Frontline worker apps on the rise

Applications aimed at helping office workers do their jobs more effectively in a remote or hybrid work environment — such as videoconferencing, project management, and other collaboration software — have surged during the pandemic era. But many employees don’t spend their workdays sitting at a desk.

Employees who work away from a desk in such verticals as healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing, service and repair, transportation, logistics, construction, utilities, and retail are usually referred to as frontline workers. Many of these workers act as the “faces” of their organizations, coming into direct contact with customers; others perform the behind-the-scenes tasks that keep the modern world humming.

Companies in these and other industries have considerably more frontline workers than employees working from their desks. According to Gartner, there are approximately 2.7 billion frontline employees worldwide — more than double the number of desk-based workers. Rather than throw even more apps at their deskbound workers, companies are now turning to software tools meant to assist their deskless workforce.

Because many frontline workers don’t have company-provided computers and may not have access to their companies’ intranets, these tools typically take the form of mobile apps that they can use on personal or company-provided phones, tablets, or wearable devices.

Moving beyond job-specific apps

“Historically, these apps have been very job-specific or industry-specific,” said Andrew Hewitt, senior analyst at Forrester Research. For example, airports have deployed smart restroom apps that use sensors to count how many people have entered a restroom. When a certain number of individuals — say, 300 — have entered, the system sends a text message or email alert indicating that it’s time to clean that restroom to custodians who monitor those alerts via their tablets or smartwatches.

“We’re in the second phase now, moving beyond dedicated job-specific functions to broader employee engagement,” Hewitt said. These newer tools, many of which could span any industry, aim to enhance collaboration and communication, build a sense of community, and make frontline workers feel more valued and connected to their organizations. “We [also] see frontline worker applications offering capabilities enabling workers to manage time off, manage their shifts, or get information about their pay,” he added.

Frontline workers typically don’t have the same technology experience as desk-based workers, said Mike Gotta, vice president, analyst at Gartner, who covers the communication and collaboration space.

“Therefore, they may feel out of the loop and that they don’t know what’s going on [within their organizations],” Gotta said. “So companies deploy apps to their frontline workers that combine internal communications and HR [information] such as benefits, payments, and shift schedules so these employees know what’s going on operationally. These apps are delivery mechanisms for companies’ employee communications, but they also usually have some work management capabilities.”

Some of these apps provide workers with task lists and other information for specific shifts, along with access to company training materials. Many offer integrations with other enterprise software and include monitoring and analytics components that can help managers guide workers to boost efficiency and productivity as well as improve customer experiences.

Prices for frontline worker apps typically range from $5 to $15 per user per month, with some specialized apps priced at $20 per user per month, according to Dion Hinchcliffe, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“The startups that offer frontline worker apps have spent a lot of time thinking about the problem, and they believe they’ve come up with make-or-break solutions,” Hinchcliffe said.

Their whole livelihood depends on providing customers with much better tools than major vendors that add features aimed at frontline workers to their existing products, such as Microsoft adding frontline worker capabilities to Microsoft Teams, he said. “These tools are usually a little bit better to a lot better than the handful of features that are added by major vendors.”

Popular types of frontline worker apps

There are scads of frontline worker apps available today. Some are aimed at specific verticals like healthcare or manufacturing, but many others can be used across industries. Below are some of the most common types of frontline worker apps you’ll find, with a few examples of each. This list is by no means comprehensive, and keep in mind that many apps offer a variety of capabilities and thus span multiple categories.

Scheduling / time-tracking / work management apps

While most time-tracking apps offer basic tracking of the hours frontline employees work, some offer more advanced tools to measure work produced during a specific time period. Some time-tracking software can automatically generate billing and invoices based how much work was done and how long it took, and most can integrate with payroll and other enterprise systems. The software can also help companies run cost estimates against tasks and projects, and many apps include employee scheduling capabilities as well as other work and project management tools.

Examples include:

Clockify: A free start/stop time-tracking and timesheet app that frontline workers and other employees can use to track their working hours and categorize them for each project. The app also gives workers information about their attendance and paid time off. Companies can upgrade to one of Clockify’s four paid plans that offer more advanced features than the free version, such as invoicing, employee scheduling, expense recording, and analytics. Clockify integrates with more than 80 web apps, including Jira, Microsoft Teams, and Google Docs, so frontline workers can track their time inside those other apps.

ClockShark: Cloud-based scheduling and time-tracking software that helps companies in an array of industries including construction, healthcare, retail, and real estate track their frontline workers’ time. ClockShark’s features include employee scheduling, time and attendance tracking, emailed alerts, geofencing, reporting, and the ability to share job information (such as directions to a job site) with employees via the mobile app. ClockShark also enables companies to create quotes and invoices for specific jobs as well as accept payment.

When I Work: A scheduling, time tracking, and messaging app that lets frontline employees view their schedules, see who else is working, trade shifts with other qualified workers, clock in and out, and chat with each other in real time. Managers use the app to schedule workers, respond to time off and shift swap requests, and communicate with teams via 1-on-1, group, or broadcast messaging. Other features include labor reports and forecasting, automated scheduling, overtime prevention, and payroll integration.

Communications / HR apps

Employee communications apps ensure that all workers can access the information they need to do their jobs and be more productive. Companies can use these apps to reach their both their frontline and desk-based workers to keep them informed about company business. The apps enable companies to plan, create, and deliver internal communications to all their workers, as well as personalize the information to specific groups of employees.

The apps also encourage employee feedback via chat, comments, and polls, and often integrate with human resources systems to provide access to onboarding/offboarding, payroll, and other functions. These tools help companies improve workforce engagement and the employee experience by creating a sense of community and helping frontline workers feel more connected to their colleagues.

Examples include:

Beekeeper: Offers frontline and desk-based workers access to training, shift schedules, onboarding and offboarding, paystubs, safety checklists, announcements, paid time off requests, and more. Beekeeper lets organizations instantly reach all employees across shifts, departments, locations, or languages via video or voice. Workers communicate directly and share information with colleagues via chat. Companies can use Beekeeper’s team communication app to collect real-time employee feedback.

Blink: This app revolves around a social feed that lets all employees, including frontline workers, feel part of their companies’ teams. Whether they’re in the office or in the field, employees have the same access to polls, HR information, shared files, and company calendars. Organizations can use the feed to communicate news, videos, relevant messages, documents, and training content. Blink also offers an employee scheduling app, secure document management, and a library of micro-apps.

LumApps: An employee experience platform, LumApps allows companies to better communicate with their frontline and desk-based employees regardless of device, language, or location, ensuring that every employee receives key company announcements. Features like an onboarding portal, recognition center, and communities boost corporate culture and encourage collaboration, giving employees easy access to the information and tools they need to feel part of the team. Workers can join projects, follow colleagues, and be notified about topics that matter to them.

[ Retailer migrates 14,000 staff to G Suite and LumApps intranet ]

Learning and development apps

These apps provide educational and development training programs and initiatives for front-line workers in such industries as education, healthcare, hospitality, grocery and retail, and more. The training programs offer bite-size, contextual training that frontline workers can fit into their workday. Mobile-first training programs make it easier for frontline workers to access the training.

Examples include:

eduMe: A mobile-based training tool, eduMe enables companies to create easy-to-understand learning content and deliver it right to their frontline workers’ mobile devices. Organizations can use eduMe to quickly onboard and train their frontline employees, and then continue to teach them new skills. The app gives frontline workers the skills and knowledge they need to succeed via messages, bite-size learning content, videos, and surveys.

Kallidus Learn LMS: Kallidus learning management system brings online, mobile, classroom, and social learning into a single platform. Kallidus is ideal for busy frontline workers because it encourages them learn on their own at times that suit them best. Frontline employees are able to access all the information they need to enhance their careers as well as improve the customer experience via their phones or tablets.

Prodigy EMS: This app was designed to guide frontline emergency medical technicians through the recertification process. Prodigy EMS also provides course offerings for all areas of training, including new employee onboarding, annual training, and remediation. The platform includes live and on-demand instructor-led training supplemented with materials to enhance learning. Prodigy EMS enables organizations to offer frontline workers content that’s up to date and delivered by expert emergency medical services instructors using patient care reports and real patient videos.

Remote expert guidance tools

Remote expert guidance solutions are collaboration tools that virtually connect industrial workers and field service workers in the field to subject matter experts (SMEs) for remote guidance and support. These apps combine chat with audio, live video, file sharing, and augmented reality annotations to help workers in the field or on the manufacturing floor collaborate with SMEs and other colleagues through mobile and wearable devices to troubleshoot and resolve problems.

For example, using a phone or tablet camera, an expert in the office can see a live view of the field worker’s environment and the task the employee is performing. This enables the SME to verbally guide the employee while providing visual cues that overlay the field worker’s view, helping them complete the job safely and accurately.

Examples include:

Help Lightning: This augmented reality software focuses on remote assistance, including video collaboration services that let an organization’s experts in the office work virtually with workers in the field anywhere in the world. The app’s remote visual assistance technology lets technicians share a real-time view of what’s happening no matter where they are, improving efficiency and reducing miscommunication. It also enables skilled employees to virtually train new field technicians on critical skills.

Librestream Onsight Connect: An augmented reality remote expert solution, this app gives frontline workers instant access to the content, people, data, and guidance they need on any device and in any environment to troubleshoot and resolve issues in the field. Onsight Connect securely shares audio, live video, audio, telestration, high-resolution images, and text across teams — even if bandwidth is limited.

TeamViewer Frontline: A fully integrated augmented reality app, TeamViewer Frontline allows companies to coordinate their workforces, manage tasks and devices from one central point, and troubleshoot problems in real time. Industrial workers and employees in the field instantly receive remote expert guidance via augmented reality-assisted video calls.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.