January 12, 2023

6 Things Your Deskless Workers Really Want in 2023

A construction worker moving a desk with a forklift

Let’s face it, working life can be hard. And it’s even harder when you’re deskless.

Whether you employ field workers, frontline, or both, “deskless” workers comprise an astounding 80% of the workforce. Yet their needs are frequently overlooked.

With fewer resources and a less enjoyable employee experience overall, deskless workers tend to get a raw deal. And with a major disconnect between business leaders and frontline employees, the gap continues to widen.

Recent research from McKinsey reveals a major misalignment between what employers think deskless workers want and what they actually want.

So how can you step up and do better for your frontline workers?

We’ve reviewed the latest research on what deskless workers really want and boiled it down to six core benefits and perks to help them perform their jobs, stay connected, and set the record straight.

Table of contents

  • What exactly is a deskless workforce?
  • Why are deskless workers so misunderstood?
  • The top 6 things deskless workers really want
  • Win back the trust of your deskless workers

But wait, what exactly is a deskless workforce?

Deskless workers are employees who must be physically present in order to do their job. They build our bridges, stock our grocery stores, and much much more.

But it’s important to note — deskless workers aren’t the same as remote workers. 

Remote employees still sit at a desk at home, in the office, or at their favorite local coffee shop. More often than not, this also means they have access to their organization’s internal communications and technology, which helps employees feel they’re part of the shared work environments. But that’s not often the case for their deskless counterparts.

Deskless workers are boots-on-the-ground employees, completing all or most of their duties away from a desk. 

Not only do frontline workers lack access to internal communication systems and information, but remote work is seldom an option. And they don’t often have the ability to set their own schedules either.

Deskless workers are most common in the agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, retail, hospitality, and tourism industries. For many, the gap between themselves and the rest of the organization couldn’t be wider.

“Corporate tried to roll out a core values thing,” recalls an Assistant General Manager of a regional foodservice chain. “They invested a lot in it, but they’re working in the corporate office. They want to get people excited about things that people don’t care about.”

According to BCG’s ‘Why Deskless Workers Are Leaving—and How to Win Them Back’ report, turnover rates are high, with over one-third of deskless workers are in danger of quitting their jobs in the near future.

From retail clerks and restaurant servers to factory workers and farmhands, deskless workers operate away from a company’s headquarters. And unfortunately, this means they are often out of sight and out of mind.

Why are deskless workers so misunderstood?

Too often, employers and the business press tend to view deskless workers as a monolith from a workforce management perspective. 

And while frontline workers from nurses to grocery store clerks rushed in to help during the covid-19 pandemic, the applause has now quieted down. Facing job cuts and rate slashes, many deskless workers feel like they’re back at square one. 

By lumping them together as one giant workforce segment, we ignore the nuances and variations that exist from job to job — which leads to major misunderstandings.

Given the vastness of deskless positions, understanding the different needs and work contexts is vital. While this is far from an exhaustive list, it can help to break down this working population into clear categories based on common role types in order to better understand what they’re up against.

Here are some of the major distinctions among various deskless workers.

Short-term vs. long term

Deskless jobs vary due to duration. 

While some jobs are short-term gigs, others are long-term jobs. In this case, ‘short-term’ means working for one day or less, then returning home — like a construction worker or retail clerk. 

Long-term jobs, on the other hand, mean that deskless workers are away from their families and homes for days on end. Long-termers include oil rig operators, miners, and long-haul truck drivers among others. 

Onsite vs. offsite

Location also affects deskless labor. 

While some deskless workers work onsite at one primary location, offsite deskless workers travel to several locations to get the job done.

High vs. low customer interaction

The final dimension is customer interaction. 

High customer interaction jobs mean deskless workers are dealing directly with consumers, such as in a retail position. Low customer interaction jobs, such as in the manufacturing sector, require far less face-to-face time with customers.

But hazy job distinctions aren’t the only reason deskless workers are misunderstood. 

Job dissatisfaction among deskless workers is also the result of chronic HR failings. 

Since deskless workers aren’t typically plugged into their organization’s internal communications and tech systems, HR professionals often have a tough time communicating with them. 

In fact, many deskless workers don’t even receive a company-issued email address, leaving them out of the loop completely. With only their supervisors to rely on, it’s no wonder deskless workers feel disconnected. 

So what can we do to create a culture that actively supports the deskless worker?

The top 6 things deskless workers really want

What resources do deskless workers really need in order to feel supported?

Rather than shooting in the dark (and continuing to miss), let’s look to the research to find out what perks and benefits deskless workers really want.

1. Flexible schedules ⏱

According to BCG's findings, 50% of at-risk deskless workers said they were considering quitting due to a lack of flexibility and poor work-life balance. 

While remote or hybrid work arrangements aren’t feasible for deskless workers, you can lessen the burden with increased scheduling flexibility. When assigning shifts, consider workers’ situations and requests. If possible, use a shift scheduling app that allows workers to view and trade shifts or request time off. 

2. Better benefits ☀️

No matter which sector you’re in or how your deskless workers do their jobs, we all need a sense of security. And a living wage is a big part of that. 

Even a small wage increase can materially improve a deskless worker’s quality of life, so address that first.

Of course, money isn’t everything. If possible, offer competitive benefits in addition to competitive pay. Start with the basics, like healthcare, vacation time, and accident insurance. If you have room to grow, consider perks like daily pay, mental health support, and paid family leave. Your deskless workers will appreciate it, and it’ll make them feel like a valued part of the team.

3. Opportunities for growth and development 🌱

In the BCG survey, nearly 41% of deskless workers cited lack of career advancement as a major pain point. And according to the previously cited McKinsey report, over 70% of frontline workers have applied to career advancement programs. 

Clearly, deskless workers want opportunities for career growth and upskilling. 

If you want to retain your frontline workers, you need to provide these chances. And don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Career advancement not only means more knowledge and new skills, it can also mean taking on more responsibility and opening pathways to better pay.

Do your part by creating tracks to management and training opportunities that help deskless workers level up. By actively identifying viable career paths they can follow, deskless workers will be more likely to aim higher and work harder.

4. Recognition and appreciation 🏆

A little recognition can go a long way. 

With 14% of deskless workers citing lack of recognition as a major pain point, it’s never a bad idea to give your frontline workers an extra pat on the back. 

Whether it’s a simple “thank you” or a planned bonus structure that ties in with your performance management plan, it’s always worth it to show a little gratitude for your deskless workers.

5. Connection to company culture 🌐

Despite making up nearly 80% of the global workforce, only one percent of venture funding is put toward developing software solutions that meet the needs of deskless workers. 

In our digitally connected world, that means deskless workers are missing out on major opportunities to connect to the rest of the company

The good news is, this is finally beginning to change.

By investing in cloud-based technology solutions for deskless workers, you can open up new lines of communication and nurture more engagement with these team members — even if you don’t typically see them face to face.

Whether you assign them a company email address or plug them into your HR tech stack, the right tools can help you disseminate information more efficiently, ensuring that no one is overlooked.

6. Support from management 👏🏻

All too often, deskless workers say they feel left out of company culture. 

“None of us are happy,” laments one food service worker. “Employees are burned out.”

The message is clear. The majority of deskless works feel unsupported and unheard. To create a frontline-first culture that prioritizes its deskless employees, the answer is simple. 

Listen to their needs, and act on what you hear.

Win back the trust of your deskless workers

Deskless workers make the world go ‘round. They build our houses, move vital cargo across the nation, stock our shelves, and so much more. 

If they quit their jobs, everyone pays the price.

Improving the deskless work experience starts with building trust. For that to happen, you need to begin on the right foot — including responsive communication with every incoming applicant for your deskless open roles.

With customizable email, SMS, and scheduling features, Breezy’s user-friendly hiring software is the first step in modernizing your deskless workplace.

Create custom pipelines for different positions and tailor the hiring stages in each pipeline to fit the roles’ specific needs. Automated messaging, scheduling and screening help to shorten the hiring cycle, without cutting corners on candidate experience.

Keep deskless candidates happy with Breezy’s easy-to-use applicant tracking system. You can learn all about it with a totally free 14-day trial.