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80% of the global workforce is deskless!

Anita Lettink
Anita Lettink
Welcome back! A couple of vendor demos inspired me to look into the deskless workers, a much larger workforce than I thought. And did you see my Linkedin post announcing that January was another blow out month for HR Tech Funding? It went viral. Mind boggling.

“Start with the end user in mind.”
If you’ve ever participated in a Design workshop, you have heard this sentence before. But do we really?
As I sat in on a couple of HR solution demos this month, I asked myself this question. Because who really is the end user? For a long time, HR Solutions were built for HR Professionals. Demonstrations show how their work will be much easier after implementation. But even though they probably spend the most time using these solutions, there is another group that is far larger and deserves attention too: workers, and especially deskless workers.
Yet, as I was watching the demos, I thought that we get this all wrong: towards the end of the demo, we were quickly taken through a couple of mobile screens, to show that the vendor understands the world is mobile now and offers a great employee experience. But that’s not enough anymore. The solutions we buy today will serve our workforce in 2025 and beyond. And so, they must focus on the mobile experience first, and not add it as a tick in the box: “yes, we have that too”.
Why? Because the vast majority of workers doesn’t sit at a desk: they are front line or deskless workers. And they all use mobile devices. But the majority of HR solutions focuses on the white collar, desk-based worker, which is just 20% of the global workforce. Vendors include mobile as a user experience, but not as the standard experience.
To serve the largest worker group, the 80%, we really need to flip this approach around: design for mobile first to support the deskless workforce. Because when a solution works for front line users, the solution will certainly be good enough for desk workers. Whatever is missing, can always be added.
Deskless workers have special needs because they often work in complex schedules with clocking procedures. Something that desk-based workers are less exposed to. But it can’t be only about Time registration. I think we are past the stage where we don’t include deskless workers in talent management processes like performance and succession planning. Or have them participate in learning and development.
I hope that by now it’s clear that (given current and future talent shortages) everyone needs to have access to continuous learning opportunities. No company can survive without a solid talent pipeline that assures an educated and high performing workforce, no matter the role.
The good news is that the pandemic brought renewed focus on deskless workers. Founders realized that this is an underserved market. In the last few months, I have seen a variety of new solutions come to market, addressing all aspects of HR services to manage the deskless workforce, from administration and payroll to hiring, onboarding and training.
Some solutions are industry agnostic, others support a particular industry, from health care to restaurants to construction. What is also different is that these vendors come from all over the world and represent many cultures. Which underpins that the deskless workforce is a global phenomenon with a lot of potential.
Here are a few examples of companies with recent funding rounds:
  • Singapore-based StaffAny secured $3.4M to bring HR to blue collar workers
  • French Snapshift raised $45M to support food and hospitality companies
  • Flip out of Germany raised $30M for a deskless worker HR app
  • UK-based EduMe received $20M for training and development
  • Anthill (US) built an SMS-based talent management platform and secured $3M
  • Swedish Quinyx raised $50M for its staffing and rostering solution
  • Also from the UK, Blink raised $20M for its all-in-one employee app
  • Canada/US-based Wrapbook secured $100M for their entertainment worker platform
The list above is by no means exhaustive. I just wanted to give you a flavor of the variety in solutions and the amount of funding that is funneled into these startups. Investors are starting to realize the potential of this market.
The solutions represent a variety of services: some approach it from an HR angle and offer workforce administration, scheduling, pay and benefits. Others start from effective communications, include surveys and onboarding tools, and integrate the HR functionality through API function calls. But what they do have in common is a relentless focus on an intuitive and easy to use solution, offering a great mobile experience that requires low bandwidth. Because it’s important to have a worker up and running quickly and legally, and not waste any time.
So now it’s up to you - and I hope that the next time you consider purchasing a new solution (not limited to HR) you start with the mobile experience. If your largest worker population is deskless, I strongly suggest you don’t just add the usual HR vendors to the list, but include a few that focus on serving the deskless workforce first. I’m sure that what is good for them, will also be good for your desk-based workers. And if you need some inspiration, let me know and I’ll be happy to supply you with a focused list.
Have a great day, Anita
What's next?
Future of Work
It’s clear that people don’t want to go back to the office full time. But where will they work? What if your office looked like Simcity? introduces you to several examples of the virtual office, using VR and AR. I’ve participated in a couple of meetings as avatar, interacting with other avatars, and let’s say I wasn’t super excited about talking to a cartoonish character instead of a person. But that might just be me. And it’s early days yet.
Listen to this podcast where Andy Spence explains how we are building a new internet of careers, supported by forward thinking organizations that allow people to move seamlessly between work contracts. Andy thinks a lot about blockchain in HR, so you’ll get an update on that too.
You’ve heard me say many times that AI will replace some of what we do, rather than all we do. It’s important we understand AI, and can work with it. The MIT article Why the future of AI is the future of work explores how AI is far from replacing humans, and why it’s essential to learn its capabilities and limitations as well as its relevance for work.
Good news for frontline workers: according to Gartner sixty-one percent of supply chain leaders believe that the acceleration of remote work due to the pandemic will create a permanent hybrid work model, even at the frontline. You’ll find more data in their press release and a link to download the reports.
Everee (another example of a deskless workforce solution) teamed up with Checkr to investigate the State of the Worker in 2022. Download the free report and the infographic to find out how many workers are stressed about their finances (more than you think), or how long they plan on staying in their current jobs (not long!).
If you’d like even more insights you’re in luck as a variety of reports have been published recently. Mostly by solution vendors, so keep that in mind while reading. The State of Technology for the Deskless Workforce is a good start. You can also download the Deskless Report or the State of Deskless Work. Microsoft just released the New Future for Frontline Workers. It’s clear this topic is receiving much attention.
I never know what works on LinkedIn, but my post on HR Tech Funding in January went viral. If you haven’t seen it, check it out because people seem to find it interesting ;). The good news: HR Tech continues to be hot.
Metaverse at Work
Amy Edwards attended my recent webinar on skills, and I discovered she wrote an insightful article on how the metaverse contributes to an employee’s learning experience. VR is one of the early applications, and you should definitely check this out. The article is part of a series - recommended!
Will the metaverse become the way to do all kinds of work? Probably, but maybe not at fast as many people seem to think. But it never hurts to be prepared, and Your next job may be in the metaverse gives you 4 different options.
I will write about the influence of the metaverse on work in an upcoming issue. In the meantime, take a look at What might office culture look like in the metaverse? The article provides a background on the metaverse and good descriptions of some key changes in communication and collaboration.
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Anita Lettink
Anita Lettink @let_anita

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