We’ve seen what happens when you bring technological innovation to the office. It’s time we took care of the other 80 percent of the workforce: the deskless worker.
Time for a thought experiment: Picture a group of office workers doing training. They’re probably sitting at their desks, on computers, looking very much like they do when they’re working.
Now let’s imagine the other 80 percent of the workforce, the people who don’t work in offices: deskless workers. They are the people in the field or who mainly handle physical goods instead of a keyboard or phone. They’re the sales associates on the showroom floor, the field service workers, the delivery drivers and the material handlers in the warehouse. They work in shifts, so scheduling time to take them away from their jobs to sit in a classroom can be a nightmare. In fact, the more you think about it, the less it makes sense to put them through the same training you’d give to office workers who sit at a desk.
So what do you do instead?
This is the challenge facing organizations whose employees are largely on the move. Learning and development professionals are used to meeting the needs of people in the office. Supporting deskless workers, on the other hand, requires a complete rethink around how training is delivered, which means digging into what makes for truly effective learning. It means taking a critical eye to the current approach to corporate training; reassessing our assumptions; and being prepared to make significant, even difficult, changes.
The first step is to identify the unique needs of the deskless worker. Like their desk-bound counterparts, deskless workers need access to critical information about company procedures, scheduling and policies. But they have an additional requirement: They need to be able to connect to this information anytime and anywhere, because they are often on the move. It sounds simple enough, but since many deskless workers don’t have corporate emails, it’s no wonder that businesses are struggling to give them the consistent, up-to-date training and job-related information they require. The consequence? High rates of safety incidents, substandard job performance and poor business results.
Traditional approaches like classroom sessions, manuals and learning management systems don’t address the needs of deskless workers. Companies simply can’t afford to have these employees sit in a classroom or at a computer for hours at a time, because it takes them away from their job. Instead, organizations need a way to deliver consistent training to this group and reinforce it over time without interrupting their regular workflow.
For L&D, this means completely transforming the way deskless workers receive training. Offering LMS content through a mobile app won’t solve the problem; nobody wants to take a three-hour course on a phone. Instead, we need to think about how to use modern technology and concepts to meet deskless workers where they are. Consider delivering training in micro-sized pieces instead of through lengthy one-time classroom and e-learning sessions. Think about how to deliver training continually and offer employees access to information at the point of need to boost knowledge and business outcomes.
It’s this sort of approach that will help deskless workers perform at their best and potentially impact high rates of workforce churn, because they actually feel like their employers are investing as much in them as in their desk-bound counterparts. The next era in corporate learning will be about taking this approach and running with it. The companies that come out on top will be the ones that take advantage of learning tools and technologies to boost their most critical resource: their workforce.
Supporting the deskless worker is a no-brainer. Google estimates that 80 percent of the global workforce—about 3 billion people—are performing deskless work every day. Doing it right will take some thought, but the bigger hurdle is just making it to the starting line.