For many companies, the deskless workforce is the backbone of their organization. Hourly shift workers have long kept the wheels of businesses turning, but the COVID-19 pandemic revealed to all of us just how important these workers are. Put simply, without warehouse workers, delivery drivers and cashiers showing up every day, people would have struggled to get even basic necessities. Our society is dependent on deskless workers.

Despite this, and after almost two and a half years of the pandemic, discussions about the future of work are still dominated by its affect on white collar, office-based employees. There are a lot of studies about the impact of hybrid and remote models on office workers that expound on ways in which hybrid workers can best be accommodated. On the other hand, much less is being said about what we can do to improve conditions for the deskless workforce.

Stemming the Tide of Resignations

This is a mistake. America, as around the globe, is in the grip of The Great Resignation, where workers are quitting their jobs to find something more rewarding. Despite the focus of news headlines, this trend is as prevalent in deskless roles as with office-based ones. According to a MIT Sloan Management Review study, the highest attrition rate experienced last year was in a deskless role: apparel retail. Given that deskless workers are thought to account for ensuring workers stay in place is therefore a critical imperative for employers.

Achieving this goal means focusing on employee engagement and building a corporate culture that makes workers want to stick around. However, when it comes to deskless workers this can be easier said than done. Unlike their office-based counterparts, deskless workers rarely use computers, so it can be harder to reach out to them and build engagement. Because of this, employers need to think “outside the box” and come up with alternative strategies for engaging the deskless workforce. Let’s take a look at these three ideas to help get you started.

1.     Build a culture of recognition.

Creating a culture that works for deskless and knowledge workers alike starts with demonstrating to employees that you value them. This can be achieved simply by recognizing their contributions. Recent research from a study by Workhuman in partnership with Gallup shows that when employees feel recognized, they are 56% less likely to look or watch for new job opportunities. They are also five times more likely to feel connected to their culture and four times more likely to feel engaged.

Recognition refers to praising, acknowledging or expressing gratitude to employees for who they are and what they do. Importantly, recognition and reward programs can be tailored to suit employees. For desk workers that may mean more face-to-face programs where employees are recognized in front of a group of their colleagues, or where managers make the effort to meet with them and thank them for their efforts.

Technology also has a significant role to play in building a culture of recognition. While deskless workers may not be able to access computers during their work day, most workers still own smartphones, and these can be used as a channel for recognition and rewards outreach. For example, at Eaton, a global electric manufacturing company, approximately 50% of its workforce is offline and does not have access to a computer. Rather than leave these employees out of the recognition equation, the company facilitates mobile kiosks, or “minute clinics” to help offline employees embrace technology and encourage program interaction.

2.     Promote frequent check-ins with deskless workers.

Workers who check in with their boss at least weekly are five times less likely to be disengaged and nearly two times as likely to believe they can grow in the organization. Frequent face-to-face check-ins are more important for deskless workers, who are less likely to engage frequently with managers on digital channels. Weekly, even daily check-ins can give employees the chance to connect, ask questions, raise concerns and most importantly, feel heard — wherever they are working.

And again — technology can play a significant role. Smartphone apps, for example, can be used to initiate check-ins, create and capture agenda items and share progress updates. Such technologies help shift the focus away from formal performance evaluations to regular manager-employee interactions that can help make employees feel like they are truly cared for and that their personal development is important to the organization.

3.     Run “voice of the employee” exercises.

Keeping a finger on the pulse of employees is critical to identifying workforce issues and nipping them in the bud. They play an important role in creating a model of continuous improvement across the organization but they’re arguably most useful when it comes to the deskless workforce, where it can be harder to keep an eye on employee sentiment. Honest and authentic listening exercises can also help employees feel valued and empowered and can help them gain a sense of belonging.

Employee surveys should not be a burden to workers. Use quick and frequent surveys for snapshot views of how employees are doing and how connected they feel to the company. The data collected from these surveys can uncover what’s working and what isn’t, allowing employers to make changes accordingly.

Building a Resilient Workforce

To create the right environment for deskless workers, leaders should take a human-centric approach toward designing their employee experience and employer brand. Employee recognition, continuous performance development and employee pulse surveys all have a role to play in helping these workers feel connected to the entire company, recognized for their work and rewarded for their efforts.

Businesses that can deliver a compelling experience for deskless workers can also benefit from a significant competitive advantage and as a result, succeed better at attracting and retaining the workers needed to drive growth. Work is changing for everyone — it’s time to ensure that everyone is brought along for the ride, no matter where they work.

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