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Tech Disparities for the Deskless Workforce

By Matt Fairhurst, CEO & Cofounder, Skedulo

The COVID-19 pandemic upturned traditional office settings as desk-based employees shifted to remote work. The silver lining of this change has been the acceleration of digital transformation, including the increased adoption of collaboration, productivity and other cloud-based tools to modernize outdated work environments. But unfortunately, not all workforces are experiencing the same pace of technological change.  

Eighty percent of the workforce, 2.7 billion people globally, are deskless, meaning their work is mobile and does not primarily occur in a traditional office environment. This population includes field service technicians, home healthcare providers, delivery workers, construction workers and many others. As the pandemic continues, the deskless workforce will only continue to grow - CIOs predict their mobile workforce will increase by 62% in the next 12 to 24 months.

Yet many software companies continue to ignore the needs of deskless workers. Deskless workers are primarily served by one-size-fits-all software solutions that require a consistent internet connection and are devoid of mobile-friendly capabilities, hampering workers'  ability to successfully complete their jobs.

Decision-makers must equip their essential frontline employees with tools built for their individual roles. Companies that fail to adapt to the technological needs of the deskless workforce risk poor execution of mobile work services and the loss of valuable employees to burnout.  

The more complicated, the less productive

Despite limited software development efforts for the mobile workforce, organizations aren't investing in these tools at the same rate as they do for desk-based software. A recent study found that only 39% of organizations said their deskless workers use software built for their specific needs, with the vast majority still relying on legacy tools. And only 13% of deskless workers' needs are met by the platforms designed for their roles.

The slow adoption of deskless productivity software has added friction to deskless employee workflows. Legacy software solutions are complex, and deskless workers typically need multiple tools to complete different tasks in a single day or even a single appointment. Leadership is well aware of these inefficiencies - 100% of CIOs admitted their mobile workforce uses two or more software tools in their daily operations and 18% said they require five or more. Another common bottleneck is accessibility, as IT leaders said 63% of their deskless workers can only use their productivity software if they have access to a computer.

The use of ill-equipped software tools for deskless jobs translates into lost time, money and productivity. Eighty-six percent of IT leaders admit that a lack of technology disrupts mobile workforce productivity and 67% agree they need to support deskless workers with additional software.

Instead of stacking inoperable tools on top of one another, businesses must shift to operate under a single process platform. With a single technology platform, all necessary information and employee resources are centralized on one easily accessible, digital thread to empower workers in deskless roles. The resulting uniformity can boost mobile worker output, streamline processes and establish a stable foundation for the complicated nature of deskless roles.

Purpose-built solutions streamline job execution

In-office, white-collar jobs can typically count on reliable internet connections as well as easy access to meeting notes or supporting materials for project assignments. Mobile workers don't enjoy the same luxuries - they must actively capture data and complete their duties in real time. To streamline operational workflows for your deskless workforce, focus on a few crucial capabilities:

  • Frontline data collection: Many mobile employees, from in-home medical workers to service technicians, are tasked with extensive administrative work in their day-to-day roles. Consider tools that enable workers to complete administrative tasks onsite, which will reduce the time, cost and burden in completing them at a later time.
  • Flexible scheduling: COVID-19 makes it challenging to consistently schedule in-home services, especially in the event of a last-minute cancelation. While completing service is vital for business, deskless workers (much like their in-office counterparts) shouldn't feel guilty about their inability to fulfill an appointment their schedule doesn't allow. They also shouldn't stretch to meet obligations that derail their work-life balance. Solutions with real-time and flexible scheduling capabilities reduce cancelations and mitigate scheduling conflicts by mapping changing schedules, customer needs and replacements for last-minute changes.
  • Consistent connectivity: Gaps in connectivity can lead to costly setbacks in daily operations for workers in the field and raise safety concerns. Consider using tools that enable mobile workers to access resources offline or via cell-service. The ability to enter data, search for directions and correspond with fellow colleagues prevents bottlenecks and ensures a consistent workflow.
  • Employee safety and support: Balancing a rigorous schedule while on the move can put mobile workers at an increased risk of burnout. Using technology that keeps managers in close contact with mobile employees ensures they're heard, have the proper protective equipment and are aligned on safety measures. Tools like check-in reminders and mass messages bolster the manager-worker relationship by keeping them connected regardless of geographic distance.
  • Productivity analytics: As the pandemic has shown, workflow processes can change practically overnight. Analytics tools are imperative for staying agile in today's fluid operating environment. These tools can help identify areas for performance or process improvement, such as average travel time or service time. Ultimately, analytics benefit your deskless workforce by empowering them to adjust processes to better align with their experiences in the field.

Deskless work comes with unique physical, emotional and digital challenges that are not faced by in-office workers. When these challenges go unchecked by management, they can create unnecessary stress on mobile employees and result in increased turnover.

As the deskless workforce grows, we must pay closer attention to the software gap. Change begins with applying technology to the specific needs of mobile workers to empower their success. However, the right technology must be accompanied by improved training, access to information and dedicated employee check-ins to enact structural change.

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About the Author

Matt Fairhurst 

Matt Fairhurst is the co-founder and CEO of Skedulo, a leader in deskless productivity software. Matt's background is in user experience and user interface design, and, from this, he has a passion for building great products. He spends his time working between the global headquarters in San Francisco and the engineering/product development headquarters in Brisbane, Australia.

Published Friday, September 25, 2020 7:33 AM by David Marshall
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