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Q&A: Why peer-to-peer tech isn’t helping deskless workers (Includes interview)

The deskless worker is becoming a more popular form of working, for both employers and employees. Many companies are willing to transform the experience for these employees. This has resulted in an influx of solution providers each claiming to address the issues challenging deskless workers most, and a surplus of companies left to decipher which actually benefits them.

READ MORE: Closing the divide between desk-bound & deskless workers

According to Jeff Corbin, CEO of APPrise Mobile, these predominantly peer-to-peer solutions are not necessarily the best ways to deskless employees what they need or want in order to thrive and be satisfied (i.e. access to real-time, important and need-to-know information to do their jobs).

Corbin notes that the issues of employee engagement and true communication are often paired together, yet they are in fact different things. He explains more to Digital Journal.

Digital Journal: How is the world of work changing through digital technology, especially with remote working?

Jeff Corbin: Technology and the increasingly digital world have shifted our lifestyles and the way humans now interact, so it has become critical for businesses to adapt and mirror this in the way they’re structured and designed, how they operate, and overall communication and engagement with employees.

The Internet and evolving technologies, especially mobile, have created a way to connect employers and employees regardless of location, allowing for more and more workers to work remotely. For those that are deskbound, remaining engaged with their company is not difficult given their ability to easily access content and information through their computers as well as via intranets and email – not to mention various platforms like Skype, Slack, and Google Hangouts.

The problem arises with the 2.7 billion deskless workers who work in industries like retail, manufacturing, hospitality, or healthcare, where they don’t have the luxury of sitting at a computer. Up until the proliferation of mobile technology, software solutions were developed for the computer and didn’t address the challenge of reaching this audience.

DJ: What challenges do deskless workers face?

Corbin: Since deskless employees don’t operate at a traditional desk or have access to standard corporate communication tools, they are limited in how they can access information that is important to them in their work and their personal lives. These workers both desire and require what we refer to as “need-to-know” information like payroll, benefits, scheduling, and other resources that help them function in their day-to-day work and impact their overall satisfaction.

To get this information to them, businesses have had to rely on old-school methods of communications like posters in break rooms, newsletters, trickle-down communications from managers and even snail-mail. However, with these means, there was no way to quantify the success of reaching the deskless worker or to even know if the information was getting to them.

DJ: Is this why there is a big increase in digital solution providers?

Corbin: With the proliferation of mobile technology, there has been an increase in digital solution providers and a desire to create apps to address the needs of the deskless worker. And this makes sense since, for the most part, these individuals all have an Apple or Google device. So it’s not surprising that more and more technologists now exist to create apps, or the software that can be used for Apple and Google’s mobile operating systems.

DJ: Is Slack the leading provider?

Corbin: Slack is definitely leading the pack when it comes to peer-to-peer chat and employee collaboration. They recently added new ways to bridge email to messaging, improve calendar integration, and enhance search – so it’s clear that they’re continuing to evolve and adapt based on employee demand.

While these things are great for deskbound employees and groups of employees who need to collaborate, it is not an ideal solution for the deskless worker who works independently and not in an office environment. Take, for example, a manufacturing line employee or a truck driver — their work really doesn’t require a solution like Slack. For them, it’s about easy access to company information and the content that is important to them in their personal lives.

DJ: What are the downsides of turning to applications like Slack?

Corbin: We’ve seen that some SMBs are turning to tools like Slack as a solution in communicating with deskless employees and are finding success. But as I mentioned, Slack is a leader when it comes to employee collaboration and peer-to-peer chat, it’s not inherently built for the deskless constituency or large enterprise organizations. It’s also not a cost-effective or sustainable solution for enterprises needing top-down employer to employee communications.

DJ: Are there better alternatives for communications software?

Corbin: Organizations with largely disparate and remote workforces need platforms that can centralize information and serve as a reliable hub, both for employers to communicate with employees quickly and effectively and for deskless employees to have easy access to the information that matters to them at all times.

DJ: Are there other factors that need to be taken into account (not just software driven)?

Increasing importance is now being placed on employee communications and engagement in the workplace and what drives an employee’s emotional connection to an organization. However, there is a difference between employee communications and engagement that is important to note, especially when considering a technology solution to address either one or both.

Corbin: Employee communications is defined as the business challenge of developing trust and ensuring that information is received from an organization to its employees. If properly executed, it can have a significant impact on culture, morale and an organization’s overall success. Employee engagement refers to both the emotional connection employees feel for their organization and the tactics companies use to achieve positive sentiment and interaction. Here, there is a strong emphasis on the social aspect, connecting employees to the company and to each other, and the use of collaboration platforms that encourage that interconnected dialogue.

The two are very different and distinct. However, because they both center around the employee experience, companies have come to think of them as one and the same, especially when it comes to employee communications technology. It is important to keep in mind that different technology vendors offer solutions that may or may not address employee communications or employee engagement. It is therefore incumbent upon communication leaders to understand the differences between the two and to ask the right questions so that the decision they ultimately make is the right one and addresses the problem they are looking to solve.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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