Beyond the Cubicle: Deskless Workforce Getting Left Behind

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 billion (80%) of the global workforce now works in a deskless environment.

Deskless warehouse manager

Strange, when one considers the digital shift that’s been occurring these last two decades, with many physical labor jobs having been replaced by automation technology and apps that can do the most complicated of tasks. Traditional deskless jobs still abound with people still working while on the move in construction, transportation services, retail, and healthcare – all sans-desk.

Changing landscapes in the workplace

Gen X worked so hard to become a generation of office drones sitting at a desk and changing the world from behind their computer and talking on their old-school phones. Now, digital technology has made the future of a desk-and-chair work environment a real uncertainty. With so many apps available to automate menial every day office tasks, most traditional office jobs have now gone mobile.

This is a very good thing for anyone working in customer service, marketing, or sales. And, it’s definitely a good thing for business owners who want to get maximum value out of the salaries and technology expenses they pay for. Deskless, it appears, is the way of the world, and you as a manager need to adapt (ie., give deskless staff whatever they need) with the times or be eaten up by the competition.

Engage and instruct company values and vision digitally – toss out the paperwork!

A really good example of a successful company lagging behind the times with regard to staying digitally-connected with their deskless workforce was Nestle Waters North America. Even though the average American checks their phone 46 times a day, the company still found a troubling disconnect between their headquarters and the majority of its workforce.

The corporation performed case studies on their deskless employees and found that those who weren’t connected to the company intranet and didn’t receive company emails couldn’t articulate the company’s goals, mission statement, or prioritize company objectives as well as those who were wired in.

Beyond granting digital access to a company “hang out spot” you need to encourage engagement via built-in collaboration software and allow employees to post content of their own such as pictures of them working with others, or hanging out with their family on the weekend.

Allow for real-time conversations on a social-media-like forum, so employees can ask questions, get to know each other and bond, regardless of borders. Don’t forget regular mandatory training, to update skills, keep them abreast of company changes, and to get together with coworkers they can’t always physically connect with.

Be available, but don’t micro-manage

Deskless employees need to self manage the majority of their workday in order to be successful. Would you trust a doctor if they had to run every opinion or diagnosis through their supervisor before making a recommendation to you? Doubtful. Managers should take advantage of the fact deskless employees don’t need to be babysat.

Define how, why, and when they should contact you, and let them know when they should expect to hear from you. The beauty of deskless is that they’re on the move – selling, servicing, and making the company look good without the need for direct oversight.

Engineer doing field work

Deskless workers are often the highest performing, yet most at risk

From the company’s top salesperson, to the repairman who scales cell towers by themselves in the middle of nowhere, deskless workers need every bit of connectivity and help they can get. Smartphones, walkie-talkies, intercoms, etc., need to be accessible and they need to have direct access to managers when they need assistance.

Considering the deskless workforce will continue to grow and that this group now makes up over 80% of all employees, there’s just no sensible reason to expect top results if you can’t give them the attention and resources they need to succeed in everything they do for you.

The consequences of not doing so are more costly than the solutions including the implementation of digital collaboration apps and making sure everyone is on the same page as to company goals, expectations, and various procedures.

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