The Neglected Majority: Deskless Workers
Digital transformation has been all the rage in the last few years, dominating the agenda during the pandemic. Some companies botched it. Some undertaking digital transformation initiatives faced numerous obstacles and settled for less-than-desirable results. Despite all the talk, digital transformation remained confined to a limited portion of the active businesses, with many firms still a long way from entering the Industry 3.0 era, let alone digital transformation.
The category that did not receive its fair share of technology investments is the deskless workforce. Making up 80 percent of the global working population, this category of employees numbers around 2.7 billion, mostly concentrated in eight industries: Agriculture, education, healthcare, retail, restaurant and hospitality, manufacturing, transportation and logistics, and construction. By 2018, only 1 percent of the venture funding going into the software industry was invested in projects designed for deskless workers.
The pandemic served as a crash course on the software industry’s perspective on deskless and desk-bound workers. With the introduction of lockdowns and other limitations on the number of people allowed to be in a confined space, software companies raced to provide remote-working employees with the solutions they needed. Video-conferencing and online collaboration tools really took off, receiving new functionality to make remote work more effective.
While desk-bound workers were spoiled for choice, deskless workers experienced difficulty in finding even the basic productivity tools for their jobs. Deskless workers never received even a fraction of that attention paid to the pains of desk-bound workers. This was the case even though deskless workers in industries like health, logistics, and agriculture kept our world going round during the pandemic. In a world where 45 percent of deskless workers do not have a corporate email address, a digital transformation not addressing the needs of this group is bound to fail.
The problem: One-size-fits-all approach to technology
Of the 1,532 deskless workers surveyed in a [2020 study], 60 percent stated that they were unsatisfied with the technology they were given at work, and 56 percent brought their own technologies to work. Imagine the risks associated with such a move, starting with data security and increased technical debt. However, workers are the least to blame as the market lacks the tools they need–they are just improvising with the tools available to them.
This lack of purpose-built technology for deskless workers stems from a basic fact: Tech entrepreneurs do not usually come from backgrounds in deskless jobs, so their insight into the needs of deskless workers remains limited. While developers can empathize with potential customers and feel at home working on tools like Jira, Confluence, or some other online collaboration tool, they cannot put themselves in the shoes of deskless workers. As a result, most of the time, deskless workers have to make do with desktop computers or laptops when they actually need tablets, wearables, and drones.
Another study from Australia, India, and Japan drives this point home: Although 85 percent of managers believe they give deskless workers the right digital tools, only 32 percent of employees agree that they have the tools to connect, collaborate, and do their jobs. This is a critical point as software designed for office use may prove difficult to use at a construction site, a mine, or a busy warehouse. The usability needs of deskless workers are entirely different than those of desk-bound workers, so pouring more effort and money into UX design is well justified.
The lack of purpose-built technology products for deskless workers results in two major problems:
1 - Lack of autonomy and flexibility at work
Flexible work options that appeared during the pandemic saved whatever remained of the employee morale during that awkward time. People could work from home and exercise more control over how and when they would get things done. The resulting autonomy was a welcome change for employees at a time of great uncertainty. Spending more time with loved ones and polishing baking skills between Zoom calls while still hitting business goals proved that there could be another way.
Few people realized, though, that deskless employees also want and need that alternative to achieve better work-life balance and increased motivation. Indeed, remote work is not an option for most, if not all, deskless workers. However, having more control over work routines is an issue for these people as well. This desire is backed by a figure from a study: 51 percent of the deskless workforce would even change jobs for more autonomy and flexibility.
Delegating more authority to deskless workers would be a good start to demonstrate that their input is valued by the organization. Empowering these people with tools and software products that are fit for the job would go a long way toward boosting their morale. Imagine all the paperwork that you need to do during an inspection at a construction site while you walk around and pause to fill out forms using pen and paper. Replacing that process with digital forms that you can fill out on your tablet and a drone shooting videos of the site would be safer and more practical, making life much easier for employees without compromising the quality of the job done.
2 - High levels of employee churn
Deskless jobs are prone to high employee turnover. Industries like restaurant and hospitality and retail are particularly plagued by this problem. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the turnover rate was 86.3 percent in the accommodation and food services industry and 64.6 percent in retail in 2021. Partly responsible for this outcome is the fact that employers in these industries see deskless workers as replaceable. In return, employees turn to industries where they can build themselves a career.
In jobs characterized by high employee churn, onboarding becomes more crucial than ever. Employee motivation tends to be lower in these jobs. The lack of a proper onboarding process introduces further friction into an already non-ideal situation. Online onboarding tools and walkthroughs can make the transition easier for jobless people. Furthermore, leaning on apps for training and reskilling deskless workers can help improve the abysmal retention rates so much so that deskless employees equipped with sufficient technology are 50 percent more likely to stay at their job for the next five years.
The solution: No-code
The challenge is crystal-clear: Providing deskless employees with the technology they need to succeed in their jobs, feeling valued and part of the organization. There are three options here:
Developing the software in-house. This is an expensive option that takes too much time with the already strained IT resources at hand. Maintaining and updating the software down the road are further hurdles.
Buying software off-the-shelf. This option is bound to be inflexible, as the capabilities of the software will not be a perfect match for the needs in the front lines. This situation sustains the flawed policy of offering one-size-fits-all solutions to problems that require purpose-built solutions.
Leveraging no-code platforms to design internal tools for deskless workers. Frontline workers are well-placed to diagnose the technology requirements of their jobs. No-code platforms can empower these people to develop solutions for the problems that they diagnosed and management does not care much about.
No-code tools minimize paperwork and clutter and save time for employees. A no-code platform like Code2 can automate tasks for the deskless workforce, create workflows, and even trigger batch jobs so that certain actions follow when the worker completes a task at hand. For example, a warehouse worker using Code2 will not have to send emails to vendors after taking inventory every time. Instead, emails will be automatically sent to relevant vendors when the inventory on an item is below a certain threshold.
In addition to automation and internal tools, Code2 can bring together your data from different sources in real time, which is a huge plus in a distributed work environment. Data coming from the warehouse, the sales team, and the customer support team can be integrated into one single view of truth, keeping everyone in the organization up-to-date at all times.
Combined with modern hardware, no-code can give the silent majority a voice at work.