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HR & Finance
Erik Fjellborg  |  November 15, 2019
Flexibility and the Future of Work—Especially for “Deskless” Workers

The U.S. workplace is entering‌ a truly transformational‌ ‌time.‌ ‌The‌ ‌“office”‌ ‌as‌ ‌we‌ ‌once‌ knew it ‌has ‌has‌ ‌been‌ completely ‌disrupted. It’s now the norm to answer emails and take work calls from home; improved video-conferencing and collaboration technologies (Zoom, Slack) have also made it easier for people to work completely remotely today.

The‌ rise of the ‌“gig‌ ‌economy‌”—the term for people making their own work schedules by driving for Uber or doing freelance gigs on services like TaskRabbit or Upwork –has reinforced this trend. Taken together, it means that many people today are reveling in unprecedented work flexibility. A recent survey of 4,000 U.S. workers by my firm, Quinyx*, found that 85% of workers believe a more flexible work schedule makes them more productive. What’s more, Generation Z employees said that work flexibility was more important than work culture and even health benefits when looking for a new job.

But here’s the rub: Many of the benefits of the new, flexible workforce are accruing to white-collar professionals—people who work in offices. Many of the newest workplace technologies are bypassing the largest group of workers in the U.S., a group we call the deskless workforce.

These‌ ‌are‌ ‌the‌ ‌people‌ ‌who‌ ‌keep‌ ‌our‌ ‌world‌ ‌running‌ ‌every‌ ‌day:‌ ‌retail‌ ‌workers,‌ ‌healthcare‌ workers,‌ ‌quick‌-‌service‌ ‌restaurant‌ ‌staff,‌ hotel housekeepers ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more.‌ ‌They represent 80% of the global workforce (and likely around 60% of U.S. workers) but are often overlooked. Their‌ ‌physical‌ ‌place‌ ‌of‌ ‌work‌ ‌may‌ ‌not‌ ‌be‌ ‌negotiable,‌ ‌but‌ ‌they‌ ‌still‌ ‌want‌ ‌to take part‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ broader work-‌flexibility‌ ‌movement.‌ ‌And unfortunately, industries with a significant deskless workforce have been laggards in adopting the technology that can facilitate work flexibility.

This kind of technology can help employers manage workers’ schedules, specific shifts, time off and other metrics—things many stores or restaurants are now doing with Excel spreadsheets or even bulletin boards in the breakroom.  While‌ ‌such technology ‌may‌ ‌ sound‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌nice-to-have‌ ‌for‌ ‌employers,‌ ‌the‌ ‌fact‌ ‌is‌ ‌that‌ ‌workers‌ ‌who‌ ‌have‌ ‌flexibility‌ ‌are‌ ‌more‌ ‌engaged‌ ‌and‌ ‌more‌ ‌productive.‌ ‌And,‌ ‌in‌ ‌today’s‌ ‌tight‌ ‌labor‌ ‌market,‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌quickly‌ ‌becoming‌ ‌a‌ ‌necessity‌ ‌for‌ ‌recruitment. As of 2018, there were more than 1.1 million open positions in hospitality jobs in the U.S.‌, and staff turnover in restaurants sits at 75%.

Deskless‌ ‌employees‌ ‌are‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌lines‌ ‌of‌ ‌their‌ ‌companies,‌ ‌making‌ ‌them‌ ‌the‌ ‌face‌ ‌of‌ ‌big brands.‌ ‌Keeping‌ ‌these workers‌ ‌engaged‌ ‌and‌ ‌productive‌ ‌is‌ ‌critical‌ ‌for‌ ‌customer‌ ‌experience‌ ‌and‌ ‌brand‌ ‌ loyalty.‌ ‌Our‌ ‌research‌ ‌shows‌ ‌that‌ ‌consumers‌ ‌are‌ ‌more‌ ‌likely‌ ‌to‌ ‌buy‌ ‌from‌ ‌a‌ ‌happy,‌ ‌engaged‌ ‌employee,‌ ‌which‌ ‌means‌ ‌that‌ ‌failure‌ ‌to‌ ‌keep‌ ‌deskless‌ ‌employees‌ ‌engaged‌ ‌will‌ ‌cost‌ ‌businesses‌ ‌real‌ ‌money.‌ ‌Implementing workforce-management technology can also make businesses more efficient.

We think the next workforce revolution will certainly involve technology—but for all workers.

Eric Fjellborg is the founder and CEO of Quinyx.

* Denotes a Battery Ventures portfolio company. Battery Ventures provides investment advisory services solely to privately offered funds. Battery Ventures neither solicits nor makes its services available to the public or other advisory clients. The information above is based solely on the opinions of the author and should not be construed as investment advice. For more information about Battery Ventures, please refer to our website. Content obtained from third-party sources, although believed to be reliable, has not been independently verified as to its accuracy or completeness and cannot be guaranteed. Battery Ventures has no obligation to update, modify or amend the content of this post nor notify its readers in the event that any information, opinion, projection, forecast or estimate included, changes or subsequently becomes inaccurate.

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