A man wearing a hard hat stands above a manufacturing floor, representing a deskless worker.
Image: © Gorodenkoff/Stock.adobe.com

Are we in danger of leaving the deskless workforce behind?

9 Dec 2021

Employers need to make a conscious effort to include their deskless workforce as they adapt for the future of work.

Conversations about offices, water coolers and general workplace vibes often centre around what is perceived to be a typical office worker sitting at a desk.

However, despite this common visual, it has been reported that only one-fifth of the global workforce do their jobs from behind a desk, with approximately 2.7bn others being part of the deskless workforce.

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You’d be forgiven for being surprised by that figure, when so much advice around work productivity, office culture and, lately, remote working tips, has focused on the knowledge worker that sits at a desk.

This can often mean the deskless workforce is being forgotten about. However, it’s critical employers ensure that when they think of employee experience, digital transformation in the workforce and HR policies, they think about how these may affect the employees without a desk.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, SaaS tools, software platforms and apps aimed at transforming the employee experience and adapting to the new future of work have been rolling out constantly.

Many promise to keep your employees happy, healthy, connected and even more productive, while others promise new ways of upskilling them and checking in with them.

But how many of these new tools are geared towards the worker who spends most of their working day at desk looking at a computer screen as opposed to, for example, outdoors, in a manufacturing facility or in a healthcare setting?

Digital transformation for deskless workers

While the value of automation for workers is becoming clearer all the time, a recent report from US-based scheduling platform Skedulo found that while 97pc of organisations that responded agree that increased employee autonomy would improve retention, client satisfaction, performance and market share, only 6pc feel their deskless workforce is “very autonomous”.

Furthermore, only 6pc of respondents said they rely entirely on digital processes for deskless work, while 44pc of organisations rely on paper-based processes at least half of the time.

Barry Harper is the founder and CEO of Nvolve Group, a Donegal-based software company that aims to help HR teams improve their companies’ employee experience for the deskless workforce.

The company was set up in 2015 and counts Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Culina Logistics among its customers. It also recently announced plans to double its workforce.

Harper told SiliconRepublic.com that, while the digital transformation of work has its advantages, one major disadvantage is the potential danger of leaving deskless workforces behind and creating “a culture of resentment” when companies focus more on their desk-bound employees.

‘Up until recently a very small percentage of company investments focused on deskless technologies’
– BARRY HARPER

“A high number of deskless workers are in industries that suffer from high turnover rates. Therefore, ensuring deskless workers have fast and seamless access to their managers, company policies, relevant job role information and their company’s brand story is essential to create that connection that is required to ensure a high employee retention rate,” he said.

“In most cases, office workers use more communication and engagement tools than deskless employees and these tools help them to stay connected with their colleagues. The same cannot be said about deskless workers, which ultimately impacts productivity and performance.”

While the danger of forgetting about the deskless workforce is clear, Harper said hope is on the horizon.

“While there are many apps, cloud platforms and SaaS solutions designed for desk-based workers, up until recently a very small percentage of company investments focused on deskless technologies. But this is changing rapidly in the world of the great resignation,” he said, referring to a work phenomenon that has emerged out of the pandemic.

“If a company that has a deskless workforce is not investing in these technologies, they will find that the great resignation is very real for their business.”

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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