How To Empower The Deskless Workforce


Most work in this world gets done without sitting at a desk.

In fact, about 80% of employees around the world don’t drive a desk. They’re on their feet, moving around, in the healthcare industry, the construction industry, the manufacturing industry, the shipping industry—they’re the ones doing the building and making and serving.

Despite making the world go-’round, they are a bit forgotten and neglected. 

Technology entrepreneurs and policymakers often focus on developing tools and systems that help those who sit at a desk. Desk workers are accustomed to tech tools that make it possible for them to do their job quickly and easily anywhere, with streamlined processes that are highly automated, fast, and accurate. 

Deskless workers, on the other hand, are still using manual solutions to common tasks. Or worse, they’re trying to hobble together rough ad hoc systems to tap into some of the tech tools more suited for desk workers. For shift-based workers and managers, this is especially problematic. Manual solutions are eating up valuable time to create schedules. As a result, robbing workers of a more flexible lifestyle that desk workers are accustom to.

It’s important to understand what makes the deskless workforce tick, and how to use technology to their advantage. In this blog post, we’ll show you what you can do to accomplish this.

Deskless Workforce: 7 Fast Facts

Before you can make changes that truly benefit the deskless workforce, it’s important you understand what makes them tick. Here are a few fast facts to help you.

Deskless workers are the majority.

As already noted, 80% of workers are deskless. That comes to nearly 3 billion workers across the globe.

A lot of ink and ideas have been spilled to meet the needs of those at a desk, but the strange reality is that most workers aren’t benefiting from all of that energy. During the pandemic, these frontline workers were deemed essential, but one in four lost their jobs and 40% said their employer didn’t prepare them for what they went through.

Deskless workers experience work differently.

Deskless workers are simply anyone who doesn’t sit behind a desk to get their job done. 

While many of these workers are blue-collar or in specific industries, some white-collar workers are deskless, too. Whether you’re in agriculture or education, you might be working from the road away from a desk.

Because of this, developing technology for the deskless workforce needs to be “vertical,” i.e. industry specific. For desk workers, most of the tech is industry agnostic (“horizontal”) because the work experience is similar with the same kinds of needs to be met. It’s one reason so much tech is developed for desk workers. 

Deskless workers have very specific needs, depending on their industry. What the healthcare industry needs differ from what the manufacturing industry needs, and so on.

Deskless workers have the same work needs.

Just because they don’t work behind a desk doesn’t mean they don’t need what every other work needs.

Deskless workers need to be in communication with the rest of their team, knowing what’s going on in the company and what expectations are, which is part of the employee engagement puzzle. They need to be protected from employee burnout. They need to be able to share their knowledge and collaborate as their job requires.

In other words, the same work outcome. Just different requirements to make it happen because there’s no desk.

Deskless workers have poor work-life balance. 

According to a recent survey, 80% of employers ask deskless workers to come into work…while they are not at work. They get called in while they’re at home or enjoying personal time. They miss family events due to work schedules.

Even worse, especially considering the recent pandemic, is that due to lack of sick pay or financial concerns, almost three-quarters of U.S. workers go to work sick.

Understandably, flexibility is a serious concern for the deskless workforce, since work-life balance is so poor. 25% of deskless workers would forgo a higher salary if they could have more flexibility and a better work-life balance.

Deskless workers benefit from mobile technology.

Any tech that’s portable or mobile can benefit the deskless workforce, whether that’s mobile phones, drones, or wearable technology.

Happily, employers are starting to realize this and a survey across a broad swath of industries found that over 30% planned on increasing tech expenditures, with mobile phones and tablets leading the pack. The pandemic, and the forced flexibility it required, has likely increased that.

Why? Productivity is the main reason, but also a desire to keep employees happy and improve employee retention. Deskless workers already spend 75% of their time using technology, with 59% getting most of their training online. Technology improvements to it will only help.

Deskless workers are growing in number.

As mobile technology becomes more commonplace and working out of the office grows alongside it, more and more workers are falling into the deskless category. Workers who had a desk in the past are now working from home, from the road, or from a coffee shop.

This makes sense, when you consider the largely millennial workforce which is demanding mobile options for work, as well as increased work-life balance.

Deskless workers prefer being deskless.

In spite of (or because of) all of this, deskless workers like it.

If offered the chance to have a desk job, 64% of deskless workers say no. That’s a good thing, since a majority of work is deskless. Yet 61% have also said they’ve thought about quitting their job because they don’t like the work environment.

These are confusing statistics. Most like the nature of deskless work, but most aren’t happy where they are working. The obvious question, then, is how do we empower and support these workers who would prefer to keep doing that important frontline work?

Empowering/Supporting the Deskless Workforce

As you can see from what you just read, work-life balance is a critical concern.

Most deskless workers like their job, but it’s burning them out because their personal life is suffering. Many are shift or hourly workers, meaning their schedule often varies. They aren’t always working with the same people. Some work alone. Connectivity is tricky. It can be like a ball and chain, or it can foster engagement.

Yet, since almost 20% of the deskless workforce feels disconnected from the rest of their team in some way, genuine engagement has to be a priority. You have to keep everyone connected in a meaningful way, one that doesn’t infringe on their personal life.

So how do you keep a deskless workforce connected while not chipping away at their highly valued personal time?

You give them control over their work hours through flexible self-scheduling.

We often hear from managers how the When I Work app has saved them a lot of time in making employee schedules, and has made it easier to manage complicated shifts or requests. They’re able to see labor data and make smart decisions. But the same technology that helps managers also empowers the workforce.

Employees can claim shifts they want. They can communicate directly with each other to swap shifts when things in life pop up. Employees can also easily see what their schedule is from their mobile device (and use that to communicate with each other and with managers) wherever they are.

In other words, they get a say in how they divide up their time between work and personal. And, they get a direct line of safe communication with managers and co-workers on work-related issues.

Deskbound workers have long experienced the benefits of technology and a work approach that has increased their effectiveness while allowing them flexibility in their life. Deskless workers absolutely deserve the same. While it can’t always be a one-for-one match in every industry, you can make changes to change trajectory towards the right direction.

Better tools, more mobile access, more flexibility, and more input all have the power to make your deskless workforce healthier and more engaged. Consider tools like When I Work, which can do all of this and more. 

See how your industry would benefit by contacting us for a demo, and get started today.

Author Since: 10/18/2021

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