What is a Deskless Worker? Definition & 4 Key Challenges

What is a Deskless Worker? Definition & 4 Key Challenges

Did you know that the majority of the global workforce doesn’t work from a desk? The term ‘deskless worker’ is often used to describe these types of employees, but what does that actually mean? Let’s take a look at the definition of a deskless worker and what their working environment looks like.

What is a Deskless Worker?

Deskless workers are workers who don’t have a traditional office setting or workspace assigned to them. Many deskless employees work in jobs that don’t traditionally require desks. This includes workers in the transportation and manufacturing industries and others who work at jobs that aren’t considered desk jobs.

Many deskless workers work in retail or in the restaurant industry, selling us products we need to live and serving us coffee, snacks, and meals.

Deskless workers are far more common than office workers. According to Emergence, deskless workers make up about 80% of the global workforce. The demands of the deskless workforce are vast, but can be overcome with the right approach.

Industries with Deskless Workers

A deskless worker uses a mobile device in retail

Here are the most common industries in which you will find deskless workers:

  • Agriculture
  • Manufacturing
  • Retail
  • Healthcare
  • Hospitality
  • Education
  • Construction
  • Real Estate
  • Transportation & Logistics
  • Mining

Frontline Employees vs. Deskless Workers

Are frontline workers the same as deskless workers? No, these two definitions do not mean the same thing. The core difference between deskless and frontline workers can be explained as follows:

  • Deskless workers are typically mobile, working away from traditional office desks, often in dynamic environments like construction sites, healthcare facilities, or in restaurants. Deskless workers can be client-facing (frontline) workers, but it is not a requirement. For example, tradesmen, maintenance staff, and cleaning staff are deskless workers who are not frontline workers.
  • Frontline workers are employees who work directly with customers in some form or another. Receptionists, sales staff, site managers, etc. While some frontline workers might also be deskless workers (e.g. nurses), it is not necessary to be deskless to qualify as a frontline worker (e.g. receptionists).

4 Challenges Facing The Deskless Workforce

There are many challenges facing both deskless employees and their employers. Some of these include:

1. High Turnover Rates for the Deskless Workforce

Employers often find it difficult to attract and retain good deskless workers. These types of employees often consider their work temporary and are more likely to switch jobs – increasing company turnover rates.

Frontline employees such as quick-service restaurant workers and grocery store employees have especially high turnover rates. The annual turnover for these frontline workers is around 100%.

With the right technology solutions, employee retention will increase as it will help deskless employees feel more connected to their organisation.

2. Limited Accessibility for the Deskless Worker

Another challenge facing deskless workers is the limited access to information. If they need something from the office, they’ll have to call in and hope someone answers the phone – and has access to the information they need.

This is another area where software plays a vital role, with a myriad of offline-capable apps that can store all the information a field employee might need.

Many deskless employees work within the transportation and manufacturing industries, where the right information at the right time could be crucial. Within transportation, call reception may not always be available. Within manufacturing, the time to make a phone call is a luxury.

Thus, the right mobile app can connect and empower deskless employees.

3. Disconnected Deskless Employees

Blue-collar workers often lack direct communication with their supervisors and business leaders. This can impact the employee experience and make them feel more disconnected and disengaged. Some businesses may use engagement tools to help employees feel more like they are part of the company culture.

Improved communication channels can help leadership provide relevant information to help employees do their jobs. They can provide detailed instructions to help them understand how they can improve their performance.

4. Lack of Flexibility for Deskess Workers

Flexibility in scheduling is a key aspect of many industries that employ deskless workers. This is especially true for frontline employees who have work schedules that change often, such as in the medical or hospitality industries.

These deskless employees – and their employers – can benefit from technology to help manage these schedules. Allowing your frontline workers the ability to schedule time off, catch up on updated schedules, and see reports on their workweeks all on an app of some kind can help mitigate a lot of admin.

Bank of America even has an internal job board that allows employees to see when there are extra shifts available that they can pick up. This helps them fill gaps in their scheduling.

Flexibility increases job satisfaction for both office and deskless workers. In fact, over half of Americans surveyed said they would be willing to take a pay cut in exchange for a more flexible schedule.

Deskless Workers Software Landscape

A deskless worker completes a work task with mobile software

Despite deskless workers making up the majority of the global workforce, most workplace software is geared towards office workers. Office work is important, but this leaves many deskless workers with outdated software or even paper-based solutions that don’t offer the efficiency of modern systems.

However, this is beginning to shift. In Emergence’s 2018 survey of IT decision-makers, they discovered that the majority were interested to invest in technology to make deskless workers’ jobs easier and increase productivity. Another survey revealed that 70% of deskless workers believe that more technology would improve their ability to do their jobs.

A whopping 60% of deskless employees feel that the technology they do receive is unsatisfactory or could use improvement. 50% say that they’ve used technology not provided by their employees to help them do their jobs.

This illustrates a clear need for better software for deskless workers. It’s up to employers to open channels of communication in order to gather the needs of the deskless worker and fill the gaps accordingly.

Examples Of Deskless Workforce Software

In an ideal world, deskless workers would have access to built-for-purpose software that raises their productivity and job satisfaction. Bespoke app development is expensive, however.

Thankfully, the modern market spoils us for choice. Software is readily available for a host of different applications.

  • Inventory management software: Stock controllers no longer need to use a pen and paper. Mobile apps equipped with barcode scanners and speciality inventory management software can greatly reduce the admin time involved in running a warehouse.
  • Sales Software: For sales reps out on the road, it’s never been easier to keep track of clients and sales. Many apps now exist that can help sales staff stay organised, navigate to clients sites, and even confirm orders complete with signatures right on their mobile device.
  • Delivery Driver Software: Technology can help delivery drivers capture proof of delivery, signatures, and navigate to their next stop. Routes can also be tracked and optimised using GPS-enabled delivery software.
  • Manufacturing Software: In the fast-paced world of manufacturing, it’s not always viable to use a computer to track production. With specialist mobile apps, managers can quickly locate specific items or orders and track their progress in real time.
  • Safety Software: Safety staff can quickly and effectively investigate an incident and capture proof right on their mobile device. This is a huge time saver and can aid in making safety staff far more effective at their jobs.
  • Training and assessments software: For just about any modern job, there is an app. It’s important that whatever software is used, its effectiveness is monitored and evaluated to ensure a positive return on investment.

Deskless Worker Training

Training deskless workers will often involve on-the-job training. Traditionally, this has been a poorly controlled aspect of business and visibility has been a long-standing challenge. With the advent of software for deskless worker training, this has become far easier.

Cloud Assess is one such example that can offer a blended learning approach to training deskless workers, with offline capable on-the-job assessments, anywhere-learning, and comprehensive reporting.

Improve Deskless Worker Engagement & Employee Retention

A deskless worker shows his approval by a thumbs up

To create more engaged deskless employees, companies should consider improving technology to increase employee satisfaction. Not only does this lead to a better employee experience, but company policies that enable enough direct communication among workers help increase employee engagement.

Companies should invest in deskless worker technology to simplify communication, increase productivity, and help deskless workers feel more satisfied.

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