Most businesses are dealing with the effects of supply chain issues and labor shortages, and the retail industry is no exception. The pressure is on and retailers are feeling the pinch as they recalibrate stock levels, examine supplier relationships and overhaul warehouse planning to mitigate a challenging work environment. But strategy on its own is one thing — the reality of how retail teams work is another.

Understanding how teams on the frontline operate is a constantly moving target. With so many elements of the retail landscape under operational strain, getting communications right with customer-facing staff is critical. However, they can be challenging to reach given they aren’t always at a desk and often don’t have a company email address. These workers are the backbone of your business and the face of your brand, so it is vital that they feel like engaged and valuable members of the team.

While businesses have continued to invest in providing their white-collar workers with high-quality tools and technology for remote communication, enabling the frontline remains a blindspot for many. This is readily apparent in recent research we commissioned in partnerships with YouGov. More than 1 in 3 (40%) of frontline workers said management is “out of touch” with their role based on the communications they receive from HQ.

Here are some effective – and easy-to-implement – ways retailers can improve their internal communications.

Cater to their needs

Retail staff must be able to engage with business headquarters where and whenever it suits them, with tooling that is both accessible and practical for teams on the shop floor. Your technology shouldn’t make them feel like second-class employees who are treated as an afterthought — but this isn’t always the case.

Our research revealed:

  • More than 1 in 3 frontline workers agree the communications they receive from HQ are often irrelevant (42%) and not engaging (43%).
  • Almost half of the frontline workers (49%) also said they couldn’t “put a face to the name” of most HQ team members they communicate with.
  • More than 1 in 4 frontline workers (32%) don’t have time to read or act on HQ communications. These results demonstrate a crucial gap in the market — communication tools that seamlessly fit into workday processes.

You need to reach your team where they’re at, rather than expecting them to conform to traditional desk-bound ways of working. In today’s digital-first environment, one of the first steps is to ensure that the tools used by your team are mobile-friendly.

For us, we’ve focused on building consumer-grade technology for retail workers that can easily be integrated into their day to day. We’ve developed features like Heads Up to facilitate easy-to-consume communication so messages can be quickly digested in the palm of hands and executed in-store. In other words, utilising an engaging and mobile-first medium.

Trends beyond text

Another key consideration is the content itself. Don’t just swamp your teams’ inboxes with “all staff” emails. Target messages to the relevant people, or they’ll simply become overwhelmed and start to tune out. This means you need to push tailored communications out to your retail teams.

In doing so, it’s important to choose the best delivery method for the information at hand. In the age of social media people don’t just communicate with the written word, so think about when a photo, video, infographic or meme might offer a more engaging way to convey the message.

A message of encouragement might work better as a voice or video clip, whereas a merchandising or new product announcement might work well as an image. These can be easily consumed by staff members while they set up the shopfront.

Meanwhile, a safety briefing regarding an incoming stock delivery or new in-store compliance measures could be better suited to text. Even with more mundane communications, the use of social tools and gamification can create a feature-rich and engaging experience. Communicating with your retail teams in a way that works for them is an express lane to a better day at work. It’s time to eliminate the disconnect and better serve those on the shop floor together with the help of tech.

Mike Welch is chief experience officer at SafetyCulture.