Time to give a damn about the deskless

Kit Kyte, CEO, Checkit   

In the UK, employers are facing their worst ever shortages, according to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).  A combination of factors has created a perfect storm for employment problems in key sectors, with a particularly acute impact on deskless workers. Many have moved away from these roles in what has been described as the great resignation. The pandemic is a factor in itself but the past 18 months have also forced long-term underlying issues to the surface.

Causes of deskless staff shortages include:

  • Burnout – Deskless staff who worked extra hard during the pandemic to ensure the provision of essential services, when their teams were decimated by illness, absence, self-isolation and furlough, have been radically rethinking their work-life balance. Many have resigned as a result of burnout.
  • Pay and conditions – Historically low wages, long shifts and unsociable hours across deskless roles are no longer tolerated by large numbers of workers. The pandemic has brought about a large-scale shift in people’s priorities and highlighted issues around childcare provision. It is telling that companies including Target, Best Buy, McDonald’s and Amazon have introduced higher wages and bonuses to attract new employees.
  • Feeling undervalued – Despite their best efforts to maintain continuity throughout lockdown conditions, many deskless employees have been left with the feeling that they are not valued by their organisations. It’s not only a question of salary but a sense of disconnection from the wider company and a suspicion that their work is taken for granted.
  • Safety considerations – Unable to work from home, deskless teams have been called into work continuously through the pandemic, even when infection rates were peaking. Applying social distancing measures in dynamic and busy deskless environments brings challenges that many employers struggled to overcome in the short-term.

How do employers attract and retain deskless workers?

The staffing shortage crisis has prompted a healthy discussion on the needs of deskless workers in the modern era. It is incumbent on employers in sectors that depend on deskless workers to give greater consideration to those needs. Leaders now have an opportunity to implement the necessary retain existing workers and attract the new recruits they need to fill vacancies. And it’s not only about stabilizing the deskless workforce but empowering these employees to make an even greater contribution to growth, customer experience, productivity and safety.

Giving deskless staff greater autonomy

Management of deskless workers has traditionally assumed a command-and-control format. But with disengagement feeding ‘the great resignation’ it’s imperative for employers to give more autonomy to frontline workers at sites that at separate from company headquarters. An academic study published this year highlighted how giving frontline workers greater control over their time and scheduling could drive up their productivity. One example would be to replace retrospective checklists with a more supportive and adaptable form of guidance. Compliance-driven checklists offer a simple form of scrutiny over the tasks that workers have or have not completed. In contrast, forward-looking organisations are deploying digital assistants to the mobile devices of deskless workers. Digital assistants prompt, guide and capture the activity of employees while giving them greater autonomy over the way in which tasks are done and how they collaborate with colleagues.

Improving the digital experience of deskless workers

According to one survey, 73% of frontline employees are still using pen-and-paper checklists. Elsewhere, actions might be logged in disparate spreadsheets and siloed legacy systems. These are in stark contrast to the digital experiences employees enjoy at home. From smart speakers to on-demand TV streaming and doorstep security, employees know what good technology feels like. Yet when they arrive in deskless jobs they are confronted with working practices that have hardly changed in the past two decades. This is an issue that will become more pressing as a digitally-savvy generation of young people enter the workforce. A more intuitive digital experience is what deskless employees increasingly expect and leaders need to look at ways to make that happen.

Training and onboarding deskless workers

The process of onboarding and training staff can eat up many hours of valuable time – particularly in sectors with high levels of staff turnover. Some deskless staff, including international recruits without native language skills, may struggle with traditional written documentation. One way employers can address this is to make on-the-job guidance more accessible. Digital assistants, available via mobile devices, deliver step-by-step guidance directly to staff members to help them complete tasks even if they are unfamiliar with an environment and its working practices. Instead of separate training modules, on-the-go learning takes a more practical stance and enables new joiners to get up to speed quickly. One organization was able to reduce onboarding time to less than a month across its entire workforce by using the Checkit platform.

Recognising the value of essential frontline work

One of the causes of the ‘great resignation’ is that staff don’t feel their efforts are recognized. This is hardly surprising if their tasks are noted on paper and filed away for monthly or quarterly reporting. BY digitizing processes, employees can log their achievements immediately, wherever they are working, and their managers get a real-time view of performance levels. This enables leaders to recognize and reward frontline achievements, as well as the data-driven intelligence to direct additional training and support where it is most needed. Defining, capturing and sharing individual contribution to overall performance helps to embed a sense of purpose in everyday work.

Reducing risk with safer working practices

Employers can ensure safer working conditions and reduce the risk of errors and accidents if they have real-time visibility of what’s happening on the frontline. Outdated paperwork and associated reporting methods are slow, inflexible and prone to errors and falsification. The result is that organisations succumb to ‘dark operations’ – making them blind to risks that they are unable to see. Digital technology enables leaders to provide clear and up-to-the-minute guidance to their deskless workforce. It also creates a valuable feedback loop, with predictive insight that helps to flag up areas of concern at an early stage. Guidance and procedures can be quickly amended or updated and rolled out at pace across an entire organization. The pandemic has increased safety concerns. A survey in January 2021 suggested that 71% of workers did not feel completely safe in their workplace. The survey also suggested only 45 per cent of workplaces had safety protocols in place such as social distancing and mandatory mask wearing. Risk reduction will be crucial for organisations aiming to thrive in the post-pandemic world.

Turning around the trend of shortages in deskless workforces will require employers to rethink the way they equip, empower and engage with frontline teams.

Author: Editorial Team

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