Square peg round hole: Reliance on traditional technology contributing to burnout on the frontline

A recent study from Skedulo found that as a whole the deskless workforce consistently lacks the technology and tools it needs in the field

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Skedulo’s Faces of the Frontline campaign
From left to right, featuring Stephen and Slavko from ServiceMaster, Shannon from Solace Pediatrics, and Leslie and Jordan from Furniture Bank

2020 has been historic by many measures and never has frontline work been so critical. Most frontline workers are deskless, meaning they do not perform their jobs in a typical office setting, like mobile technicians, healthcare workers and retail staff. This segment of the workforce is providing essential services — everything from COVID-19 testing to construction — risking their safety amidst a global pandemic to keep the world running.

The deskless workforce collectively makes up 2.7B people around the world, around 80% of total workers. Prior to the pandemic, these workers faced challenges that traditional office-based workers didn’t, and many of these day-to-day difficulties have been compounded by the new stressors introduced by COVID-19, putting them at greater risk of burnout. From new safety procedures, to a complicated work-life balance, to isolation, employers need to prioritize improving the deskless employee experience at all costs. 

While employers can’t control bad traffic or a difficult customer, one area they can address is the tools their deskless workers have access to. Unfortunately, this large and vital sector of the workforce is experiencing a lack of suitable technology that makes their jobs more difficult and complicated than their desk-based counterparts. To reduce burnout in an already strenuous time, leadership must critically examine the software their organization uses to address any gaps that are (very likely) present. 

Reducing burnout for the benefit of workers

A recent study found that as a whole the deskless workforce consistently lacks the technology and tools it needs in the field. The technology that they do use often isn’t made with their needs in mind, like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Many companies either deploy a ‘one-size-fits-all’ software or they combine an assortment of different tools for applications such as scheduling, routing to the job site, note-taking abilities, messaging, reporting and more. When these workers have to switch back and forth between different tools, or worse yet, return to an office and work on a computer to complete tasks, it unnecessarily complicates their workflow. 

While not every company is the same, 100% of CIOs admit their deskless staff must use at least two software tools throughout their work days — and 43% say they’re using three or more. Take home healthcare workers, for example. From mapping out daily routes to carrying laptops with access to EHRs, and from communicating with patients to logging the patient’s treatment plan, these mobile workers are asked to do too much, especially when the priority should be on patients. These stories of juggling too many tasks with inadequate resources are present in every industry and every sector.

Complex software isn’t just impacting immediate tasks, it also affects the ability of managers to provide support and supervision. For example, when scheduling supervisors for deskless workforces use a combination of manual, ad-hoc scheduling methods, including Excel, Google sheets and email, it takes time from other tasks they could be completing — like checking in with the technician at a job site or providing additional training. These inefficiencies equate to more time spent on administration and less time spent on supporting individual workers. 

Furthering the need for purpose-built tools 

With more employees working from home, we’ve seen a boom in the productivity and collaborative software markets for desk-based workers. However, technology has failed the deskless workforce by not creating tools designed specifically for their frontline jobs — something that 67% of IT leaders acknowledged. The majority of organizations continue to rely on outdated legacy tools for mobile work.

As the pandemic continues, the deskless workforce will continue to grow — CIOs predict the number of mobile workers will increase by 62% in the next two years. As we expect more from frontline employees delivering services when we need them most, leaders must adapt technology to the unique pain points of the mobile workforce. Companies that fail to do so, risk the wellness and retention of valuable employees. These infrastructural changes must be supplemented by training, information and frequent check-ins to ensure your team feels supported, prepared, mentally healthy and physically safe.

The best thing for companies to do is to invest in software that is designed specifically to meet the needs of their deskless workers, and it needs to be accessible while on the road. Currently, only 39% of respondents said they have a platform designed for deskless workers, and even fewer say their deskless workers’ needs are met by the platforms designed for them. An investment in a purpose-built deskless productivity platform could cut down on the administrative complications of their job, enabling employees to spend more time on the actual task at hand. The simplification of software also improves their user experience, making frustration less likely. 

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