Focus on Deskless Worker Experience When Designing for the New Work Era


After more than a year of “remote work” or “working from home”, hybrid work is the new reality as more companies look to offer flexibility to their employees. However, this is a challenge for the non-desk workforce as they can only dream about it. And deskless workers make up 80% of the global workforceOpens a new window . Hence, when organizations plan to win the war for talent, they have to inherently consider the employee experience (EX) of the non-desk workforce.

The Josh Bersin Company, the HR research and advisory company, has released The Big Reset Playbook: Deskless Workers report, where it recommends approaches and practices to create an optimal experience for “deskless” workers across various industries.

The study found that industries that are primarily deskless score lower than industries that are primarily desk-bound.

To improve the non-desk workforce experience, companies must first understand how their experience differs from the desk-bound workforce.

See more: 3 Questions To Check if Your Digital Workplace Is “Great Resignation” Proof

Understanding the Non-desk Experience

Non-desk workers went through a lot since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, from working in potentially unhealthy environments to being furloughed or laid off. Now, the Great ResignationOpens a new window is significantly affecting organizations with deskless workers. Non-desk workers have quit in droves due to various reasons. The prevalence of remote and hybrid work made it much easier to leave for them. One reason is that they thrive on face-to-face human interaction and connection.

So, how do companies create a deskless worker experience? The study proposes an employee experience framework with key elements: meaningful work, strong management, positive workplace, health and well-being, growth opportunity, trust in the organization, and technology and services.

Employee Experience Framework

Source: The Josh Bersin Company, 2021

While all these elements are important for all employees, the priorities vary widely between desk-bound and deskless workers. The following figure gives the primary differences in priorities.

Deskless vs Desk-bound employees priorities

Source: The Josh Bersin Company, 2021

The 7 Critical Components of Deskless Work

The report suggests seven critical components of deskless work. These are:

  • Connections and creativity

As mentioned earlier, deskless employees are most driven by the need to connect with others face to face. While safety measures need to be implemented, there is no replacement for a direct relationship between deskless workforce and customers. However, they need more time to think and innovate to provide the best customer service, which they do not get.

Hence, the optimum practice is to enable human connections and time for creativity.

  • Coaching and development

Deskless workers always connect with customers on the job. Hence, they need coaching to create the best customer experience. However, their managers are often disconnected from work and have limited insights into the worker-customer interactions and behaviors. Further, companies do not always support managers with the right systems and tools in developing their associates.

An optimum practice is to train managers to coach deskless workers.

  • Commute support and belonging

While most workplaces have been kept up to date with the safety requirements post pandemic, employees who use public transportation to travel are still concerned about getting infected when commuting. Driving, too, is a big hassle in many cities due to traffic. Like the physical workplace, the psychological and cultural environment is also vital to support a diverse customer base. But there are many hurdles in creating a truly inclusive workplace. An important thing to do is to listen to employees, understand those hurdles, and clear them.

An optimum practice is to make the commute easy and establish belonging at work.

See more: How To Engage Your Non-Desk Workforce and Reduce Operational Risk at the Same Time

  • Care and coverage

Financial stress is constant for many deskless workers. At the same time, since they have limited flexibility in timings, they often have to leave their ailing family members at home for work. Constant pay and benefits worries cause physical and mental issues for them. While many companies cannot increase pay or benefits, they can create workarounds such as on-demand pay. They can also take steps to support employees’ physical and mental health.

The optimum practice is to support the deskless workers’ entire life.

  • Career pathways and development

While many companies take steps to upskill their employees, deskless workers are often excluded. Similarly, many training offerings are also focused on knowledge and desk-bound workers. Hence, it is necessary to build career pathways for deskless workers through education, experience, learning from others, and work assignments. Encouraging the deskless workerforce to build their careers is one of the most impactful EX practices.

An optimum practice here is to help deskless workers build fulfilling careers.

  • Culture and community

One of the most impactful drivers of outcomes is truly supportive, inclusive, and caring work culture. People should trust the leadership and be inspired by a mission beyond financial success. Yet, deskless workers are often disconnected from the mission and values. Hence, companies should make sure their inclusivity endeavors should involve deskless workers.

A good practice is to build on a mission and create a deskless-first culture.

  • Communication and collaboration

Most of the work and HR tech today are geared toward desk-bound employees. Deskless workers are often left behind without the right communications, tools, or resources. Today, many mobile-first and adaptable tools are available for communication, collaboration, training, and extending HR support for deskless workers. Organizations should make the best use of them.

An optimum practice is to provide tools and services geared for mobile.

See more: Deskless Workers Want, and Deserve, Better Technology

Operationalizing the Deskless Worker Experience

The study suggests a few steps that allow companies to operationalize the deskless EX.

  1. Define your overall EX vision and how it translates for deskless workers.
  2. Build a cross-functional team, including dedicated people to care for non-desk workers and their unique needs.
  3. Segment the deskless workforce to identify personas and create journey maps.
  4. Listen to the deskless workforce and define measures.
  5. Design across the entire experience with a focus on the seven critical components.
  6. Test, iterate and improve.

Keep Deskless Employee Experience in Mind

As we head into the new era of hybrid work, organizations cannot afford to forget non-desk employees, who make up a significant portion of the workforce. Their priorities, wants, and needs are different from desk-bound employees. A truly inclusive workplace can be created only by designing the new work reality keeping deskless workers in mind.

What steps have you taken in your organization to improve deskless employees’ experience? Do share with us on LinkedInOpens a new window , FacebookOpens a new window , and TwitterOpens a new window .