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A seven-part framework to best manage your deskless (frontline) employees

A seven-part framework to best manage your deskless (frontline) employees


Here are some recommended work practices to adopt for employees in retail, healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality, transportation, and other sectors.

More work needs to be done for employees without desks in sectors such as retail, healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality, transportation, and more, global industry analyst, Josh Bersin believes. This is because, according to Bersin, "so little attention" has been given to the working and personal needs of deskless employees that organisations are now facing mass resignations, unionisation efforts, and unfilled jobs.

"Although the global deskless workforce makes up 80% of the working population, much of the recent media focus and research has been around remote and hybrid working arrangements available to relatively few employees," Bersin added.

Against this backdrop, The Josh Bersin Company released a report, The Big Reset Playbook: Deskless Workers, that identifies the seven critical components for creating excellent employee experiences for deskless workers, and the associated people-related practices. 

ICYMIJosh Bersin's employee experience (EX) framework for an irresistible organisation

At a glance, these are the seven critical components identified in the report that improve work experiences for deskless employees:

  1. Enable human connections and time for creativity;
  2. Train managers to better coach deskless workers;
  3. Make the commute easy and establish belonging at work;
  4. Support the deskless worker's entire life;
  5. Help deskless workers build fulfilling careers;
  6. Build on the mission and create a deskless first culture, and
  7. Provide tools and services geared for mobile.

Continue below to find the respective components explained in detail.

#1 Enable human connections and time for creativity

"A mere 6% of manufacturing companies, and 7% of consumer companies design jobs to allow people time to rest, reinvent, and innovate, compared to 21% of technology firms, and 29% of professional services companies," the report stated, despite deskless workers being the closest to the customer.

As such, deskless workers—most driven by the need to connect with others face-to-face—would need that connection to thrive, that time to think and innovate on finding new ways of work (while providing the best customer service experience to consumers) amidst the established COVID-19 safety protocols, for instance.

#2 Train managers to better coach deskless workers

This is crucial because managers of deskless workers are often disconnected from the work itself, and have limited insights into the interactions and behaviours of their team members because they themselves are usually deskbound. Furthermore, companies hardly support managers in developing people—with just 11% of hospitality companies investing in developing leaders at all levels, compared to 75% of pharmaceutical companies.

Thus, managers of deskless workers would require ample support systems and tools to effectively manage their people, especially when deskless workers are always out and about connecting with customers.

#3 Make the commute easy and establish belonging at work

Compared to other employees in professional services firms, deskless workers are still required to commute to work amidst the pandemic. While their companies have mostly kept up to date with the safety requirements, workers are still worried about getting infected during their commute. This could be avoided if there is more flexibility given in the job.

Putting the aforementioned circumstance into statistics, it was revealed in the report that three in four companies let workers decide where, when, and how to do their job. However, only 12% of companies in the hospitality business, for instance, actually do the same.

Thus, it is important employes of deskless staff look at how they can create a more inclusive environment where people at any level and in any setting are valued, respected, and feel psychologically safe.

#4 Support the deskless worker's entire life

Since work flexibility is often not an option for deskless workers, they are required to find alternatives to take care of and support their families, which generates problems in balancing their finances.

In fact, it was shared in the report that the vast majority live paycheck-to-paycheck, and only 13% of the 2.7bn deskless workers worldwide have paid sick time. Further, three in four have worked while sick, and many are left without child or dependent care if a family member gets sick.

Thus, in addition to possibly expanding wellbeing benefits, deskless companies and employers should also be considering daily pay options, and more predictable work schedules.

#5 Help deskless workers build fulfilling careers

Many companies use talent marketplaces to enable a more dynamic, employee-driven approach to deploy people not just to open jobs but also to projects, mentoring, and even informational interviews. Technologies abound and the war of the skills cloud is real, with every major HR tech company creating their own skills taxonomy from which to subscribe.

But deskless workers are often excluded from these talent exchanges. Not only are most of the marketplaces set up to work for deskbound workers, but also the skills, education, and experiences are mostly geared toward knowledge workers.

To change this, big companies like Walmart or Disney support deskless workers—grocery baggers, check-out scanners, or theme park employees—to build career pathways to future-focused careers through education, experience, learning from others, and work assignments.

#6 Build on the mission and create a deskless first culture

A sense of belonging and community is critically important for deskless workers, yet many are often disconnected from the overall corporate mission and values when communication channels are designed for deskbound employees. Hence, employers and organisations should employ a people-first approach towards their deskless employees, which means prioritising investments in people at all levels and in all job roles.

Research shows that companies that do that see higher financial performance and customer satisfaction.

#7 Provide tools and services geared for mobile

More often than not, HR- and work-tech are geared toward browser-based access for the deskbound employee. As such, deskless workers are often left behind with no access to communication, tools, or resources. Deskless employers should then adopt solutions that can help bridge the gap of technology accessibility between deskless and deskbound workers.

While these seven components can improve the desk-less worker experience, they shouldn't act as hard-and-fast rules, according to Kathi Enderes, Vice President of Research, The Josh Bersin Company.

"Company leaders need to first fully understand the reality of deskless workers and how their experiences are different from deskbound employees. HR teams must learn what the concerns and priorities are for these employees and what needs to be done to improve their work experiences."

Image / The Josh Bersin Company

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Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!

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