Technology has always catered to office workers. That is, until a global pandemic forced companies to reevaluate how they are supporting the deskless workforce.
Deskless workers—employees that don’t work in a typical office setting or sit at a desk all day—make up 80%of the global workforce. They work in industries like retail, manufacturing and supply chain, and they are often overlooked when it comes to emerging tech.
When the COVID pandemic forced desk-based workers home, it also made most deskless workers essential. Business leaders needed to find efficient and effective solutions to equip and support this critical part of the global workforce.
“The pandemic made it abundantly clear that suddenly, we had this huge portion of the workforce that we needed to protect and do something extra for,” said HRTechRadar founder Anita Lettink. “And the systems in place were simply not cutting it.”
Lettink uses email as an example.
Many deskless workers don’t have a company email address, which makes communication challenging when a large-scale event like COVID happens. The same goes for most human resources and operations tools—they are crafted for a desk-based world, making them challenging to implement in a deskless environment.
“Slowly but surely, people will start to learn that you have to rethink work,” Lettink told Anthill recently. “You can’t go back to the way it was before the pandemic.”
Lettink’s career spans decades in both the private and public sectors. She also consults with companies on the future of work, helping them think strategically about what’s coming in the next decade (and beyond).
In short, she’s the perfect person to ask about how to introduce technology strategically to a deskless workforce.
Introduce Tech by Understanding Your Current Workforce
When Lettink strategizes about workforce solutions, the first and most important step in her process is observing that workforce in action.
“I am a really big supporter of going out into the field and looking at what people are actually doing—how they work, where they work,” she said. This firsthand observation often reveals insights she’d never get in a survey or a board room.
Passive observation is good, but it’s even more valuable when combined with face-to-face conversations. That’s why Lettink also makes it a point to get to know the people who make up the workforce on a personal level.
She recalled a previous job helping a large air carrier implement technology solutions within their freight department. By observing and engaging with the workers, Lettink quickly found her solution.
“I went there on a Monday, introduced myself, joined them for coffee, and the first thing I noticed was that their Monday-morning coffee break was used to exchange digital materials. Movies, pictures, music…everyone found the latest content over the weekend and started to share using their phones.”
By observing and engaging, Lettink saw an opportunity. It was as simple as a text message.
Introduce Technology by Not Making Assumptions
Deskless workers are often associated with manual work and procedures that involve paper and filing. Lettink had been told these workers weren’t tech-savvy, but what she was seeing proved that belief wrong.
That’s why Lettink always recommends going into a situation without any assumptions.
By observing, she allowed the workers to communicate primarily through their actions. And because Lettink took time to understand the people who made up the freight department, she could present a solution that offered a minimallearning curve.
“Those observations helped me go back to the company and say ‘As a matter of fact, we can do something here [with technology], we just have to make it accessible through their phones,’” she recalls. “I was able to help people with mobile solutions, instead of assuming only paper would work for them.”
Technology has become so ingrained in our culture that nearly everyone has some level of tech literacy. Whether those skills are using a mobile device, ordering food off a touch-screen menu or having a social media account, people are more tech-savvy than they’re given credit for.
Introduce Technology by Looking Ahead
The technology that works for a company today may be unhelpful or unnecessary in three years. Knowing how fast the technology world moves, leaders need to thoroughly plan ahead before introducing new technology into a company.
“Imagine the possibilities and functionalities you want to offer your workforce before you embark on this path,” Lettink said.
She recommends that business leaders identify what their company is today and compare it to their hopes for the company five years down the line. They should ask themselves what kind of people best represent the culture, what skills will be necessary to execute the work, and consider growth projections and goals. Taking those long-term needs and values, they should work backwards from there.
Once there is a strong understanding of future goals and needs, consider the amount of time it takes to implement new policies. Depending on the organization’s size, leaders need to look at least a few months ahead.
“If you start selecting a solution today, it will be a couple of months—and for some solutions, even a year—before you have them in place,” Lettink said. If you fail to think at least a few years out, all the work of introducing new technology may be for nothing.
Introduce Technology by Identifying Which Solutions Are Best For Deskless Workers
Lettink also highlighted an important one-way street business leaders should be aware of.
“My point of view is what works for a deskless workforce, works for a desk-based workforce,” Lettink said. “So, if you start with a deskless workforce in mind, then for sure you will have something that desk-based people can use as well.”
Tools and technology for deskless workers are often effective because they’re straightforward. They may have a simpler interface or less bells and whistles, but they accomplish their purpose. While it’s not always 100% true, being mindful of this fact can help leaders create a more efficient technology strategy.
This is yet another way in which understanding your workforce provides the crucial foundation needed to implement technology. Knowing how workers communicate and carry out their days allows strategists like Lettink to implement solutions that work for all employees.
Lettink’s experience with airline freight workers showed her that they prefer technology and communication that is light, quick and user-friendly. Many deskless workers are focused during the day. They can’t engage with frequent communication the way desk-based workers do. Streamlining communication through simple technology provides a successful way to bridge the gap.
“I think people underestimate what they can learn if they take a really good look at the workforce. Go to different places, observe what they are doing and ask them questions,” Lettink said. “I’ve never been in a situation where I asked a question and someone did not respond.”
Technology For The Deskless Worker
The COVID pandemic changed how we live and work. Deskless workers are finally beginning to see solutions that serve their needs, including platforms like Anthill CONNECT. Texting is now a way of life, and smart technology simply leans into the habits people already engage in every day.
If you’re ready to improve communication with your deskless workers, schedule a 15-minute demo with an Anthill innovation consultant today.