Three Lessons from the Frontline Workforce

san-francisco-62143_640Growing up in a traditional Korean family, I was taught there is a narrow set of job options worthy of considering: a doctor, a lawyer, a professor, a scientist or a financier.  Influenced by my upbringing, I followed one of those paths and held only “office” jobs throughout my career. That all changed when I started my own on-demand economy company in the HR technology space three years ago.

Since then, I have picked and packed boxes at a football field-sized warehouse starting at 5:00 a.m., reorganized heavy furniture at a storage facility in the evening, merchandised beverages at large retail stores on the weekend, delivered pizza throughout the hilly San Francisco neighborhoods on Super Bowl Sunday, and bused tables at a hotel banquet where I had been a guest in prior years. I even attempted to sell leftover event tickets on a tourist-packed street at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, but only managed to sell just two!

I did (and still do) these jobs for a few reasons. First, I wanted to experience different jobs aside from the ones I was used to – to understand what kinds of skills were required and what made someone successful. In addition, I wanted to better understand what customers and workers would want in an HR/on-demand staffing technology service. While working these frontline jobs, which many perceive as not having the same cachet as other occupations, I learned three valuable and humbling lessons about the dignity of work.

Commitment and Perseverance Breed Success

Throughout my career in “office jobs,” I often worked under stressful situations with tight deadlines, demanding bosses and clients, and minimal amounts of sleep for prolonged periods of time. From each of those situations, I learned important lessons about the level of commitment and perseverance required to be successful at my job. These same dynamics exist in frontline work. Many frontline workers effectively manage through high-pressure situations that demand both mental and physical strength.

For example, at one e-commerce fulfillment job, the shipping team to which I was assigned worked extra hours late into the night to ensure that every item in the package was wrapped properly before it was shipped to customers. When we were done, we high-fived each other and celebrated our achievement. Driven by our commitment to be the best at our job, we were elated to provide the best service to the business’ customers.


No matter the type of job, sharp problem-solving skills are essential. This skillset couldn’t be more valuable for frontline jobs, where difficult problems crop up in any number of situations. This has proven to be especially true in fast-paced environments that constantly require thinking on your feet, improvising based on few data points, and drawing upon both hard and soft skills.

For example, when I was working with a merchandising team for a beverage company at their customer’s site, a large retail store, the store manager refused to accept any more products, given the limited space in the back room. It was a delicate situation, and we found ourselves a bit lost. However, a merchandiser stepped up and successfully convinced the manager why the store would need to continue replenishing their stock, given upcoming promotions and the busy summer season. Even though he likely never had any formal negotiation training, he skillfully leveraged both quantitative and qualitative proof points to support his position. I was impressed with his ability to address this potentially difficult scenario by carefully navigating through the impromptu, high-pressure situation.

Fostering Camaraderie

Often, in our day to day, we tend to stay within a relatively confined realm of our peer group. We hear amazing stories of founders, innovators, and CEOs, and we celebrate their successes. We could all do a better job of also celebrating the frontline workers who are the engines behind every successful company. In fact, executives often do not have a solid understanding of what is happening outside of their own world – especially in the field. Workers on the front lines are constantly delivering products to the marketplace, and are frequently the resources that are closest to the customer experience. I’ve seen with my own eyes how frontline workers think on their feet to solve daily challenges, capturing revenue opportunities that might otherwise have been lost.

The frontline workforce possesses the very same skill sets that companies value as crucial to our ideas of success – a strong work ethic, creativity, professionalism, persistence, perfectionism, presence, etc.  More importantly, they are working toward the same goals that we are – to make their companies as successful as they can. These unrecognized heroes deserve our applause as every CEO’s success rides on the results produced by their own frontline workforce.

Yong Kim

Yong Kim
Yong Kim is the co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based on-demand staffing firm Wonolo.

Yong Kim

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