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Beyond the Time Clock: Meeting the Needs of Remote & Deskless Workers

April 29, 2021 Employee Experience
Mark Feffer
By Mark Feffer

Deskless workers represent a significant proportion of the workforce — up to 80% by many estimates — but to date technology vendors haven’t prioritized meeting their needs. As the number of employees working outside the office increases, developers have all the more reason to focus on users whose computer is more likely to be in their pocket than on their desk.

In HR, early software offerings were built around databases that stored information about employees, labor, organizational structures and relationships, said Martin Hartshorne, CEO of When I Work, a Minneapolis-based workforce management platform for shift workers. Through the mid-1990s and 2000s, developers focused on automating HR processes and, after that, digitizing workflows. 

Today, HR software is knitting itself into the systems used to conduct business throughout the organization. Employees are increasingly the end users of HR applications, and vendors are paying more attention to how their products contribute to the employee experience in ways that go beyond simple interface design.

Industry analyst Josh Bersin thinks that this year HR technology developers will focus on apps that are easy to use and integrate with existing tools. This "EX layer,” as he calls it, includes communications, surveys, case and knowledge management, as well as platforms that simplify the building of workflows, chatbots and portals. One result of all this: Deskless workers might begin to feel more love.

Related Article: Employee Apps Emerge to Engaged Frontline Workers

Deskless Workers Moving Up the Priority List  

According to San Francisco software provider Skedulo, a developer of software for managing deskless workers, 76% of IT executives say tech vendors largely overlook these users in their product development efforts. In the healthcare specifically, 80% said deskless workers have been short-shrifted. Whether by design or instinct, it seems vendors are more concerned with serving office-based workers.

Skedulo polled 100 IT executives between June and July 2020, so the results reflect COVID-19’s realities. About 14% said at least half of their workforce is deskless, while more than 75% said at least 10% operates outside of an office. Over the next two years, nearly two-thirds (62%) expect the number of deskless workers to increase.

Overall, software vendors have a ways to go if they’re going to catch up. Only 39% of CIOs use software designed with deskless workers in mind, and just 13% say those products meet their workers’ needs. More than two-thirds (67%) have to find additional software to provide deskless employees with complete solutions.

Related Article: Can You Hear Me Now? How Unified Communication Is Driving the Digital Workplace

What Happens When Deskless Workers Are Left in the Dark

By many accounts, this disconnect takes a toll on communications and engagement. As Hartshorne put it, “The only point that an employee that’s shift-based would interact with their company digitally was at a time clock.”

However, that approach can put pressure on a company’s business results. Because deskless employees are highly mobile — working in the field as service technicians, for example, or roaming hospital corridors as nurses or aides — they need tools that offer dependable communications, fast response time and simplicity.

Deskless workers also take a different approach to their technical tools. Since sitting at a computer isn’t a core part of their job, they use technology when they have a specific need to address. It follows, then, that 55% of CIOs say deskless employees use tools that have been designed around one task. At the same time, 72% say the tools are tough to use, and that hurts productivity.

But that situation’s evolving. “What used to be one small component of HR for getting hours correct for payroll, has now become an operating system that is kind of the beating heart of something that every employee that works in a shift-based environment uses,” Hartshorne said.  

Not surprisingly, 62% of the CIOs in Skedulo’s survey prioritize tools that will increase productivity. Improved communications and a better employee experience were the next highest priorities, at 52% and 51% respectively. Addressing those issues requires a dedicated platform that focuses specifically on the needs of deskless workers, 86% believe.

Shifting Opportunities

The pandemic-driven shift to remote work gives technology providers an opportunity to expand their horizons. If anything, the surge of employees working from home has increased the need for communications and collaboration solutions designed for those who don’t work from a single, defined space.

It’s also expanded the use of technology by small businesses. Many SMBs were quick to use collaboration solutions like Zoom, Google Meet, Slack or Skype to keep their employees in touch with each other. Telecommunications companies like Mitel have emphasized the capabilities of their technology to support both field-based personnel and remote office workers since the pandemic began.

With the workplace morphing and business conditions shifting by the week, HR tech vendors must take a holistic view of their customers' needs. In some cases, workforce-related chores need to be streamlined while in others, a completely new approach is needed to facilitate connection, communications and engagement. That’s especially true, employers say, because the challenge of maintaining culture and a sense of structure is particularly acute now that workers are geographically scattered.

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