The shift to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic completely changed the face of today's workforce. Companies all over the globe developed strategies and purchased tools to help employees stay connected and productive. It didn't come without challenges, but, for the most part, organizations managed to turn the situation into a positive development. Present-day knowledge workers benefit from unprecedented autonomy and flexibility. This is undoubtedly a win.
However, the influx of technology has yet again disregarded the largest part of the workforce. Eighty percent of the global workforce is deskless. Whether we are talking about employees in agriculture, the service industry, healthcare, or transportation, these frontline workers are the backbone of any economy. Not taking the needs and wants of the deskless workforce into account will cost companies a lot of money, as turnover rates are high and new hires are hard to come by in the context of the Great Resignation.
What does the deskless workforce want?
The simple answer to this question is: what the other 20% of employees have. On the top of that list are flexibility and autonomy. While the mobile workforce cannot perform their jobs remotely as the desked workers do, they would still like to have some control over when and how they work.
Implementing solutions to have a say in their work schedules can go a long way toward boosting engagement and company loyalty. Communication is another critical aspect that the deskless workforce feels is lacking. Most of the workplace technology solutions developed in the past years are catered towards the needs of the desked workforce.
Many of the frontline employees either don't have access or can't benefit from them, leading to frustration. Furthermore, with limited access to technology and information, the deskless workforce has fewer opportunities for development. It's up to L&D departments to address this issue by providing training programs tailored to the needs of deskless employees.
How e-learning can help overcome the challenges of training the deskless workforce
When training deskless workers, it’s impractical to pull them out of the field for learning sessions. Since the aim is to improve performance, not disrupt it, L&D specialists must be mindful of the specific needs of frontline employees and make training work for them. E-learning can help companies overcome the challenges of training the deskless workers.
1. Unequal access to technology
With desked employees, even remote ones scattered across the globe, it’s relatively easy to set up a learning path, design courses in your company’s learning management system (LMS) and allow everyone to go through them at their own pace. Frontline team members don’t generally have a desktop or laptop – some don’t even have a work email address, and it is high time they get better technology.
The first step to help with training is getting a mobile-ready LMS so users can access training materials on their mobile devices, wherever they are. This also means seeing their training results, viewing upcoming course enrollment opportunities, and even asking for help by booking a one-to-one coaching session. Furthermore, you want your platform to have a strong collaboration component by allowing users to interact with each other, share ideas, and ask questions.
2. Time constraints
Mobile learning is the answer to accessibility for the deskless workforce, but there is another significant hurdle to overcome – frontline workers do tasks that don't allow for much learning time. Think of nurses, drivers, supermarket associates, or restaurant servers. Their physical presence and undivided attention are required for most of their shifts, so they can't just put what they are doing on hold to learn something new. The best strategy for training deskless workers is to package the information into bite-size modules. Micro learning is effective for all learners, but when it comes to training deskless workers, it is also necessary.
Another training strategy that works well for busy employees is just-in-time learning, which enables employees to learn in the flow of work.This means they can simply access learning on the go, whenever they need to, such as watching a five-minute video during their commute or lunch breaks.
3. Low learner engagement
This is the biggest issue with training the deskless workforce. Getting learners' attention and keeping them engaged is a challenge faced by instructors and instructional designers everywhere. Back when I was facilitating in person, I knew that those first fifteen minutes of “what's in it for me" at the start of every session could make or break it. With deskless employees, the situation is even more complicated. For one, we've already established that they may not have fifteen minutes. Then there is the issue of engagement with the employer Because so much of the focus in the past few years has gone to the desked remote employees, there is a sense of disgruntlement for deskless ones, and for a good reason: one in three say they do not feel appreciated at work, and 61% say they needed to prioritize work over health and personal care time.
The question of boosting engagement and building a sense of belonging and loyalty to organizations does not have one easy answer. HR departments must find better workforce management systems that allow flexibility and autonomy. Furthermore, since most frontline employees say that understaffing has led to an increasingly stressful work environment, there's a dire need for good well-being programs to mitigate the negative effects and the threat of burnout.
When it comes to learner engagement, the number one tool is gamification. Including elements such as badges, leaderboards and points promotes healthy competition among learners and encourages them to keep going on their learning paths to reach their goals. An LMS incorporating these elements will significantly help keep employees coming back to learn.
4. A lack of purpose
While many deskless employees have a lot of work experience, they don’t feel appreciated and lack purpose. This is a great challenge when it comes to training because if learners are disengaged and don't see a personal or professional benefit, the program is doomed before it even starts. The question of showing employees they are valued falls to HR, but there is something L&D can do to bring purpose and mastery into their programs: employ a competency-based model.
When employees have specific goals and are given the tools they need to achieve them, they feel much more motivated and willing to put in the effort to complete a training program. An LMS will be tremendously helpful as it is learner-centric with great analytics that can help assess skill levels and needs and recommend content suitable for gaining the desirable competencies. This is good for mastering the skills needed on the job but also for quickly reskilling when necessary.
Training the deskless workforce
Deskless employees do the jobs we’d all be lost without and have taken the brunt of the Great Resignation by having to pick up the slack. Companies are now seeing that they have not invested enough in frontline employees and beginning to bridge that gap. A big part of that strategy needs to be training and development. L&D departments must employ the appropriate technology to provide bite-size modules that fit their busy schedules and infuse their training with purpose. Training for the deskless workforce needs to allow for flexibility and autonomy while being engaging and centered around valuable competencies.