How COVID-19 Refocused Digital Transformation on the Deskless Workforce

How COVID-19 Refocused Digital Transformation on the Deskless Workforce

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, digital transformation was already a priority for many companies. However, almost every digital transformation strategy largely ignored the needs of the deskless workforce. Most deskless workers had to perform their tasks using tethered, office-based tools that hindered their efficiency and productivity. 

This was the case even when 80% of the global workforce, or approximately 2.7 billion people, don’t work behind a desk. 

However, disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have shone a bright spotlight on deskless workers. Changes in digital transformation trends, largely due to the ongoing pandemic, forced businesses to realign their digital transformation initiatives to finally accommodate the digital needs of their deskless workers.

Overlooked, But Not for Long

Members of the deskless workforce such as field technicians, equipment operators, onsite engineers, and drivers make up the majority of the global labor population. The bulk of this particular demographic, if not all, is mobile.

According to research, 61% of deskless workers use software built for in-office desk workers like CRMs, ERPs, and other desk-based solutions.

The problem with this is deskless workers spend most of their time on the road or on the job site, not behind a desk. Communication, instruction, reporting, and access to crucial information are performed via text and phone calls. Connectivity is at the mercy of their network’s signal.

In the real-time era, this practice is so outdated it prevents deskless workers from unleashing their full potential and bringing out their real value. For many non-desk employees, in-office technologies hinder communication and collaboration with their superiors and desk-based colleagues. 

There is a feeling of disconnect, which then leads to poor employee engagement, lackadaisical performance, and growing inefficiency:

  • 85% of the deskless workforce says communication they receive on the job is inadequate.
  • 45% of deskless employees report not having access to their company’s intranet.
  • Only 56% of deskless workers say they feel engaged by their employers.

These figures are a mere scratch on the surface. To address their communication and collaboration needs, and fix the organizational disconnect they experience, deskless workers resort to using consumer communication channels like WhatsApp and iMessage, as business tech expert Neil C. Hughes outlines. While consumer channels do streamline work-related communication, such practice exposes the entire organization to a multitude of risks and threats.

Still, technology and software development companies overlook their digital requirements, allocating only 1% of their total spending on deskless technology.

Then, COVID-19 happened.

A New Reality for Businesses and the Deskless Workforce

Seismic shifts in the business landscape brought by COVID-19, such as social distancing and work-from-home protocols, forced businesses to move their office-based employees to the virtual workplace for extensive periods. This development unearthed many issues suffered by deskless workers for a long time, including lack of productivity tools, inability to access real-time information, and dated communication/reporting systems (to name a few).

COVID-19 not only forced organizations to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives; the novel disease pressured business leaders to rethink their digital transformation strategy. Especially now that many prefer to work from home. 



According to a survey by Slack, 72% of workers prefer a hybrid remote-office model after COVID-19. In contrast, only 12% of employees want to return to their full-time traditional work environment.

Simply put, COVID-19 has put the needs of the deskless workforce front and center. Business leaders are now aware of the vast disparity between traditional office technology and deskless tools. 86% of IT leaders admit that a lack of technology disrupts mobile workforce productivity and 67% agree they need to support deskless workers with additional software.

Deskless Technology Spending Increases

Essential industries with a sizable deskless workforce plan to increase spending on deskless technology. Transportation, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, and construction sectors will lead this digital transformation trend.

Productivity, improved employee experience, and cost savings will be the top three driving factors for businesses to support deskless technology growth.

With COVID-19 spurring the growth of deskless technology forward, the following crucial capabilities will take center stage:

  • Frontline data collection
  • Real-time communication
  • Flexible scheduling
  • Consistent connectivity
  • Employee safety and support
  • Productivity analytics

Deskless Workers Must Be Involved in DT Strategy

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many organizations to recalibrate their digital transformation initiatives to meet new business goals, particularly when it comes to deskless workers.

Deskless workers’ digital needs are now getting attention. However, most crucial decisions rest in the hands of the executive management. Purchasing of deskless technology is mostly decided at the top. 51% of buying decisions are made by the C-suite, 38% by mid-level managers, and only 11% by the end-user.

If the deskless workforce is indeed the beneficiaries of these new technologies, it’s important for leaders to know and understand what they need in order to make them truly productive and efficient assets.

Accommodating your deskless workers and giving them what they need is a step in the right direction. But any digital transformation project is a huge business undertaking. Involving your deskless employees will increase your digital transformation strategy’s chance of success.

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