The deskless workforce accounts for over 80% of the global workforce. It forms a bulk of the frontline employees who keep daily business operations running. The productive efficiency of any business relies heavily on the flexibility and engagement of the deskless workforce.
While employee engagement depicts the willingness of an individual to work, it is essential for promoting work satisfaction.
The roles of deskless employees cut across all economic sectors. According to a survey on the deskless workforce, the retail industry employs approximately 497 million people globally. Manufacturing, construction, transportation, and hospitality account for 427 million, 265 million, 189 million, and 122 million deskless employees. Despite these large numbers, the blue-collar employee receives lower priority concerning work-life balance, corporate communication, and recognition.
There has been a steady rise in the number of deskless and remote workers over the past years. An increase in the number of employees breeds newer challenges for business managers serving different sectors of the economy. The prevalent engagement challenges that business managers tackle daily are:
- Difficulty in reaching and communicating with deskless employees
- Tracking the productivity of dispersed teams
- A sense of voicelessness, lack of empowerment, and high exposure to risk among employees
- High turnover rates and transition to competing businesses.
Engagement measures adopted before COVID-19 might have little impact on employee wellness and business progress. More employees are now working remotely, with a sizable number placed on unpaid leave (furlough). Post-pandemic managers must change tact. There is a massive requirement for rolling out effective engagement solutions that are pro deskless workforce.
Currently, most businesses limit the number of employees who must be physically present within their companies. Flexible work schedules, technology-based employee management solutions, and decentralised work systems are taking center stage.
Business managers from different industries can leverage the following methods to enhance deskless employee engagement and steer businesses forward amid pandemic uncertainties.
- Adopt mobile technology
Mobile technology is continually revolutionising workforce management and engagement. At its basic, mobile phones are vital for relaying information through short message services (SMS) and voice calls. Such a setup enables the deskless employee to access and utilise relevant information at the right time and place. For business managers, mobile phones allow them to send timely alerts and communicate changes in work schedules, production targets, or work requirements to multiple employees within a short time through automated messaging.
Using smartphones improves workforce engagement by incorporating work-specific applications. Apart from facilitating instant messaging services, they allow the curation of informational articles or libraries.
Most of these applications form part of work tools, enabling the deskless workforce to verify their daily work allocations, gauge personal progress, fill in attendance records, file reports or complaints – all facilitated through a network-connected smartphone or a cloud-hosted solution.
Image source: Unsplash
These apps create a sense of freedom as the pressure that comes with physical supervision subsides.
For example, facility managers who work at a strategic and management level in big factories can use the administrator privileges of the applications to formulate work orders, approve work requests, monitor individual or group performance, and quantify business progress.
Aside from work-related activities, some of these apps permit interpersonal interactions through chats, gaming, and fun activities. Through such programmes, the company can organise virtual meetings, fun and team-building activities at a lower cost, without compromising the health of deskless employees or routine business operations.
Apart from improving decision-making processes, access to mobile technology boosts personal morale as there is a transparency of information and visibility of daily progress. It enhances micro-learning strategies, ensuring that the deskless employees understand how businesses or processes operate.
- Provide flexible work schedules
During these unprecedented times, the focus is on retaining talent while paying close attention to their mental and physical health. There are minimum health requirements that businesses must observe post-pandemic. One of the strict measures is the acceptable number of employees within a facility.
To minimise turnovers, facility managers have to balance staffing requirements and establish flexible work schedules. These schedules can take any of the following forms:
- Flex work locations – deskless workforce have the liberty to choose where they’re comfortable working. It will mostly be remote work/telecommuting. However, for industries like construction or transportation, the employee may choose to work closer to their homes or families.
- Flex work time – Work schedules are staggered to create compressed working weeks, flexible working hours, or swapping shifts.
- Flextime off – The facility manager may choose to extend leave/vacation days, extend time-offs or reduce daily work hours.
Although there are recommendations to maintain social distancing and reduce occupancy levels, facility managers must enlist sufficient workers. Understaffing increases workload resulting in frequent burnouts and a spike in emotional stress, demotivating employees.
Through the flexibility of work schedules, deskless employees gain an opportunity to improve their professional skills and focus on personal development. A healthy employee is an efficient employee.
- Recognise deskless employees
Recognising the work done by a deskless employee through reward programs or emotional affirmations improves personal morale, which is vital for boosting productivity. Although this is a simple gesture, it has far-reaching impacts. During the pre-pandemic period, companies have been distributing newsletters and other periodicals on the progress of businesses.
Often, these publications feature innovations or profitability, with little or no talk about those toiling behind the scenes. Technically speaking, the deskless workforce is the real engine behind the glamorous businesses, be it in construction, retail, hospitality, or any other sector.
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Improving existing recognition strategies within organisations can transform employee engagement. As a new norm, companies are using digital platforms to advertise their products, hold multi-departmental consultations and routine meetings.
Platforms like webinars, video conferences, and mailing lists enable managers to engage directly with the deskless workforce. Facility managers can use these platforms to applaud the contributions of outstanding employees who perform well despite the challenging times. Articles like enamel pins, branded rewards, or monetary compensations create a sense of pride among deskless employees and motivate them to perform better in their roles.
Innovation remains part and parcel of business progress. Reducing the economic shortfalls experienced due to the pandemic requires the input of deskless employees and business stakeholders. The deskless workforce is the frontline in any business and has a better understanding of the daily challenges. They are aware of the challenges and are in a better position to suggest improvement ideas. It is high time that facility managers provide appropriate channels for deskless employees to showcase their innovative ideas. Organising virtual workshops for showcasing solutions or implementing some of their ideas into business operations is a sign of goodwill and appreciation from their employer.
- Empower supervisors
Direct supervisors are the link between the deskless workers and the management of the company.
They are the ones who relay information and supervise adherence to company regulations. As the company adopts technology solutions, it is necessary to equip the supervisors with the right skills and work tools. It provides an avenue for the supervisor to identify skill gaps and develop motivational programs to enhance employee engagement.
- Develop an appropriate corporate culture
A company’s corporate culture can attract or repel talent. A positive corporate culture encourages engagement between the different levels of the company and creates a sense of belonging among employees. Deskless employees prefer working with a listening and appreciative manager rather than one who continuously criticises them.
The offerings of a positive corporate culture go beyond mutual respect and clearly documented roles. There is a preference for companies with clear communication channels, reasonable work targets, and flexible work arrangements.
Just as technology is changing, so are the transformation of working cultures and engagement strategies. The deskless workforce has undeniably supported all sectors of the economy despite the dire effects of the pandemic.
Wouldn’t it be great that as the economic disruptions persist, facility managers and companies adopt the appropriate engagement strategies to retain and empower their deskless workforce?
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Author: Bryan Christiansen – founder and CEO of Limble CMMS