THURSDAY 28 SEP 2023 10:11 AM


Benedikt Ilg, CEO and founder of Flip, considers how technology is helping to overcome language barriers across HR and communications.

It’s hard to believe that another year is almost coming to an end, and it is fair to say that the last few months have been challenging in many respects. Globally, we are still managing the after effects of COVID-19, the Ukraine-Russia crisis rages on, the cost of electricity has reached record highs and climate change has wreaked havoc worldwide. The technology industry has been similarly rocked, with global supply shortages and rampant cyber security attacks, but it has also been eight months of innovation, new discoveries and dizzyingly accelerated progress. Multiple industries worldwide have been boosted by AI, machine learning and mass digitalisation, with more office based-employees enjoying a healthier life/work balance than ever before. Despite the innovation and improvements however, a massive cohort of workers have been left out in the cold. Frontline and deskless workers – those who don’t work in front of a computer and whose roles demanded they turn up, in-person, for work – have been neglected in the midst of a hugely progressive period, and it’s high time we rectified this.

The 2022 World Migration Report shows that there were over 281 million people living abroad in 2020. Why, therefore, in this decade of virtually unlimited technological innovation, are language barriers hindering not only the employee, but the HR and communication departments designed to ease the transition process and promote productivity and progress? The process of creating a standard for frontline workers, in which they experience the same advancement and networking opportunities as their computer-based counterparts, is not as complicated as you might think. Take for example, the utilisation of an inclusive, company-wide app, that offers real-time translation services, breaking down language barriers and facilitating seamless communication among individuals with different language backgrounds. By leveraging technology, organisations can empower frontline workers to communicate effectively and participate fully in team discussions and collaborations. This goes a long way to mitigating what we call a workplace silo, whereby individual departments store information internally, failing to communicate amongst each other and effectively disenfranchising themselves from wider corporate engagement. 

Similarly, e-learning platforms, suggested by HR and shared through joint channels, offer non-native speakers the chance to improve their communication skills, positively impacting their contribution to the working environment, their engagement with peers, and increasing the likelihood of advancing internally within the organisation. In-app translation features, within e-learning platforms, are a game-changer for HR and communications departments, as they empower the sector to upskill and re-skill the workforce, whilst also broadening the talent pool when hiring. The blue-collar workspace is under a great deal of pressure due to labour shortages and dispersed workplaces following the pandemic, and for HR departments worldwide, it has become difficult to source qualified frontline workers, who are often business critical. A diverse workforce is becoming increasingly advantageous in today’s complex labour market, and language barriers should not stand in the way of HR and communications departments, in the quest to build a fully rounded team, indicative of the multi-faceted world in which we live. 

Lastly, machine learning and natural language processing tools have the potential to irrevocably alter HR and communications, for the better. Though the technology has a bit of a way to go, the provision of foundational digital infrastructure, machine learning, as well as AI tools, are a likely future for most industries. These AI-driven solutions can recognise language patterns, structure and meaning, providing the user with real-time, accurate translation. For HR and communications teams, this means clearer interaction with fellow employees, a reduction in the potential risk of working the floor in a labour-intensive role, and even more effective conflict mitigation. 

The future, with all its technological advancements, is a bright one, but in the present, frontline workers are still largely ignored by the corporations and ultimately the HR and communications departments that are supposed to support them. The technology to revolutionise frontline work and the HR and communications sectors exists. It’s up to us to start laying the base for digitalisation in the frontline and begin  implementing it.