Bersin: Why it’s time to build a new, improved deskless reality

By: | October 14, 2021
Josh Bersin writes HRE’s HR in the Flow of Work column. Bersin is an analyst, author, educator and thought leader focusing on the global talent market and the challenges and trends impacting business workforces around the world. He can be emailed at hreletters@lrp.com.

Over the past few months, hybrid work models and policies have dominated work-related conversations. However, most employees working in retail, transportation, healthcare, hospitality and manufacturing don’t have an option for remote or hybrid working.

While hybrid work is important, deskless workers have also experienced massive changes in the work world. HR has a critical role in designing the new reality for these employees, who make up about 80% of the global workforce. Winning the war for talent will depend on the deskless worker experience you offer.

As you consider the employee experience for these critical employees, it’s important to remember three factors:

  • Your deskless work strategy is just as important as your hybrid work strategy. Hybrid and deskless work experiences need to be designed in parallel. Design teams should include representatives from senior leadership operations, IT, HR and facilities. Everything from culture to technology should be part of the design initiative.
  • The deskless worker experience is integral to your employment value proposition. As the economy continues to grow, job candidates will want to know what it’s like to work at your company. However, don’t focus solely on the experience for new hires. It’s way too easy to forget about engaging and retaining current employees.
  • Listen to and communicate with your workers. Setting a vision for the new work world and regular, meaningful communications are critically important. Demonstrate that you’re listening and taking action in response to input. A shocking 84% of deskless workers feel they don’t get adequate communications from their employers.

See also: Why better tech tools are vital for deskless workers

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It’s also important to keep in mind these seven critical components of deskless work:

1. Connections and Creativity: Many deskless workers are most driven by the need to connect with others face to face. Safety protocols absolutely need to be established, but there is no substitute for direct relationships. To provide the best customer service, deskless workers, first and foremost, need more time to think and innovate. But that’s exactly what they don’t have, especially in companies dealing with staff shortages. A mere 6% of manufacturing companies and 7% of consumer companies design jobs to allow people time to rest, reinvent and innovate, compared to 21% of technology firms and 29% of professional services companies.

2. Coaching and Development: Deskless workers are often your key connection to customers. Therefore, they need coaching to create the best customer experiences. Yet, managers of deskless workers are often disconnected from the work itself and have limited insights into the interactions and behaviors of their team members because they themselves are usually deskbound and overwhelmed. For instance, nurse managers commonly have 100 or more direct reports. Just 11% of hospitality companies invest in developing leaders at all levels, compared to 75% of pharmaceutical companies. Since coaching people in vastly different work settings can be challenging, managers need ample support systems and tools to do this effectively.

3. Commute Support and Belonging: This is an area that can have great inequities. Those working remotely or hybrid typically have more flexibility over work hours and commuting. However, deskless workers don’t have such control. HR needs to take the lead in determining how to minimize such differences, make commuting as safe as possible and create a culture of equity and belonging for all.

4. Care and Coverage: Many deskless workers live paycheck to paycheck, and only 13% of the 2.7 billion deskless workers worldwide have paid sick time. Additionally, because they often have limited flexibility in job scheduling or work location, child and dependent care are hugely important issues. While many companies can’t increase compensation or benefits, helping people stretch their money through offerings such as on-demand pay goes a long way to support financial wellbeing. Further, supporting employees’ emotional health and wellbeing needs to be on the HR team’s radar.

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5. Career Pathways and Development: Many companies use talent marketplaces to enable a more dynamic, employee-driven approach to fill open jobs, provide mentoring and coaching, and complete staff ad hoc projects. But deskless workers are often excluded from these talent exchanges. Additionally, the skills development and experiences offered are typically geared to knowledge workers. To change this, big companies such as Walmart and Disney support deskless workers—grocery baggers, check-out scanners or theme park employees—to build career pathways to future-focused careers through education, new job experiences, mentoring and work assignments.

Related: Why HR needs to solve ‘real failures’ around deskless workers

6. Culture and Community: The most important dimensions of employee experience include a culture where people trust the company and leadership and are inspired by a mission beyond financial success. Yet, deskless workers are often disconnected from a company’s mission and values because many communication channels are designed for deskbound employees. A people-first approach means prioritizing investments in people even when the business is not doing well; companies that do this see higher financial performance and customer satisfaction.

7. Communication and Collaboration: Think of the collaboration and communication platforms, support systems and services, and knowledge management solutions used by knowledge workers every day. Deskless workers are often left behind with no access to these tools. Today, the market offers many solutions with mobile-first and customizable approaches that allow all employees to engage in whatever way is most convenient. Communication platforms like SocialChorus (recently merged with Dynamic Signal) can help keep people connected to key enterprise news, up-to-date on training needs and engaged with others across the company—all from a simple, personalized app or even in their work systems.

Without deskless workers, our economy would come to a standstill. We would have no food, healthcare, transportation, childcare or products to buy. Let’s build a new deskless reality that’s not a second-class version of deskbound work but, instead, second to none. We owe it to the people who power our lives.

For more information, and examples of excellence and case studies, I invite you to download our latest report, The Big Reset Playbook: Deskless Workers.

Read more insights from Josh Bersin here.

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