• Leaders’ willingness to embrace digital transformation for deskless work is promising, but the journey is ongoing, especially considering this workforce will only expand. 
  • CIOs predict the number of mobile workers will increase by 62% in the next two years. 
  • Instead of stacking inoperable tools on top of each other, businesses must shift to operating in a single platform.

There’s a common perception that the majority of us are knowledge workers who seamlessly swapped in-office work stations for at-home desks during the pandemic. But in reality, 80% of the world’s workforce does not do their job from behind a desk. And these workers are getting left out of important conversations surrounding digital transformation, workplace improvement and pandemic-related restrictions.

Deskless workers like solar technicians, mobile phlebotomists and in-home healthcare providers have experienced unprecedented changes to their daily work. The pandemic necessitated companies that employ deskless workers to become contactless, making technology adoption essential. While technological evolution was already underway prior to the pandemic, the current scope, scale and speed of change is rapidly transforming frontline service industries.

Leaders’ willingness to embrace digital transformation for deskless work is promising, but the journey is ongoing, especially considering this workforce will only expand. CIOs predict the number of mobile workers will increase by 62% in the next two years. With this segment of the workforce continuing to grow, leaders must provide tools that respond to their unique pain points.

Lack of purpose-built tech caused inefficiencies to deskless workflow

The deskless workforce is the largest category of workers, encompassing thousands of jobs across various industries. But as recently as a few years ago, only 1% of software funding went toward technology serving their specific needs. With 80% of the employed population lacking adequate tech, many jobs are not being completed as effectively as they could be.

Without specialized tools, deskless workers have historically relied on pen and paper, “one-size-fits-all” software or multiple applications to perform individual tasks. When these workers have to keep track of documents, switch between different tools or return to an office to complete tasks on a computer, it unnecessarily complicates their workflows. Eighty-six percent of IT leaders agree their deskless workers’ productivity is hindered by a lack of technology to support their jobs.

Consider an autism behavioral therapist. Prior to the pandemic, the typical in-home healthcare worker’s day-to-day required mapping out routes via a mobile device, carrying laptops with access to electronic health records, communicating with patients ahead of arrival, conducting behavioral therapy services, updating the patient’s treatment plan, ongoing communication with their employer and accessing their schedule. Deskless workers have been asked to do too much administrative work across disparate technologies not designed for their specific use cases, taking focus away from their actual services. A lack of suitable technology can negatively impact customer service, customer loyalty and your bottom line.

Reliance on software designed for desk-based workers translates into losses in productivity, accuracy, money and opportunity for organizations with a deskless workforce. But the response to this year’s events has shown there’s an appetite for resolving these inefficiencies and changing deskless work for the better.

Reimagining deskless work in light of the pandemic

Safety concerns regarding the spread of the coronavirus forced a reimagination of frontline work. The delivery of mobile services suddenly became complicated, requiring additional measures to keep deskless workers and customers safe and comfortable.

Now, arrival times must be exact and communicated ahead of time to mitigate in-person contact. Individual customer preferences have become critical for accommodating health concerns. Paperless and touchless modes of work require e-signatures and virtual document sharing. Last-minute cancelations and rescheduling are common due to sanitary concerns and quarantining. Many, especially in the healthcare field, have pivoted to virtual service delivery, necessitating conferencing tools and additional skills training.

In light of these challenges, organizations faced two options: evolve or fall behind. Of course, the majority of organizations chose to evolve, providing deskless workers with new tools for safety and success. In fact, data collected by Skedulo in October found nearly three-fourths of employers implemented new technology to help deskless workers during the pandemic.

In particular, investment in automated and machine-powered mass communication and scheduling tools spiked. CIOs indicate the leading technologies their organizations invested in to support workers in the field have been virtual customer appointment tools (78%), messaging tools (72%) and online appointment scheduling (59%). As a result, 80% of deskless workers feel they have the tools necessary to complete their jobs and 32% feel optimistic about the future based on these technology investments.

Better communication and scheduling have been necessary to address fundamental customer service and employee productivity challenges during the pandemic. Streamlined communication, virtual appointments and online customer portals provide a safe and effective solution. These efforts are improving the daily lives of deskless workers and helping organizations scale.

The only way to move is toward the future

The silver lining for deskless workers in an otherwise very difficult year has been accelerated digital transformation. Adoption of these technologies not only improves productivity and customer service during the pandemic but also over the long term.

With more industries relying on a deskless workforce to deliver services and products outside a centralized location, it is crucial to understand what is and isn’t working. The pandemic highlighted many existing challenges, spurring unprecedented innovation and adaptation. Yet, investment in purpose-built technologies and widespread adoption of these tools still has a long way to go to catch up to the desk-based workforce.

Instead of stacking inoperable tools on top of each other, businesses must shift to operating in a single platform. With a centralized platform, all necessary information and resources are easily accessible. The resulting uniformity can boost mobile worker output, streamline processes and establish a stable foundation for the complex nature of deskless roles. While many office jobs have regular access to interoperable and purpose-built tools, there’s still tremendous opportunity for software companies to invest in the deskless workforce.

As expectations for frontline service increase, leaders must adopt technology that solves the unique pain points of the mobile workforce. Companies that fail to do so risk the retention of valuable employees and their own potential for growth. Workflow management, scheduling, staff capacity and data management are all areas ripe for improvement. These infrastructural changes will empower deskless workers to feel supported, successful, mentally healthy and physically safe.

Matt Fairhurst is the CEO of Skedulo