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deskless worker industry 4.0

The Future is Bright for the Deskless Worker in Industry 4.0


Give your deskless workers the tools to succeed. As new tech solutions are developed for, it's essential that they're not left behind.

23 December 2019

If you’ve been listening, you’ve heard of the deskless worker. In recent years, thought leaders and companies alike are increasing their efforts to include this segment of the global workforce in innovation.

While it’s certainly a hot topic the deskless worker isn’t exactly a novel concept. Put simply - a deskless worker is anyone who doesn’t work at a desk.

It might sound a bit obvious, but it’s important to recognize that this group is comprised of millions of employees in some of the most vital industries on the planet (Source):

  • Healthcare: 148M
  • Agriculture: 858M
  • Retail: 497M
  • Hospitality: 122M
  • Construction: 265M
  • Education: 226M
  • Transportation: 189M


The deskless workforce makes up 80% of the total global workforce.

These numbers tell a pretty clear story. Deskless workers make up a vast majority of our global workforce - close to 80% (Forbes). Couple this with the fact that these groups have been historically underserved by the tech industry (Forbes), and a pretty clear message emerges.

If the major industries want to stay competitive in industry 4.0, it’s time to invest in tech solutions for the deskless worker.

This fact is especially relevant to the manufacturing industry. As of 2019, the manufacturing industry employs approximately 427 million (source) deskless workers globally. As processes and procedures become increasingly digitized and complex, the pressure to come up with tools to increase productivity on the shop floor and stay competitive will also increase.

The good news: the industry is generally responding well to this trend. In a recent study, 91% of manufacturers surveyed indicated that they planned to increase spending on tech solutions for their deskless workforce (source).


The bad news: In a multitude of new tech solutions - It’s not always easy knowing exactly what the deskless workforce needs.


Solutions for the deskless workforce.

We’ve worked closely with some of the world’s biggest manufacturers, and we’ve learned a thing or two about what makes working (and learning) more effective for the millions of deskless workers out there.


The right stuff at the moment of need.

The manufacturing industry is built on efficiency and strict standards. If employees can’t access the knowledge they need as they perform their tasks on the shop floor, they’re liable to make critical errors and increase expensive downtime.

Digital solutions make it simple to push the most relevant information to shop floor employees and give them access to it on mobile devices.


Seasonal employees.

Every year, thousands of seasonal employees - who are also deskless workers - enter the workforce on a temporary basis. These short-term workers and their employers simply don’t have the time for lengthy, traditional training methods.

High tech solutions like digital work instructions greatly reduce the length of the training process and provide a user-friendly reference guide for workers on the shop floor. This helps to ensure that all procedures are carried out safely, efficiently, and according to industry standards.


swipeguide work instructions


Information in those hard-to-reach places.

Working in a jungle? On a mountain top? In the far corner of an oil tanker in the North Sea? Sometimes, being a deskless worker means taking your work to remote places. Bad internet connections and physical distance make it near impossible for these employees to access the most up-to-date information about their jobs.

The best apps collect and share knowledge, and also make it available for use offline. This ensures that engineers and workers around the world have access to essential knowledge, even in the most remote corners of the world.


Capture tribal knowledge.

It's an unfortunate reality that thousands of employees are retiring from the manufacturing workforce. As such, it's imperative to have a process in place to capture the essential knowledge that they’ve accumulated over a career - but may have never written down. We call this tribal knowledge.

Tribal Knowledge describes critical information that is not stored in a central, easily accessible system. Instead, this knowledge lives in the heads of a few key employees. What happens when they’re not there?

While problematic in any industry, tribal knowledge presents a real risk to safety and product quality in manufacturing. Digital solutions like comprehensive work instructions and connected work platform make it simple for teams to capture, review, and distribute tribal knowledge.


Continuous improvement.

Lean manufacturing mandates the continual review and improvement of procedures on the shop floor - starting with the people who do them on a daily basis. Collecting the feedback of deskless workers in a non-digital format can be an absolute nightmare - updating paper and PDF work instructions is unreliable, time consuming, and expensive.

Mobile tech solutions allow teams to deliver nuanced feedback with the push of a button. This means that knowledge can be captured instantly on the shop floor and, combined with other analytics, used to continuously improve processes and procedures.




Invest in the future of deskless work.

Properly supporting and developing the infrastructure for the world’s deskless workers means not one solution, or even many - it means investing in and developing an entire ecosystem of connected, intelligent solutions to drive deskless work forward (effectively) into industry 4.0.

Your work instructions should facilitate on-the-job training, knowledge capture, and content delivery in a continuously improving platform that encourages a lean, bottom-up way of working. 

Although the future is bright for the deskless worker, it's up to us to push for innovative tools like digital work instructions that function seamlessly within the developing ecosystem of inspiring tech for manufacturing. 

Picture of Chris

Chris loves to share his expertise on future-proof work instruction software for frontline teams in manufacturing. Particularly, how digital, visual work instructions can make a lasting impact on motivation, productivity, and operational excellence culture.

23 December 2019