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Time for businesses to digitally invest in deskless workers

The ongoing impacts of recruitment challenges and the allure of flexible employment options are forcing businesses to adapt.

A typical office desk. Image: Mattes / Wikimedia / Public Domain (CC0 1.0)
A typical office desk. Image: Mattes / Wikimedia / Public Domain (CC0 1.0)

Historically, much of workplace technology has focused on white-collar workers who sit behind a desk most of the day. Despite the fact that deskless workers — such as field service technicians, home health aides and others who work out in the field — make up about 80 percent of the global workforce, less than 5 percent of software investments have focused on this segment of the working population.

Some signals suggest this appears to be changing. Big technology companies are now shifting their focus to solutions for frontline workers. Microsoft, for example, is adding a walkie-talkie button on their Teams platform as they look to expand technology for frontline workers. In addition, the company has released a new segment of their Work Trend Index report focused solely on deskless workers. This in itself signals a shift in technological innovation towards this section of the workforce.

According to Matt Fairhurst, CEO of Skedulo, there is a sizeable growth in deskless worker numbers, and this means of working is of importance as many businesses enter an age of unprecedented employee empowerment (one response to the ‘Great Resignation’). Fairhurst has provided Digital Journal with the results of a survey into deskless workers and the changing dynamics of the workplace.

With businesses facing challenges retaining workers due to increasingly competitive talent markets, the ongoing impacts of recruitment challenges and the allure of flexible employment options is something that various organizations across many different industrial sectors are struggling to grapple with.

Skedulo’s annual State of the Deskless Work report looks at the persistent disconnect between employees and their deskless workers. For instance, many deskless workers highlight a lack autonomy and control. This is borne out by only 6% percent of organizations feeling that their deskless workforce is “very autonomous”, while less than one-in-ten deskless workers have “a high degree” of control over their schedule and nearly one-in-three have low or limited control.

While the value of autonomy is recognized, the employee experience ranks low among strategic priorities. Here 97 percent of organizations are of the view that increased employee autonomy would improve retention, client satisfaction, performance, and market share, with nearly one-in-six respondents strongly agreeing. Yet strategies to do so are generally lacking from firms in this situation.

The report also finds that deskless work is highly dynamic, with 92 percent of organizations reporting that their deskless workers’ jobs are regularly cancelled, distributed across many locations, composed of many different work types, each requiring a specific set of worker skills, attributes, and formal certifications.

This is limiting business growth and competitiveness, since those organizations with a high volume of deskless workers are appearing to lag behind in terms of digital transformation. For example, the survey revealed that only 6 percent of respondents rely entirely on digital processes for deskless work.

In addition, 44 percent of organizations continue to rely on paper-based processes half of the time or more. This signals are large sector of economic output that is not yet digital and hence the promises of digital transformation remain a long way away from being realised.

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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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