80% of the global workforce is deskless!

“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”.

The deskless workforce is mobile

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.

Focus on the deskless workforce

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.