The forgotten workforce: Empowering technology for 2.9 billion deskless workers worldwide that never stopped going to work during COVID-19.

Deskless Workforce Technology 1092342344 Checking Robots With Digital Tablet High Tech Company Getty 1707x960, Industry Today

By: Marcus Mossberger, Global Solutions and Industry Market Strategy, Infor

It does not seem possible that 80% of the world’s workforce (2.7 billion people) could be largely neglected by the big tech companies, but it’s true.  These are the individuals behind the scenes, working on production lines, delivering goods, servicing customers, and treating patients. The pandemic proved this population was essential to the economy, and yet technology is predominantly developed for people who spend their time tethered to a desk.  It is time that technology work for all the people who support society. 

Is this a moment or a movement?

When corporate America was forced to adapt to hybrid and remote arrangements, organizations quickly embraced a variety of applications, including video technologies like Microsoft Teams and Zoom.  Many were surprised by how effectively the white-collar workforce conformed to this new communication paradigm, but the blue collar (and no collar) workforce was left to fend for themselves.  The reality is that only 1% of business software spending focuses on deskless technologies.  In other words, most of the working population is being completely overlooked. 

The impact of this exclusion is evident in studies that reveal only 56% of the deskless workers in the United States feel connected and engaged with their employers.  Is it any wonder that this population’s dissatisfaction leads to high turnover and constant churn?  In Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, a whopping 40% of people in 31 countries indicated they are considering leaving their employer this year. There is a growing sense of inevitability that traditional ways of working are giving way to new norms that will require digital empowerment. 

Delivering digital for the deskless

There are three main ways that organizations can begin to address the needs of their deskless workforce:

  1. Give them access to information.  Most of the time these individuals are on the shop floor, caring for a patient or out in the field and need to make decisions on the fly.  They frequently do not have access to enterprise systems that organizations use to communicate and collaborate. This highlights the need to proactively push relevant data by way of mobile devices to help them make better decisions based on data versus intuition.  Most importantly, this information needs to be delivered in the flow of their work to avoid disruption and maintain productivity.  I was amazed when I read that 84% of deskless workers say they do not get enough direct communication from top management. Consistent communication is key.  The use of pulse surveys and pushing out new career opportunities in other parts of the organization will also help them feel appreciated and remembered. 
  2. Automate, augment, and alleviate.  It may sound counter-intuitive that we should be automating more of people’s jobs to improve their work lives, but it is absolutely true. The more we can augment decision-making (by taking care of things for people), the more we alleviate the burden of these transactional tasks.  For example, managers are constantly asked to approve time off requests, address missed clock punches, remind people of required training, and many other administrative actions that technology could do for them through new capabilities. Industry analyst, Josh Bersin summarizes it perfectly, “the biggest shift of all is the move from HR technology to work technology. This means that everything we now buy must feel useful and important as a tool for getting work done.”
  3. Give them control.  A large percentage of the deskless workforce is asked to work a schedule that does not subscribe to the typical 8am to 5pm regimen. This means a sporadic work week that can make it difficult to plan. This is exacerbated during disruptive times like the COVID-19 crisis as schools and other institutions closed their doors, leaving parents scrambling to make childcare arrangements. Digital tools that allow them access to their schedule and the ability to alter it when life happens can have a significantly positive impact on employee satisfaction and engagement. 

“Never let a good crisis go to waste”

Winston Churchill famously uttered these words decades ago, but they are just as relevant today as they were then. At this moment, the customary corporate world is “unfrozen” and will likely be malleable for the foreseeable future. Organizations that recognize the needs of their deskless workforce are investing in new digital tools and centralizing HR resources to make it easier for their deskless employees to get the support they need to be successful. Empowering, enabling and engaging the deskless workforce will be critical as companies and governments adapt to the new world of work.

Marcus Mossberger Infor, Industry Today
Marcus Mossberger

Marcus Mossberger leads the Global Industry and Solution Market Strategy team at Infor, a global leader in business cloud software specialized by industry. He believes that we should genuinely enjoy our experiences at work, and has spent his career focused on the role of technology in this pursuit. He has served in a variety of disciplines including HR leadership, product management, sales, marketing and strategy. His genuine enthusiasm has fueled thought-leadership contributions about the future of work in a variety of publications and events.  Marcus holds a master’s degree in Human Resources from Ottawa University and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Kansas.

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