOs, CROs, COOs, and individuals can adjust to the changing world of hyper-connected work, this analysis provides an excellent starting point for organizations to better understand the roles and responsibilities of each C-Suite member.

However, important to remember that true employee techquity requires buy-in and team effort from not just the entire exec team, but also heads of HR/People, Internal Comms, and that all-important first-line manager. In fact, it's crucial to leverage the first-line frontline manager if you are going to succeed with frontline digital inclusion.

Download Blink's guide to frontline digital inclusion and employee techquity

A CEO might only spend 6% of their work hours with the frontline, despite these staff members representing up to 80% of their business. Conversely, frontline managers spend the most time with the frontline, yet are often overlooked and undervalued. With first-line knowledge, your inclusion efforts will be much more effective.

With all this in mind, placing responsibility for frontline digital inclusion squarely on the C-Suite is too limiting. It’s important to have a comprehensive strategy in place with clear roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders.

2. Create a frontline digital inclusion strategy 

Take inspiration from the UK Government Digital Inclusion Strategy and create a frontline digital inclusion strategy for your organization.

A digital inclusion strategy for the frontline should include a comprehensive assessment of existing technology access and resources available to frontline employees. This assessment should cover areas such as:

  • Device availability (i.e., laptops, tablets, and smartphones)
  • Internet connection speeds and access to data on your work sites
  • Availability of learning and training materials
  • Access to technical support
  • Any other resources necessary to ensure successful digital integration

Once a comprehensive assessment of existing resources has been completed, your frontline digital inclusion strategy can be created and regularly updated:

  • This strategy should include objectives, goals, action plans, and resource requirements necessary to achieve the desired outcomes. Improved employee engagement, enhanced customer service capabilities, and increased productivity are all in reach
  • Regular reviews and updates of the strategy are key to its success. Employee engagement KPIs and frontline analytics should be established in order to track progress made against the strategy
  • Finally, a successful digital inclusion strategy should include continuing education and training initiatives for frontline staff. These initiatives should focus on upskilling employees in areas such as data security protocols and best practices for the platform you choose.

Check out the digital inclusion checklist at the end of our guide for more strategic guidance.

3. Enable, engage, and understand your frontline

Achieving frontline digital inclusion requires enabling, engaging, and understanding your employees.

By combining the three, you can create an effective frontline digital inclusion strategy that puts your employees on the path to success.

Enable

Enabling your frontline with the right technology goes beyond simply providing them with a device and internet connection. It’s about equipping them with tools to succeed in a digitally-connected workplace.

For deskless workers, this might include:

  • Content Hub: A central hub that's accessible on the go, storing critical policies, procedures, schedules, and guides in one place
  • Digital Forms: Creating and distributing mobile-first digital forms, gathering data, and automating key processes. No hassle. No paper. No IT support tickets
  • Single Sign-On: Access to all applications from one single app, without the hassle of remembering usernames and passwords
  • Integrations: Integrate your existing tools and apps into new employee tech for intuitive and streamlined use

Engage

To receive engagement from your frontline, you have to earn it. This means providing digital tools that encourage engagement, as well as recognizing and rewarding input.

For example:

  • News Feed: Bring the whole company together with a News Feed that's fun, familiar, and easy to use — you might just reduce time spent on non-core tasks by up to 90%
  • Secure Chats: Create an intuitive, seamless communications experience for everyone with secure, mobile-first chats
  • Recognition: Provide instant, personalized recognition for every employee, directly to the palm of their hand
  • Mandatory Reads: Request acknowledgment of key information to ensure key information has been, received, read, and understood

Understand

To truly understand the digital experience of your frontline staff, you have to take the time to get to know them. This means listening, empowering their voice, and understanding how their experience affects their job performance.

  • Analytics: Utilize powerful analytics for insight into the people and relationships that make your organization tick
  • Surveys: Ditch paper surveys, build trust with your frontline, and get more data with short, regular Pulse surveys designed for higher engagement

Your frontline digital inclusion checklist

Digital inclusion is an important factor in the success of any organization. To measure the success of a digital inclusion strategy, there are certain key points that should be checked:

  1. Start with user experience: Understand the experience of your frontline staff by listening to and empowering their voice, and understanding how their experience affects job performance
  2. Offer digital support: Make sure all employees have access to online services, regardless of their digital literacy
  3. Utilize powerful analytics: Leverage analytics for insight into the people and relationships that make up your organization
  4. Take surveys and measure engagement: Replace laborious paper surveys with short, regular, mobile-friendly Pulse surveys to gain more data and build trust with employees
  5. Provide tailored digital tools: Choose tools that are tailored to the needs of your deskless employees, and ensure a seamless user experience
  6. Offer recognition: Show appreciation for employee performance with rewards, badges, shout-outs, and leaderboards
  7. Invest in collaboration: Connect employees with one-on-one conversations, secure chats, and team communication tools to foster a culture of collaboration

By following this checklist and leveraging the right digital solutions for your organization, you can make sure that no one is left behind as you strive for greater digital inclusion. With Blink, this is made easier than ever.

Blink. And you bridge the digital divide

Frontline digital inclusion is an important and essential program — and it’s not as complex as it sounds.

By understanding the unique experience of deskless workers, providing access to digital tools tailored to their needs, and listening to and recognizing employee feedback, organizations can ensure that no one is left behind in the digital world.

But remember: not all digital services are created equal. At Blink, we believe in providing a seamless, intuitive user experience for the frontline, which is why our frontline employee app was built with deskless employees in mind.

With features including Secure Chats to News Feeds, Pulse Surveys, and Recognition tools, our employee-first solutions empower organizations to make their frontline staff feel connected and engaged throughout their journey.

Let us help you drive digital inclusion within your organization – get started with Blink today.

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Frontline digital inclusion FAQs

What are the three main components of digital inclusion?

The three main components of digital inclusion are accessibility, digital skills, and connectivity. Accessibility ensures that all people are able to access and use digital services, digital skills are developed by teaching users how to navigate and utilize digital tools, while connectivity involves providing individuals with the access they need to experience these digital services.

What is a digital inclusion strategy?

A digital inclusion strategy is an organizational framework designed to ensure that all individuals are able to access and use digital services, regardless of their background or ability. This might include providing accessibility, teaching digital skills, offering support when needed, and ensuring people have access to the internet wherever they are based.

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