Deskless Employees vs. Remote Employees: Do You Know the Difference?

Deskless Employees vs. Remote Employees: Do You Know the Difference?

Deskless Employees vs. Remote Employees: Do You Know the Difference?

Last updated on March 7, 2024 at 11:42 am

During my time at theEMPLOYEEapp, my education in the world of deskless employees vs remote employees has been nothing short of astonishing. Over 80% of the world’s workforce doesn’t sit behind a desk or in an office. They’re your delivery drivers, nurses, factory line workers. But deskless employees have, unfortunately, been overshadowed by remote employees or office staff when it comes to resource distribution.

There have been countless studies, articles, and focus groups on the wellness and adaptability of remote workers in recent years. While the plight of the remote workforce (like yours truly) has been widely covered, the deskless employee has all but been forgotten. Why? For one, our definitions of deskless versus remote employees are incorrect. However, understanding these different groups within the global workforce has never been more important. So, let’s start by laying the foundation.

deskless employee next to remote employee

What is Deskless Work?

What do we mean by saying someone is deskless? Being deskless means someone does not sit at a desk for work. Formally, to be considered deskless, that person must be doing mobile work at least 80% of the time.

These are field-based jobs and can be found in just about every industry. This includes surgeons and nurses in healthcare, line workers in manufacturing, truckers in logistics, and restaurant hospitality staff.

This is a very different type of work than what remote teams do. Remote workers often use a computer for work and operate out of a home office—or coffee shops with good internet! Although deskless employees and remote employees are both part of the distributed workforce, their needs and challenges are very different.

How Much of the Workforce is Deskless?

Emergence research concluded that 80% of the global workforce is a deskless worker. And the top eight industries that are non-desk are:

  • Agriculture
  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Retail
  • Hospitality
  • Manufacturing
  • Transportation
  • Construction

Who Are Deskless Employees vs Remote Employees?

As I mentioned, joining theEMPLOYEEapp helped me understand the difference between remote and deskless employees. But I didn’t always. I recall during my first interview, I was asked, “who do you think a deskless worker is?” My response was “someone who is at home, working remote, logged in, and basically anyone not in an office day-to-day.”

It was a logical answer, but far from the correct one. 

The truth is, the deskless worker is not a remote worker. The deskless employee is often called a “frontline worker”—they are dock workers, warehouse employees, baristas, nurses, and doctors. Anyone who does not sit behind a desk or use a computer to do their job is a deskless worker. And they have vastly different challenges than remote workers.

Challenges in the Dispersed Workplace

Understanding what’s going on with your deskless workforce is just as critical as understanding the needs of your remote workforce. The struggles that your frontline workers are facing are many and understated. For one, these field-based jobs are often more dangerous. In logistics and manufacturing, the continuity of a Safety Culture literally saves lives and limbs. In healthcare, nurses, physicians, and administrative staff come into contact with sick individuals, risking their own exposure.  

But that is just the beginning. Because deskless employees don’t have computer access, rarely have company email addresses, and can’t access the Intranet, companies struggle to directly communicate with them. This results in lower engagement, inconsistent messages being cascaded through the company, potential for safety incidents, and a disconnect between frontline teams and corporate.

Now imagine all of those challenges during a crisis. During the peak of the pandemic in mid-2020, companies had to communicate that some of their staff would be furloughed and others would remain on the job. Without a way to directly communicate or target information to frontline teams, this divided workforces. Those who were furloughed felt they were not as valuable as those who were still working. And those who kept working felt as though they were expendable to the company.


Reaching The Deskless Workforce

When the pandemic struck, our clients already had a comms channel in place that allowed them to reach their deskless teams, target messages, and reach employees regardless of location or employment status. Healthcare companies like Avera Health were able to change paper systems to digital ones during the pandemic to increase safety measures in their hospitals. United Health Services used their app to continue communications to furloughed workers so they knew why they were furloughed, what was going on, and when they would be back at work. BNSF Logistics used their app to continue culture-driving and engagement initiatives like L&D programs using their app.

Are your remote employees facing challenges, employee burnout, and disengagement? Yes. Absolutely. And that’s important to address. But they still have computers, email, and other ways of communicating. They are still in the safety of their homes. So, why are we seeing the market saturated with advice for re-engaging and supporting just remote workers?

Understanding the challenges faced by deskless employees should be a priority for Communications, HR, and C-level leadership. Their voices need to be heard and recognized, in the same volume as that of a remote worker. Strengthening the lines of communication to this critical employee group literally can save lives. 

Taking action to support this workforce is an activity that must take place now. Are you extending wellness and mental health benefits to these workers? Are you actively communicating with them? Is your leadership team taking an active role in addressing your entire workforce? Or is your primary communication focus still on the remote worker?

frontline healthcare worker using employee app

Let’s Improve Internal Comms for Deskless and Remote Employees Together

We advocate for our clients to complete an annual internal comms audit to identify the gaps in their communication strategy and learn how to better engage their entire workforce. The audit often reveals communications gaps that weren’t obvious. It may show you just how few channels you have for reaching frontline workers.

Many companies rely on signage and printed materials in break rooms, but furloughed workers can’t see these. And you can’t measure who has seen a poster, making them ineffective for crisis communications. Companies also heavily rely on email communications. Most deskless workers lack access to any email messages from their employer. For those that do have email access, the information is often latent. And with email open rates hovering at ~20%, one in five people receiving a critical message isn’t going to cut it. A mobile app solution provides immediate alerts, notifications, and top-down communications that can cascade to specific groups, shifts, or workgroups in real-time.

The pandemic has forced us to refocus on work-life balance, the future of the office, and how to make work safer. However, you have to also focus on your deskless employees. They have been through a lot. Support them, listen to them, and above all, prioritize them and celebrate everything they do for your company.


About the Author

Michael Marino is the Vice President of Marketing where he oversees the creation and execution of theEMPLOYEEapp’s marketing programs. Before joining the team, Mike held numerous marketing leadership positions in both the B2B and DTC spaces in channels that include media, manufacturing, and professional services. Mike is passionate about demand generation, mar-tech, and being able to create campaigns that connect with Internal and Employee Communications audiences. 



Subscribe To The theEMPLOYEEapp Newsletter

Recommended Resources

Comments are closed.