New research commissioned by Workplace from Facebook has revealed frontline managers are being shut out from making strategic decisions, due to a prevailing disconnect with leaders in HQ. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic highlighting the importance of the frontline and its leaders, managers in this environment have not been empowered to make decisions.
Research conducted just before, and eight months into the pandemic, provides unique insight into the role of frontline managers across Australia, and how their working lives have changed in light of COVID-19. Despite being the ones closest to their customers and the day-to-day of the business, just under half (49 per cent) – down from 62 per cent in February – of frontline managers stated they feel authorised to make strategic decisions, versus 77 per cent (up from 68 per cent) of HQ leaders.
Frontline managers remain an untapped resource for key customer insight, with almost a fifth (19 per cent) of frontline managers rarely or never being consulted on strategic business decisions. This lack of input in decision-making and influence is impacting their perceived value, with only 45 per cent of frontline leaders feeling valued by their business compared to 80 per cent of their counterparts in HQ.
Facebook Australia & New Zealand managing director Will Easton said: “If there is one thing that the pandemic has shown us it’s how pivotal frontline workers are to the economy. They’ve kept the shelves stocked and transport running – and will be at the forefront of the economic recovery ahead.
“Ensuring open and effective communication between HQ and frontline employees will be more important than ever before as businesses reopen and focus on recovery. Relaying vital information from HQ to frontline employees and sharing valuable insights from customers back to HQ will be critical. Providing all employees with the right communication tools to get the job done will help businesses run safely, efficiently and as productively as possible.”
Further key findings from the research include:
- The disconnect is closing, but not closed: Encouragingly, frontline leaders not only believe the disconnect with HQ leaders has decreased from 49 per cent to 25 per cent during the pandemic, 61 per cent also feel that HQ leaders better understand their work challenges since working remotely. But HQ leaders do not feel the same, with just 26 per cent believing they better understand their frontline counterparts after working remotely.
- Importance of communication and today’s office-bias: To help address this, frontline (59 per cent) and HQ leaders (62 per cent) agree on the need to communicate even more regularly. Yet the tools used by the two groups make this difficult today. For frontline managers, texting and calling on personal devices (51 per cent) have been the most reliable methods of communicating internally during the crisis. Whereas, HQ leaders have relied on company email (91 per cent), compared to only 20 per cent of frontline managers. Crucially, almost two thirds (65 per cent) of head office leaders acknowledged that the pandemic has highlighted how ‘office-biased’ their communication approach has been.
- Miscommunication hitting safety and productivity: Differing communication channels means over half (52 per cent) of frontline leaders are missing important information from head office, at a time when information sharing on issues including safety is paramount. This is also impacting productivity. Today frontline managers believe they are wasting an average of 355 hours every year due to lack of communication with head office – the equivalent of 8.5 working weeks every year.*
Harris Farm Markets head of people & culture Nichol Trueman said: “While we had Workplace before the pandemic hit, it became even more critical as practically overnight we needed to enable two way communication between frontline workers in our store, staff in HQ, and those that were working remotely. Workplace became our go-to place where we shared critical COVID-19 information, held live all-company video sessions with our CEOs and provided a place for our employees to keep in touch and support each other.
“Now that we’re several months into the pandemic, we couldn’t imagine keeping our business up and running without it. Workplace is where we hear concerns and ideas from our employees and share critical information on how to keep our customers and staff safe.”
The 2020 Deskless not Voiceless report highlights that more must be done if organisations want to close gaps in communication, empowerment and culture. By connecting frontline and HQ on a single, shared platform, businesses can start to address the communication gap. But in order to truly make the most of their frontline, Workplace from Facebook calls on organisations to go further and ask themselves how they can begin to foster a culture where greater connection leads directly to increased empowerment and better business outcomes.
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