Engaging our ‘forgotten’ deskless workers

The term, “quiet quitting” has spread like wildfire across TikTok, HR departments and media headlines. While the concept isn’t entirely novel – it’s really a new phrase to label employee disengagement – it’s critical companies are aware that this trend is ongoing and not likely to be going away any time soon.

This makes it incumbent on businesses (and their HR leadership) to take stock of their workplace culture, and back this up by taking swift steps to rectify any signs of quiet quitting or other red flags that the workplace could be toxic.

But of all the employees HRDs look after, taking note of the above is especially crucial for those professionals who manage deskless employees – people for whom sitting at a computer screen each day is not what they do.

The disadvantaged deskless

It might surprise you just how numerous these people still are. Data suggests deskless employees still comprise around 80% of the global workforce. More than this, they often work on the frontline of essential industries that keep the economy afloat – sectors such as transportation, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, healthcare and more.

Deskless employees are at a disadvantage though. For a start, they’re often digitally-detached – that is, they don’t have a corporate email address. As such, it is often they who are last on the priority list when it comes to messaging and communications.

Both these factors come with a price.

Because deskless employees often feel ostracized from their company culture and lack a feeling of individual fulfillment, they’re far more likely to have low morale and productivity levels, which may spark quiet quitting.

Data finds that nearly half of deskless workers have considered quitting their job in the past year – and these are people who work in industries that are already struggling with a worker shortage.

So it all begs an important question: is this disillusionment more a commentary on the employee – like so many have alluded to – or is it really on the employer to fix?

It’s time to take some responsibility

To me, this question doesn’t need much thought. Companies should want all of their employees to feel motivated. They should also care fundamentally about the quality of their work, the feedback they give and the continuous improvement they offer – to help both the employee, but also to achieve business goals. Incidentally, the vast majority of employees do bring major contributions to their jobs, every single day. If they didn’t, many crucial frontline services would crumble.

So, leaders and managers must address deep cultural practices in place that sometimes stop their deskless staff feeling engaged.

The following are five questions to ask yourself when looking to improve that all-important connection:

1) Are you reaching the bulk of your deskless employees where they are?
Not every employee is sitting at a computer all day and gets notifications for email or Slack.

Yes, according to Emergence, 83% of the deskless workforce are provided with a desktop or laptop, but it’s a piece of equipment not often conducive to their working environment.

So, let’s assume your deskless employees ‘are’ detached from the digital world. HRDs must bridge this gap and think about how they can connect this segment people to more corporate employees, who are connected to systems more regularly. To not leave the deskless behind, you need to make sure there is transparency of information to all employees regardless of what their working environment looks like.

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2) Are you upholding a work-as-done or purely work-as-imagined environment?
Your standards send a message to your employees, and that message is arguably a bigger part of your culture than the standards themselves.

Understanding what’s happening at the employee level allows you to avoid an “ivory tower” reputation. If the description of a job is different than what you expect the practice of that role to be, you’ll find employees are less engaged.

3) Are employee opinions, feedback, and professional goals collected, listened to and acted upon?
Ask employees what they want. Let them contribute toward their job description as appropriate, or customize their benefits package and working arrangements. Nearly all employees – 95.76% according to TINYpulse – want to give at least some feedback. A report by Perceptyx says companies that listen to feedback best are 11 times more likely to have higher employee retention rates than those that don’t.

4) Do your employees have an understanding of health and safety guidelines and are these clearly/regularly communicated to them?

Important messages, such as those concerning health and safety at the workplace, won’t get delivered without clear communication methods that reach all employees. According to AlertMedia, 39% of employees wish employers communicated about safety more often and 38% wish employers were clearer about safety plans. With the right training and tools, you can put those concerns at ease.

5) Is your content localized to those consuming it?

If you’re blanketing the same content across every department or floor of your office, it likely won’t make an impact. Content should be distributed based on individual teams, so it’s customized for a specific audience. Employees who say they’re on a team are more than twice as likely to be “fully engaged,” according to the ADP Research Institute.

Employee engagement isn’t just about having a metric that checks a box so your company seems more progressive; it helps meet business goals. It can lead to an 18% increase in productivity and 23% rise in profitability, per a Gallup poll.

By taking steps to increase the engagement of your deskless teams, you can avoid “quiet quitting” or “quiet firing” and focus on the growth of your company and its employees.

This is a win-win scenario that can tame some of the polarizing terminology and foster a positive environment.

Deskless workers – the numbers:

  • According to the 2022 Deskless Report, 42% of frontline workers want to quit – this is up from 36% in 2021
  • Only 39% of deskless workers feel heard by their organization
  • This situation is only only getting worse: the percentage was 59% in 2021
  • The same survey reveals that while 73% of corporate team members believe their organization invests in new technologies for deskless workers, only 39% of these workers actually agree
  • With less than 1% of enterprise software spend is currently being awarded to deskless employees

Mark McDermott is co-founder and CEO of SaaS communication platform, ScreenCloud. Prior to this Mark and his partners ran a successful digital agency, working with high-profile clients including the BBC, Nestlé, British Airways, and Microsoft.

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