Written by Patrick Goodman, Chief Customer Officer, Red e App.
Where do you work?
No, I’m not looking for the name of your company or organization, that would be the answer to the question of whom do you work for. What does your physical workspace look like? What materials, tools, and equipment surround you on a daily basis?
What do you do?
Instead of immediately thinking of your job description or the name that appears on your business cards, consider ‘what’ you do related to your work. Do you spend significant amounts of time writing and responding to emails? Is your calendar booked with various meetings with colleagues, customers, or vendors?
If you answered ‘Yes’ to most of those questions, congratulations! You are an information-based employee, also known as a desktop worker. There are many people just like you in every single industry on the planet. From financial institutions and insurance providers, to technology and media companies, the existence of the knowledge worker and their technology needs are well-known and firmly established.
But, the desktop employee population is only part of the workforce equation. There is a type of employee who does not work at a desk and who has radically different answers to the questions of ‘Where do you work?’ and ‘What do you do?’. It is a workforce that is often marginalized, misunderstood, and often overlooked and ignored. It has a name, though.
It is called the non-desk workforce, and this group of employees matters more than you can imagine.
To that end, we are putting a stake in the ground to declare that there needs to be a gathering, a movement if you will, created to talk about non-desk workers and the unique requirements of their labors. There are countless conferences in the software world to discuss desktop workers and the tools they crave. Those events are mostly found on the east and west coast. I’m not implying those events are bad; it’s just that those who generally gather there never stop to consider that another employee ecosystem exists which also warrants proper time and attention.
We at Red e App pledge our commitment to helping create a moment for the benefit of the non-desk workforce. For years, we have been learning and talking about this space. We want to invite more voices to the conversation.
The Non-Desk workforce is MASSIVE
You interact with non-desk workers every day and don’t even realize it. The barista who prepared your latte just the way you like it this morning, or the UPS driver who delivered a package you ordered from Amazon a few days ago — these are non-desk workers. Neither one sits or works at a desk. Neither one attends a sales or marketing team meeting, nor do they receive video conference calendar invites; but, their work is just as important to the economic engine.
What will come as a shock to most readers of this manifesto is that the non-desk workforce is huge — it includes over 2 BILLION (yes, with a ‘B’) people on the planet. We calculated that number by knowing that there are more than 4.2 billion people age 15–54 in the world, and (conservatively) 50% of those are non-desk workers. The true number is higher than 50%, but even with a conservative estimate, it is easy to conclude that the non-desk workforce is MASSIVE.
The Non-Desk workforce is DISCONNECTED
Fact: the vast majority of non-desk workers are not provided with the same digital productivity and communication platforms that their desktop colleagues utilize. Very few non-desk workers have @company.com email, access to SharePoint, Box, Dropbox Teams, your team’s Slack channel (gasp!), or [insert your favorite desktop application]. There are many reasons for this digital divide. Much of it is due to work behavior differences between the two employee segments and higher turnover rates among non-desk workers in some industries; but the fact remains:
The non-desk worker is digitally disconnected and ‘not-wired’ to the organization.
Result: disconnection is the norm. The larger an organization is, the more locations it has and countries it operates in, the greater the disconnection. Employees are left out of internal conversations and announcements from organizational leadership, and they are frequently relegated to receiving information and communication via the game of telephone we once played as children. Remember how reliable that was (not)? It is no wonder the non-desk workforce often receives unreliable information that is not in alignment with the rest of the organization when there isn’t real-time, direct digital communication.
The Non-Desk workforce is IGNORED
Out of sight often means out of mind. You don’t often see the people ensuring that the shelves are stocked, the airplane is fueled and loaded on time, or the appliance has every screw securely fastened. While you may never directly see members of the non-desk workforce at work, their importance must not be ignored. The last time you went thru a drive-thru or heard your name called to pick up your custom latte, did you notice the name tag of the person who just helped you?
Ignoring the non-desk workforce is a symptom of ignorance.
The Non-Desk workforce is DISENGAGED
Workplace disengagement happens when an employee’s voice isn’t heard or appreciated. Common echoes of a disengaged workforce are, “I never know what’s going on around here.”, “We’re always the last people to get information.” “Who knows what goes on up at corporate? They rarely talk to us and my manager isn’t that much better either.” These phrases are all signposts of a workforce that feels unheard, disconnected, uncared for, and unappreciated — and that equals disengagement. The often heralded objective of stronger employee engagement is equally paramount for the non-desk worker; however, it requires more than just lip service and ambiguous claims that swirl around desktop worker land. The work and behavior differences between workforces may seem minimal, but once examined in finer detail, the chasm between the two is monumental. A disengaged non-desk workforce can’t be fixed by using the employee engagement ‘hammer’ that swings at the nail of the desktop worker. It demands a holistically different philosophy and data-informed methodology.
The Non-Desk workforce is VALUABLE
How valuable are product quality and customer satisfaction to an organization? Product quality and customer satisfaction are measured every single day, and non-desk employees are largely responsible for these outcomes. Consider this: the face of your favorite grocery store brand is not a corporate avatar or the last television commercial you watched. It is the cashier who helped you check out and didn’t complain, even though your kid threw cereal all over the floor. The reliability of the new widget you bought from big manufacturing brand is directly tied to the commitment to quality from the non-desk workforce who you never saw. Has your organization ever had a product recall? You know that embarrassing public relations are just the tip of the iceberg. The non-desk workers who craft the products we consume and work in service roles are exceedingly valuable.
If you undervalue the non-desk workforce too long, it can bankrupt your organization.
The Non-Desk workforce is CHANGING
The generational makeup of the both the desktop and non-desk workforce continues to change. More than 1 in 3 employees are millennials (age 18–34). What does that mean for the non-desk workforce? In industries like restaurant, retail, and hospitality, the millennial percentage of workers can reach as high as 50%. Adding to the challenge is that millennials are the most disengaged generation of employees and particular industries like manufacturing, transportation, and hospitality have employee engagement levels that are well below the national average.
Failing to increase employee engagement among an ever-younger non-desk workforce will be costly.
The Non-Desk workforce is KNOWLEDGEABLE
How often an employee interacts directly with a customer is directly proportional to that employee’s knowledge about what can make a company great. The best ideas for new products and services are not created in a board room or divined via prognostications from sifted tea leaves. There is a reason that the lean startup gospel preaches “get out of the building!” Direct feedback from potential or existing customers is the best way to build a product or provide a service that people will actual use and pay for. This truism also applies to the non-desk workforce. Who better to tell you how the market is responding to a new clothing style or new restaurant menu item than the employee who is face-to-face with customers every single day. Real-time customer feedback must inform the future strategy of your company. No P&L statement or analytics dashboard can ever tell you WHY a product did not sell as well as planned. Those tools can tell you WHAT happened.
The real ‘knowledge’ and ‘information’ worker is the one that doesn’t sit at a desk.
The Non-Desk workforce is ESSENTIAL
Would you be shocked to learn that 70% of Fortune 1000 companies have a substantial non-desk worker population? Industries like agriculture, construction, hospitality, logistics, manufacturing, mining, retail, and utilities consist of millions of non-desk workers. Moreover, Fortune 1000 companies account for approximately three-quarters of the U.S GDP. That represents nearly $13 trillion dollars. Think the non-desk workforce isn’t essential to the global economy? You shouldn’t make that crucial mistake.
The Non-Desk workforce MATTERS
If you’ve read this far, you hopefully agree that the non-desk workforce has a more significant impact than you previously considered. I’m under no delusion that we are the first to think about the importance of these employee segments and how much we all are dependent upon their efforts. Current public and political discussions regarding hourly wage increases, global manufacturing job losses and gains, and shifting trends to automation are very real and relevant to those of us who think about the non-desk space.
This article was originally published on the Non-Desk Matters Manifesto.