A deskless worker is an employee who doesn’t have a designated office or work environment. More than 2.7 billion workers are deskless, and collectively make up about 80% of the global workforce.
You can find deskless workers in all industries, but they are especially common in fields like healthcare, public safety, transportation, construction, shipping, and logistics. The term may also describe workers who perform their jobs remotely without having to report to a traditional office. For example, digital nomads fall under the umbrella of deskless workers.
These workers perform a range of important tasks. To illustrate, deskless workers may operate trucks, manage warehouse inventory, provide maintenance, or perform construction services. They often operate in the background and provide essential services that are critical for businesses or communities.
Deskless workers are like frontline workers in that they typically float between locations and work in shifts. However, there are some important differences.
- A deskless worker can be any employee who primarily works in a mobile, remote environment away from an office or desk. Common examples include service technicians, managers, sales teams, construction workers and task and service workers. An increasing number of knowledge workers are also going deskless.
- Frontline workers typically engage directly with customers, patients, or citizens daily. For example, this includes public safety officials, retail workers and healthcare workers. These workers usually have public-facing roles and tend to interact with their local communities on a regular basis.
In some situations, employees may also switch between deskless and frontline workers at different times due to changing schedules. For example, a healthcare employee may serve as a deskless worker during the day, and switch to a frontline worker for a night shift where they interact directly with patients.
Deskless workers rely on an ever-growing list of mobile devices to complete their tasks and communicate with team members and vendors.
Here are some common examples of devices that deskless workers use:
- Shared corporate-owned, single-use (COSU): This may include smartphones or tablets, rugged smartphones or handheld computers, mobile printers, barcode scanners, and XR headsets. Workers use COSU devices during shifts to complete specific tasks.
- Interactive kiosks and digital signage: Corporate-owned interactive kiosks and digital signage can help with customer-facing scenarios to reduce wait times, direct people where to go and streamline administration work. These devices also help enhance workplace culture.
- Bring your own (BYO): This type of policy allows employees to use personally owned smartphones for work and personal care. BYO is convenient for workers, and typically more affordable for the business.
- Corporate-owned, personally enabled (COPE): With COPE, employees can use corporate-owned consumer smartphones for work and personal needs. This gives the business more control over device and application policies.
Despite playing an enormous role in business today, deskless workers often suffer from inadequate digital tools and services. Research shows that companies invest less than one percent of their enterprise software spend on deskless workers. And nearly 60 percent of companies have little to no flexible technology solutions for their deskless workers.
Below are a few challenges that companies face with deskless workers:
- Employee retention: Companies that fail to look after remote workers and equip them with tools for success risk losing them to competitors. According to one study, 43 percent of deskless workers are now looking for a new job.
- Security and privacy: It’s common for deskless workers to collect, store and share sensitive company information on mobile devices. IT workers often struggle to maintain visibility and control over cloud accounts, data and endpoints.
- Employee engagement: It can be challenging for managers and supervisors to engage with deskless workers across remote environments. Deskless workers can sometimes miss important updates and internal communications.
- Employee productivity: Managers often lack visibility with deskless workers. This makes it hard to track productivity and meet project goals. In some cases, having a lack of visibility and control may discourage teams from using deskless workers.
- Safety: Deskless workers sometimes operate in dangerous remote environments. This makes it harder to enforce safety procedures.
As many employers are learning the hard way, deskless workers today want more than just higher wages and benefits. To retain valuable deskless workers, companies should consider providing things like greater flexibility, mobile tools, and modern workflows. And, above all else, companies must make a concerted effort to recognize and empower deskless employees at every turn.
The following actions can help to empower deskless workers and prepare them for success in the field.
- Streamline communication: Deskless workers don’t always have the time or ability to sit down for lengthy video calls or respond immediately to emails. Employers need to embrace flexible text-based platforms that make it easier to communicate and check in throughout the day.
- Embrace autonomy: Micromanaging deskless workers can slow them down and prevent teams from solving problems and completing work. Embracing autonomy and trusting deskless workers typically leads to productivity gains and happier workers.
- Offer learning environments: Deskless workers require access to the latest training resources and information. This is critical for maintaining compliance and quality standards and for employee development. Managers can help by offering online learning portals and knowledge bases featuring on-demand resources.
- Maximize uptime: Device downtime can strand deskless workers and make it impossible to complete jobs. Having an efficient remote support system in place can help quickly overcome device tasks and issues and keep workflows moving.
Deskless workers require the same digital services as on-site employees—flexible applications, lightning-fast connections, and secure devices. This is especially critical for deskless workers that operate in mission-critical environments.
One of the best ways to ensure a positive deskless worker experience is to set up a digital workspace that offers easy access to applications and data. This is possible using an intelligent platform like VMware Workspace ONE, which brings together unified endpoint management, application management and access control into one user-friendly portal.
For deskless deployments, Workspace ONE enables IT to securely stage, manage, and support any device, OS, and use case, as well as provide frontline workers with a digital workspace that optimizes efficiency, transforms workflows, and improves both the employee and customer (or patient) experience.