4 Tips for Engaging Deskless Workers

ITA Group
ITA Group

deskless worker in manufacturing

When your organization has a large deskless workforce in different roles and locations, it can be challenging to know how to communicate effectively and align them with your business values. These deskless workers often serve functions that are decentralized, offline, industrial or mobile (or a combination of the above).

As much as 80% of the world’s workforce is made up of deskless workers who lack consistent access to the technology and internal systems companies use to communicate with employees. As a result, these workers often have a lack of employee engagement and are more likely to resign, seeking opportunities elsewhere.

Build Strong Emotional Connections Through Shared Sense of Purpose

Increasingly, companies are finding deskless workers are missing a strong emotional connection to the brand, and the issue runs deeper than ineffective employee communications. Companies are struggling to connect employees to a collective sense of purpose in a personalized way.

Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report summarized the impact of organizational purpose on workers, noting that “2020 taught us the importance of purpose in establishing an organization’s direction in the face of disruption...organizations that embraced purpose were able to sift through competing priorities, unite workers under common goals, drive belonging and focus resources on their most pressing organizational and societal goals.”

We saw unprecedented levels of disruption during the pandemic, and now we’re seeing the importance of a collective sense of purpose in how to retain employees during the Great Resignation and beyond. The shared sense of purpose forms the foundation for engagement, productivity and retention in an organization.

Communicate Brand Values to Deskless Workers

Discovering and sharing your compelling story about your company’s purpose will set the stage for building authentic, lasting connections between employees and your brand. It will also help rally workers around your brand vision so they understand the brand messaging and how to connect it to their daily roles.

As you think about how to better communicate while also supporting a stronger sense of purpose, consider these four essential elements a successful program needs to reach deskless workers.

1. Make Communication Easier for People Managers

Managers are the primary source deskless workers have for company info, but they also have a lot of responsibilities to balance. Help managers increase their effectiveness by using:

  • Segmented communications
    Personalize internal communications for deskless workers to increase relevancy. Make sure you’re communicating to managers separately (and in advance, if possible) so they can inform workers they supervise. When leaders are looped in early, you can ensure they understand their role in reinforcing the message and fielding questions.
  • Automated messaging
    If there are behaviors you want managers to demonstrate, providing automated messaging can be a huge help. Reminders for milestones like employees’ birthdays and anniversaries are important, but consider other reminders that can improve the experience for deskless workers. For example, nudges to complete a weekly check-in or to recognize a recent stellar performance are two simple, high-impact ways to use reminders.
  • Easily accessible tools
    Managers can struggle to know how to improve their outreach, especially when supporting an internal communication initiative. Give managers a toolbox and best-practices guide so they can expand on any campaign messaging. You can even offer branded templates that give them the flexibility to adapt messaging to what works best for their team.

recognition dashboards for managers

2. Communicate Where Deskless Workers Are Actually Doing Their Work

Understanding the daily job functions and work environment of deskless workers can help you calibrate your communication strategy to be more effective.

Too often, organizations rely exclusively on electronic or environmental communications, and those methods can fall flat if employees don’t have routine internet access or aren’t co-located. By segmenting your approach to be more inclusive of the needs of the deskless workforce, you’ll increase the odds of them hearing your messages—while also showing them you understand the reality of the jobs they’re working by using the best methods to get their attention.

For example, one client used targeted communications to reinforce a sense of purpose  by giving team members service vehicle decals and branded T-shirts that were practical when visiting job sites. Each item was a highly visible sign of their connection to the organization and the brand messaging, even when workers weren’t in the office.

examples of communications for employees in vehicles

3. Tap Into Emotional Connections Employees Have With the Brand

Globally, only about 25% of employees strongly agree they have received weekly recognition or praise for doing good work. Yet, keeping employees engaged requires consistent, frequent validation from managers, leaders and customers (especially for workers who interact with customers more frequently than their peers and leaders).

Consistent recognition builds up the emotional connection between deskless workers and the brand, and the emotional connection fuels engagement. If organizations could improve the weekly recognition percentage from 25% to 60%, they could expect to see a 28% improvement in work quality and a 31% reduction in absenteeism.

While office-based workers may display their recognition in their workspace, deskless workers need to show off their recognition in different ways.  Adjust how you handle the social elements of recognition to meet those deskless workers’ needs.

For example, try rewarding employees with something they can wear no matter where they are doing their work, like an enamel pin or a branded sticker that can be placed on their work equipment to signify their achievements. For one of our clients, an equipment rental organization, we helped develop recognition badges so team members see the brand’s core values every day and can easily recognize their peers using the QR code. Another option is to reinforce recognition for deskless workers by providing a branded item that serves a functional purpose in their work or personal life, such as a water bottle, lunch bag, clipboard or pair of socks.

examples of wearable awards

4. Give Deskless Workers a Voice

Hearing the authentic voices of employees has real value in creating meaningful changes to your organization. Make sure to encourage deskless workers to speak openly and listen to what they’re saying with an unbiased perspective. Likewise, make sure you are transparent with your workforce when applying design strategy and frameworks.

Great companies recognize that the act of listening to employees can provide an honest assessment of gaps and opportunities for improvement. As a trusted employee engagement partner, we can help by offering recommendations rooted in behavioral science principles, our engagement research, industry trends and insights from our decades of experience.

The outcome of giving deskless workers a voice will be inspired and engaged employees—which boosts productivity and retention outcomes for the organization.

Related: Learn how a pet retailer is using recognition and celebration to unite their primarily deskless workforce (and how it’s saving them $11M in retention costs)

Find Creative Ways to Reach Deskless Workers

With 2.7 billion people globally who are part of the deskless workforce, it’s time to improve when and how we recognize these workers so they are stay engaged and want to stay in their roles.  While it might seem difficult to engage workers in diverse roles and work environments, there’s also great opportunity to reach deskless workers and in ways previously not thought of.

Think outside the box and tailor your strategies to build connections between these workers and the brand—wherever and however their work is done. With the right approach, you can increase relevancy and a sense of purpose in their employees, and ultimately build up a strong emotional connection between these deskless workers and your organization. 

Looking for ideas to segment employees and improve how meaningful their work experience is? Check out our new white paper on employee recognition.