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Many frontline employees were hailed as heroes when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, but 47% of frontline managers don’t feel valued by their business, according to a new study released by Workplace from Facebook Thursday. Further, just over half (54%) of frontline managers said they feel empowered to make decisions, down from 65%, according to the Deskless Not Voiceless 2020 survey.

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This matters “because frontline employees are the face of your business to customers,” the study said. “When they’re more informed, engaged, and motivated they deliver better experiences for those customers which, in turn, leads to tangible outcomes like increased loyalty and higher revenue.”

Companies have doubled down on internal communication in the past several months, and the number of frontline managers in the US who think there is a communication gap in their organization dropped from 58% to 25% since the pandemic began, the study revealed.

At the same time, there is “a critical gap in communications platforms,” the study said. While 91% of headquarters managers relied on email to communicate during the pandemic, “barely a quarter of their frontline counterparts did the same.” Instead, over half of frontline managers used messaging apps on their personal devices, the study said. “So even as the communication gap shrinks, the connection gap persists.”

Many office-based workers had their own taste of being disconnected during the pandemic–and they didn’t like it at all, the study noted. The research shows they feel less valued, less consulted, and less recognized for their efforts. And yet, only 24% said their empathy for frontline colleagues has increased, according to the study.

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“This will come as a surprise to the 60% of frontline managers who think their colleagues in HQ now better understand the issues they’re facing,” the study said. Clearly, there’s still a culture gap to be bridged.”

There are some positive trends that the study revealed, though, and places where gaps can be easily closed.

Empowering frontline managers is critical

When asked what they think are the most important ingredients in a high-performance culture, US leaders in HQ put ’empowerment’ and ‘communication’ among the top spots. But more work can be done, the study said. That includes bringing frontline and HQ together on a single, shared platform to ensure they’re truly connected.

“It means empowering frontline managers to make decisions to drive greater agility and innovation. And it means investing in a culture that creates mutual recognition and alignment. Only then can you tap into the hidden potential of your frontline to deliver the kind of exceptional customer experiences that drive real business value.”

The research into the disconnect between frontline workers and HQ began before the pandemic started, noted Christine Trodella, head of Americas, Workplace from Facebook.

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“In fact, last year, our research found that just 14% of frontline workers felt connected to their business HQ. That in itself was a problem. We decided to re-test our theory this year, and our research looked at data before the pandemic began … and during the pandemic.”

The lack of resources to connect these groups of workers leads to far more business challenges than some may realize including loss in productivity, employee engagement and happiness, and more, Trodella said.

“With COVID-19 upending our world, we certainly have come a long way to deservedly improve the jobs of frontline workers: The number of frontline managers who think there’s a communication gap in their organization dropped from 60% to 25%. And the number of frontline managers who say they are regularly consulted on business decisions that affect customers has increased from 37% to 43%.”

However, organizations still have a long way to go, Trodella said. “The loss of productivity due to poor communication still totals 9.3 working weeks every year. We’re glad industries across the board have made improvements,” but they need to close the necessary communication gaps frontline workers are faced with, so they have the tools and support to succeed and feel valued in their important roles, she said.

The study was conducted among 4,500 frontline managers and 4,500 head office leaders across eight countries in February and again in August, according to Workplace from Facebook.