Deskless Workers Want, and Deserve, Better Technology

Technology vendors spent most of 2020 talking about remote workers. That is fine, except people who sit at a desk make up just 20% of the workforce, and not everybody has been working from home. Why are we not talking more about how to connect, inform, and motivate the 80% of deskless workers who are often isolated and need great employee experiences just like those who sit at a desk.

In 2020, we read a lot about the shift to work from home for “everyone.” We saw article after article about the transition, how to multitask in our new surroundings, and even what desk chair we needed to purchase for our new home offices. There were stories about how and where to work safely outside of the office and home. It felt like everyone in the world had transitioned from an office environment to some place did not call the office. But only 20% of the global workforce sat behind a desk before the pandemic, which means 80% of the workforce was already “deskless.”

What Are the Challenges of Deskless Workers?

The pandemic and rise of remote work shed light on the challenges that deskless workers have always faced. When a boss or peer cannot physically see you day in and day out, it feels like there is a disconnect or that people are not interested in tapping into your knowledge, skills, and abilities. They are left feeling disconnected and isolated. At the same time, we have seen a proliferation of collaboration and communication tools. Now, even family members have videoconferences and message boards to connect with each other. But most workplace technologies were designed for employees regularly parked at desks.

Venture funds and technology vendors have focused where everyone else did, building tools for deskbound workers. Deskless workers continue to suffer, using the same old clunky technology solutions designed for office workers. The reality is, 75% of deskless workers spend most of their time using technology, with 70% of deskless workers surveyed reporting that more technology would help them do their jobs better, yet only 1% of venture investment goes to this space. Clearly, most of the workforce is not being served and more can be done to meet the needs of the deskless workforce.

What Is Needed for Deskless Workers?

For workers who sit at a desk, we talk about things like creating solutions in the flow of work, leveraging software that keeps all employees connected and in the know, and even introducing tools that enable employees to share their feedback and ideas. Deskless workers crave the same modern resources that their office counterparts are getting. Keeping deskless workers in the loop with the organizational culture, strategy, and tactics is a missing part of their experience. So, how do we make sure deskless workers are as engaged as possible when it comes to technology?

  • Strategy: Deliberately build communication processes, models, and delivery systems knowing that a team may be dispersed, deskless, or some mix of office workers and remote workers.
  • Connect: Keep your deskless workers connected and engaged with simple, short, and real-time communications, which is especially crucial during periods of rapid change.
  • Inform: As operations continue to adjust and refine over time, with vastly different processes and procedures, ensure employees are informed and feel confident about the most up-to-date policies to ensure safety.
  • Motivate: Amid all this change, deskless employees want to be recognized for their contributions at work and feel like they are part of their larger organizational community. Utilizing feedback mechanisms and recognition commonly seen in the office workforce will help employees feel valued and engaged.

Just because deskless workers are in the field, on the floor, or in the break room does not mean they should be overlooked when it comes to the technology and programs that will enable them to do their best work.

How To Fix The Problem?

Deskless workers need similar attention but are often left out of the equation because they are not in front of a computer all day. How are they supposed to get access to these solutions? 81% of Americans own smartphones, and of course they use them while they are at work. Not only that, but 96% of deskless workers say that communication at work would benefit from more technology use. While it is usually a battle of the managers, why not embrace the smartphone technology and use it to your advantage?

  • Focus on real-time communication. Share bite-size, targeted communications such as announcements, surveys, quizzes, or videos to help your workforce stay up to date and in the know. (A recent survey we conducted shows this is the top thing deskless workers want: to get more frequent and relevant communication.)
  • Give your deskless employees a voice. Offering structured channels for your workforce to share their feedback, ideas, and best practices keeps employees engaged and informed about the top tactics and strategies being adopted at other locations.
  • Leverage tech built for the non-desk worker. Give your teams the tools they need to level up their knowledge and skills every day and increase overall competence. More important, ensure the technology has been designed to match their unique, deskless experience and can be used in their work environment.
  • Gather insights to optimize their experience over time. Collaborate and facilitate real-time peer or hierarchical conversations.

Embracing the Deskless Workers’ Needs

With the proliferation of deskless workers and a recognition of their unmet needs for better communications, the time has come to address their needs. There is no easier way to do it than embracing the technology each person already has in their back pocket. Engaging your entire workforce — desks or no desks — and giving them the technology, they need to feel valued, empowered, and excited to work will not only drive business outcomes but will also start providing a better employee experience to the 80% being left out.

This article was written by Jordan Ekers and was  originally posted in Toolbox|HR.

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