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2020 was the year of the frontline worker, where do we go from here?


Digital specialists, Intoware recently launched a whitepaper ‘The future of the frontline workforce is digital’. Intoware CEO Keith Tilley explains how to bring the frontline workforce into the digital workplace.

During the pandemic, frontline industrial workers have been critical to maintaining our essential services, helping to keep the lights on at home and our supermarket shelves full. The need for fast and effective, collaborative communication for this workforce has never been greater. But most businesses have failed to solve the problem of how to bring the frontline workers into the digital workplace.

Estimated to make up approximately 80 per cent of the workforce, frontline workers are the employees that are not confined to a desk for most of the working day, these are our field engineers, assembly line workers and offshore technicians that provide the very backbone to many businesses that have simply been forgotten in the new digital era.

But with Covid-19 having accelerated the digitalisation of work, the frontline experience has been brought into sharp focus. It has meant that instant, collaborative, safe and contactless working has never been more necessary. By empowering frontline workers in this way has become an essential part of ensuring they can do their jobs as well as possible, while maintaining efficient, cost effective and quality service.

In our whitepaper that we produced in partnership with RealWear, the maker of wearable computers for industry, we explored how businesses are enhancing the frontline experience long after the pandemic has ended through digital workflow instructions integrated with wearable computers featuring assisted reality (AR) for improved productivity, safety, and job satisfaction.

Digitising the frontline workforce

Frontline workers make up most of the workforce in traditional industries such as manufacturing, offshore oil, utilities, transport, and construction. During the day they work on the factory floor or out in the field, but while they strive to complete their tasks, they cannot harness the benefits of digitisation unlike their deskbound colleagues.

Most frontline industrial workers have been left behind; they are still using inefficient manual processes, paper trails, ring binders for reference and laptops to complete daily tasks even though successful digital transformation requires these processes to be fully digitised.

According to our partner, RealWear: “Physical reference materials and handheld devices contribute to expensive safety problems, and they lessen situational awareness, since they require workers to take their hands off equipment or safety harnesses while working and are often difficult to use or set up in the field.”

Even before the pandemic, digital transformation had been a priority for many businesses, however most of the digital transformation strategies gave very little thought to the needs of frontline workers who make up 2.7 billion of the global workforce. As a result, outdated processes have prevented this workforce from delivering to their full potential.

Why digitise?

A lot of communication between frontline workers and their supervisors is unstructured with paper trails, tick lists, text messages or even WhatsApp being used to fill the gap. This can mean insufficient reporting, a lack of transparency and ultimately, poor productivity. In other words, 80% of the workforce faces the challenge of ineffective communication with colleagues and their supervisors, where they cannot fully complete tasks to the highest standard.

This is where digitalisation delivers, as to enable frontline workers to be more productive and make on-the-spot decisions, businesses need to replace out-of-date manual processes. They must instead digitise all communication and operational processes (putting manuals and communication into a digital format). But how do you digitise when frontline workers don’t even have access to a computer or e-mail?

The latest assisted reality devices integrated with digital workflow software, such as WorkfloPlus from Intoware provides an effective solution to productivity and give frontline workers access to the tools they need to speed up productivity. According to RealWear: “As companies move on from ‘old ways’ of working, wearable computers present an opportunity to have an immediate impact on the workforce of those who implement them.”

A recent McKinsey survey states that by adopting digital tools and processes have been shown to be the key factors to success. This includes adopting tools to make information more accessible across the organisation, implementing digital ‘self-serve’ technologies for employees and modifying their standard operating procedures to include new technologies. This makes it clear that businesses can digitally empower the frontline.

Engaging the frontline

It is estimated that disengaged employees are costing the UK economy £340 billion every year in lost training and recruitment costs, sick days, productivity, creativity, and innovation. How do we engage workers on the frontline?

It is important then that when digitalisation programmes are adopted that skills and training are not overlooked. Businesses are increasingly moving towards more engaging interactive, video-based learning. Millennials and Generation Z are tech savvy, and they do not want to learn with physical manuals or clipboards.

In industrial settings, assisted reality devices integrated with WorkfloPlus are attached to safety helmets enabling hands-free, voice-controlled access for trainees who are learning on the job.

By keeping field of view completely unobscured, these technologies provide a safer environment in which workers can easily use voice commands to watch short training videos, access manuals, view mechanical drawings, look up spare parts and access other materials critical for experiential training. Even in high noise environments. Assisted reality heads-up displays can be as powerful—or even more powerful– than as a tablet computer and can use display technology that make it appear as though the worker is looking at a 7-inch screen.

You can read the full white paper at

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