6 Ways to Retain Your Essential Deskless Workers

Sep 15

by Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc. 

Deskless workers comprise 80% of the workforce and are an unhappy, disillusioned group. A Boston Consulting Group survey found that as many as 37% of them were at risk of quitting their jobs within six months—a percentage that rose to 48% of Gen Z employees.

Deskless workers are individual who perform critical tasks on the factory floor, the construction site, the hospital ward, deliver our goods, serve us in grocery stores, restaurants, and hotels, and many similar functions. Many of these essential workers were on the front line during the pandemic, and don’t have a remote work option.

Many companies are focused on establishing effective hybrid work environments and serving the needs of employees working from home. But often lost in this effort are the vital needs of their deskless workers.

According to a report “How Young Adults Can Advance in a Turbulent Economy” from national nonprofit group Jobs For The Future the key to retention probably lies in the provision of additional learning opportunities. In particular, studies show that tech industry workers are hungry for upskilling and that access to learning programs is a major factor in job satisfaction.

This factor cannot be emphasized enough. With deskless workers comprising about 80% of the global workforce their impact on a company’s performance is immense. Company leaders need to recognize that the way we work has changed for ever take action to accommodate that change.

Oracle’s “5 Steps to Create a Better Employee Experience for Deskless Workers” report expresses the urgent need for change, “The ability to retain and hire deskless workers is critical to business survival, the global economy, and our supply chain. Drastic changes must be made to the employee experience—and they must be made now.”

These are the kind of changes management should consider.

Frontline-first culture

Let your deskless workers know how much you appreciate their contributions to the company, whether behind the scenes in a manufacturing facility or customer-facing on the retail floor. Commit to asking for their input, listening closely and, of course, taking action when merited. Those who have direct contact with customers can be a valuable source of information that should not be ignored.

Close the technology gap

Deskless workers have been second-class citizens when it comes to purpose-built technology. A stark divide exists between software funding for their needs compared with desk-bound knowledge workers.

An Emergence Capital survey conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic found that 65% of deskless workers had not been given any additional technology and no more than a miserly 1% of business software spending was invested in this group. In my own experience more than 50% of deskless employees have to use outdated methods for time tracking, including paper forms and punch cards (technology that’s more than a hundred years old).

Employers must provide user-friendly smart technologies. Most everyone has a personal smart phone that could be used for multiple purposes.

Step up communication

The smart phone, with the aid of company-specific apps, is a vital tool for direct contact, especially as most deskless workers rarely have a company laptop (or even a corporate email address) to access information and liaise with supervisors. This is important since deskless workers often feel isolated from the C-suite, deprived of information, and disengaged. 

Mobile training

Equip your deskless workers with training programs delivered to their phone and therefore accessible whenever they want and wherever they are. Many people prefer to learn at their own pace and find the experience more engaging which improves knowledge retention.

In addition, microlearning content—shorter bursts of content delivery—works well in a world where consumption of personal data has become ever-faster and shorter. Easy-to-digest, on-the-go training fits the working conditions of many deskless workers who should also be given time to upskill when on the clock.

Give them more control

Deskless workers often operate on a shift schedule which can constantly change depending on worker availability and workload making it difficult for them to organize their personal lives. Use software that empowers them to schedule their shifts and swop shifts with fellow-workers in a “shift marketplace.” Delivering such flexibility will be much appreciated and improve productivity.

Give them a break

Many employers don’t give adequate recognition to the fact that deskless employees often work long hours at high pressure, physically demanding jobs. Yet only 6% of manufacturing companies design daily schedules that give people time to rest, according to a report from The Josh Bersin Academy “The Big Reset Playbook: What’s Working Now.”
This not only leads to burnout but also increases the risk of accidents. Leaders should develop stigma-free procedures for employees to report when they feel too tired to work.

It’s essential to close the divide between deskless workers and office-based workers to create a harmonious, productive workplace for all and to discourage the deskless workers from seeking employment elsewhere.

As Boston Consulting Group executives wrote, “The world saw the importance of deskless workers during the pandemic. They allowed the rest of us to remain productive while working remotely. If they flee their jobs, we will all pay the price.”
Involve your deskless workers. Don’t leave them out of the loop. Treat them as you would want your customers to be treated and your business will benefit.