As the world races forward into the age of AI and other rapidly evolving technology, it’s no surprise that hard skills with emerging technologies are becoming increasingly important for employees, including in frontline roles—and that without support, many employees are being left behind. At the same time, human-centric “soft skills,” such as communication, leadership, and teamwork, remain in high demand, making up a large portion of LinkedIn’s 2024 Most In-Demand Skills

Meeting these needs for both frontline and desk workers is proving to be challenging for many teams and organizations. According to Kahoot!’s recent survey of Gen Z desk workers in the U.S., 90% reported experiencing some level of social discomfort or anxiety at work, which can stop them from speaking up, connecting with their team, and strengthening their soft skills. Among frontline workers, our later Workplace Culture Report showed that the problem may be underinvestment in their development, with 32% saying they feel their employers do not invest enough in their growth.


Closing skill gaps with strategic exchange

Companies with both frontline and desk workers can often boast diverse workforces, with employees of different backgrounds and skill sets that, if shared, could be used to help employees upskill. For example, over half (55%) of frontline employees say they possess empathy skills beyond what their employer is aware of, and nearly half cite customer insights and conflict resolution skills, all of which could be highly valuable for desk workers. 

Likewise, desk workers can share key tech skills that could help frontline workers boost productivity and even advance in their careers, such as using AI to systematize repetitive tasks, or data analytics for better decision-making. Tech skills are becoming increasingly important in frontline roles, but formal frontline training does not always keep up with changing demands and new processes.  According to research from Microsoft, 46% percent of frontline employees feel under pressure to adapt to new technology to keep their jobs, and 55% report that they’ve had to learn to use new technology on the job with no formal training.

Knowledge sharing between frontline and desk workers has the potential to be transformative for a company’s entire workforce, helping employees continuously upskill and deepen their understanding of company operations. However, as our latest survey revealed, 40% of frontline employees say they feel disconnected from the wider organization and their desk-based counterparts. This echoes research from McKinsey, in which 80% of frontline workers reported lacking in opportunities for connection at work provided by their employer. 

When a company’s workforce is disconnected and leadership doesn’t act proactively to create opportunities for employees to share their knowledge and skills, many of their employees will continue to struggle with skill gaps, impacting the team’s overall performance. This can also lead to “quiet constraint,” a practice we uncovered in our 2022 Workplace Culture Report, where 58% of workers said they are holding back valuable knowledge that could benefit their co-workers, largely due to lack of opportunity or channel to share it.

If you’re ready to unlock the knowledge assets within your company’s workforce, here are four key tips for fostering connection, collaboration, and productive peer learning:

  1. Start with the fundamentals and train for teamwork. Most people want to work more effectively with their coworkers but may not have the skills to do so. Communication and collaboration skills are not intuitive for everyone, and formal education may not have prepared workers for this challenge. When we asked frontline employees what should be done to improve collaboration beyond the employee’s immediate team, one of the top requests was for training in communication and teamwork. Set aside time to focus on training employees in these foundational skills, and this investment will pay off by elevating employee performance, retention, and more.
  2. Create safe space for employees to be open. A culture of openness and transparency where people feel more comfortable speaking honestly with each other is another top priority for frontline employees, according to our latest survey. Offer multiple channels for employees to share feedback, ideas, and knowledge with their peers and management. Don’t wait for employees to find the time and place to speak up. Reach out to employees for their insights proactively, enable them to share anonymously, and make it easy and accessible from anywhere with real-time chat or messaging platforms. This is particularly important to reach and connect both frontline and desk-based employees, who may be working from different locations.
  3. Incentivize collaboration. In our latest Workplace Culture Report, respondents’ top request for employers to boost wider collaboration was to recognize and reward employees’ collaboration efforts, incentivizing cooperation. This is a great opportunity for employee recognition, rewarding employees who share their knowledge or skills, such as leading a workshop or presentation, or participating in a peer learning session. These rewards can be material, as well as recognition of leadership skills and a way for employees to advance in their careers.
  4. Make knowledge sharing enjoyable. Create a culture of knowledge sharing not only by recognizing and rewarding it when it happens, but making it an enjoyable experience in itself. This is key as employees have, in our 2022 Workplace Culture Report, ranked online training and presentations as the top two situations where they’re likely to mentally disengage at work. Leverage friendly competition and game elements, which can engage and break down barriers between employees of all ages and backgrounds. Rather than framing it as a training, invite employees to host a knowledge tournament or creative challenge to spark innovation and new ideas. This makes it more attractive for employees to both host and participate in these learning experiences—powering motivation for learning and creating workplace heroes!

Every employee has something unique to contribute to the team, and sometimes the more different the job roles, the more the employees can learn from each other. Both frontline and desk workers could benefit greatly from coming together to share knowledge, while also gaining a better understanding of how the company works as a complete system. By connecting these two centers of expertise and skills, companies can cultivate a workforce with the resilience and adaptability needed to be successful in 2024 and beyond.

This blog post was first published in Training Industry