Digital transformation for deskless workers

An image of deskless workers, Futurism, Digital transformation for deskless workers
Empowering and maximising the potential of the world’s deskless workforce is key to creating a sustainable, efficient and thriving global economy in the aftermath of the pandemic. Kit Kyte, CEO, Checkit outlines how.

Digital transformation has been a top priority for business leaders to overcome complexity and meet market demands. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the rate of digital transformation in businesses that recognised the need to adapt fast. Rapid digitisation has propelled a new era for those of us who work at desks. But around 80% of the world’s workforce are deskless, and they’ve been left behind.

Instead of smart apps, many of the world’s 2.7 billion deskless workers contend with pen-and-paper, spreadsheets or clunky technology tools that are ill-suited to the dynamic demands of frontline work. 60% are dissatisfied with their technology. It slows them down, makes them less engaged and less adaptable. 

What’s more, outdated reporting methods mean their activity is often hidden from the view of managers, creating an environment of ‘dark operations’ that’s impossible to analyse – leading to increased risk, wastage and lost opportunities.

The frontline is key

Today, we depend on deskless workers like never before. Deskless workers have driven business continuity throughout the pandemic, keeping buildings clean, delivering essential supplies and providing food. Indeed, the grocery, delivery and cleaning industries are all experiencing increasing demand. 

Frontline workers are the engine of commercial operations, influencing customer experience, efficiency, safety and quality, all of which contribute to overall revenue growth

These are all reasons why the next wave of digital transformation needs to unlock dark operations. According to a survey by Emergence Capital, almost three-quarters of deskless workers believe they could perform to a higher standard if they had better technology.  

Fortunately, investment is increasing. Researchers at IDC say that “direct digital transformation investment is still growing at a compound annual growth rate of 15.5% from 2020 to 2023 and is expected to approach US$6.8trn as companies build on existing strategies and investments, becoming digital-at-scale future enterprises”. 

Key to success will be digital tools that enable agility at the frontline, say analysts at McKinsey. “Most agile transformations are a means to improve customer experience. Therefore, including frontline employees who have a direct and daily influence on the customer is a key to success,” says the report. The digitisation of the deskless workforce will be worth billions according to analysts at Emergence Capital.

Overcoming the digital gap

Those of us who work at desks are spoilt for choice when it comes to productivity and collaboration apps. We start the day by opening emails, chat, video conferencing, project management tools and file sharing. 

What would finance be like without ERP? How about sales without CRM? They would be slow, error-prone and painful. That’s what deskless workers at the frontline have to deal with. Thousands of hours are spent on manual admin, logging safety, hygiene, food prep and other procedures.

One US restaurant chain that we spoke to expects each of its outlets to complete a 28-page paper checklist every day. It’s a similar story for frontline workers in cafés, convenience stores and countless other workplaces. 

Smart operations

The digital gap is not only holding back employees but depriving their employers of operational intelligence. How can leaders possibly know right now if brand standards are being upheld, profitable opportunities are being seized and safety procedures followed at each and every one of their business locations? And if they don’t know, how can they act?

One thing we know for sure is the business that adapted quickly to the conditions of the pandemic performed best. The disruption of the past year has underlined the need for agility in business. It’s been a period of rethinking the way things are done. Businesses that adapted quickly to the conditions of the pandemic performed best. They flexed to meet the needs of their customers – changing production, switching focus and finding new revenue sources.

But the ability to respond and adapt at pace – particularly for large, complex organisations with large numbers of deskless employees – is clearly constrained by operational silos, outdated reporting mechanisms and intensely manual methods. 

Extending digital transformation to the operational edge offers a way forward and it depends on four imperatives:

Capture – The first step is to capture data from the frontline. Much of this activity has been hidden from view but bringing it into the light enables insight.

Connect – Connection between workplaces, teams and co-workers is notable by its absence. The surge in remote working shows us we have to keep connected in order to work constructively but that hasn’t yet been applied to deskless workers.

Collaborate – Frontline workers can no longer operate in isolation from each other. It leads to repetition, overlap, inefficiency and error. Enabling co-workers to collaborate by sharing questions, updates and status reports can get things done more easily. 


Comprehend – Diversity of data sources makes analysis difficult. It’s hard enough to understand what’s changing, let alone make changes. Businesses need greater clarity in order to identify and act on growth opportunities.

The value of data-driven decision-making is recognised in many areas of business but there are still rewards to be reaped by extending that to the operational frontline, unlocking improved experiences for both employees and customers.

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An image of deskless workers, Futurism, Digital transformation for deskless workers

Amber Donovan-Stevens

Amber is a Content Editor at Top Business Tech

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