AI makes the frontline more attractive to work

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Joe McKendrick

If you work at a company that relies on front-line workers — operating trucks, heavy machinery, or production lines, for example — you’ll find these positions increasingly automated. However, one thing that won’t happen anytime soon is these workers being replaced by automation or AI. On the contrary, their roles will be strengthened. For example, while fully autonomous trucks are still years away, intelligent vehicles will manage employee driving behavior through cameras and sensors.

While this may sound negative, it actually helps improve the employee experiences of drivers and employees. For example, executives have documented, recorded evidence of positive habits, allowing reward systems to be designed accordingly. The increased commitment to safety is also making workplaces more attractive at a time when skilled workers are hard to find.

That’s the word of Sanjit Biswasco-founder and CEO of samsarawho has focused on building technology for the front line since launching his company in 2015. I spoke with Biswas at his company’s latest user conference, where he reflected on how the critical role of frontline workers came to light during the Covid pandemic.

“Our customers haven’t stopped, they’re essential services,” he says. “They kept the world going. If they stopped for whatever reason, we’d have no food, no electricity, no water. Best tools are important.”

However, it is impractical to provide frontline workers with the same tools that office professionals use. “Most of them don’t go into an office, Biswas says. “You don’t have to sit at their desk and do the training. They’re working.” For many of these workers, technology needs to run in the background or support workflows through mobile devices.

There are implications for the job satisfaction and productivity of these workers. Often subjected to arbitrary rewards and frustrating working conditions, technology can finally bring relief. Because front-line workers work in real-time situations, such as driving vehicles, they don’t have the luxury of sitting in front of laptops or smartphones and thinking about what data can tell them.

A questionnaire conducted a few years ago by Forbes and Microsoft, found that there is a direct link between strengthening this workforce and improving business results. Thirty-one percent of organizations with the highest degree of digital connectivity and empowerment — involving more than 75% of their frontline workers — saw more than 20% growth in the past year. In contrast, only 11% of low-empowerment organizations — with less than 25% of their employees connected — saw such growth.

“Employee turnover is high,” says Biswas. “When people start a new job, we need to make it much easier for them to get them up to speed. People feel more comfortable with apps in a deeper way than they feel comfortable learning on paper, or with a great binder tutorial. Now everyone is comfortably online. Now if you put a new tool in front of them that looks and feels the same as apps, they get it almost immediately.”

With the precise data developed through embedded or mobile devices, reward programs can be improved and developed, he continues. “We’ve spent a lot of time talking to users and they’re really proud of their safety achievements. They’re proud of how secure they operate. To be able to show that, essentially on a report, or leaderboard, or however you want think about it. It gamifies it in a really positive way. If you can make it a positive feedback loop, people feel valued. They work hard, they do their job incredibly well and they become role models within their organization That definitely helps in the field of retention and helps to drive down sales tremendously.”

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