Can we ever truly connect with deskless employees?


As communicators we know engaged employees are not only happier, more inspired, more loyal but also more productive and more profitable. Deskless employees make up 80% of the global workforce; their ability to help organisations grow and thrive is huge yet businesses continue to struggle to connect meaningfully with them.

Many question whether deskless employees hold the same enthusiasm to connect as their desk-based counterparts. At the latest MSL Employee Experience roundtable attendees agreed that whilst the type of desired communication tended to be different, it was still vital for deskless employees to feel connected to the business. It might be as simple as creating a centralised space for all individualised functional documentation i.e. shift patterns, payroll etc and offering interaction capabilities within this or something more sophisticated that encourages more informal conversations, content creation & sharing.

Whilst currently the deskless workforce receive only 1% of tech in a professional setting it’s clear that technology plays a significant role in facilitating communication. That doesn’t mean that good old pull-up banners and staff room posters should be binned immediately - they have a place in the channel mix with this audience - but it does mean that investing in researching, designing, developing, launching, onboarding and maintaining a communications platform should be a priority for businesses if they want to truly harness the power of an engaged deskless workforce. 

There are of course challenges. Most deskless employees don’t have a corporate email, access to a work phone or computer, however as speaker Sean McAndrew, Head of Digital Workplace at Google Premier Partner, Ancoris, stated most platforms now offer secure solutions to allow users to login with personal devices so our job is to ensure users feel eager & comfortable enough to do so. By involving employees in the design of the platform itself we ensure we’re both investing in something that solves a clear challenge, whilst simultaneously creating ambassadors to aid the onboarding of the tool when it’s launched more widely.

Many focus on launching the platform but the real key to success is keeping the platform alive post launch. Roundtable speaker Meg Jarman, Global Senior Manager - Digital Employee Engagement at McDonald’s, referenced the power of introducing ambassadors at every level of the business. Avoiding making it purely a manager’s responsibility is key to creating an environment of active participation.

Visibility of senior leaders utilising the platform, posting and responding to content alongside ambassadors doing the same sets an incredibly powerful precedent; especially if senior leaders can adopt some of the more vulnerable, personalised story-telling that was so commonplace during COVID. Run workshops with them, get them in front of the ambassadors and to pilot the platform - ensure they’re equipped to communicate in the right format. 

Businesses need to facilitate the moments worth sharing on the platform. These don’t need to be budget-draining activations, some free-food, a photo-booth or competition can create lovely moments for employees to come together physically but share digitally. And when people are interacting  - tell them and reward them publicly.

One key watch-out raised at the roundtable was the platform’s ability to turn into a forum for negativity and quickly become toxic. In these instances negative behaviour needs to be directly engaged offline to ensure it doesn’t overshadow other activity. It does however highlight a key learning; that whilst platforms create a huge amount of opportunity they don’t completely remove the need for face-to-face interaction. 

Deskless employees are not a monolithic group, there is not a one-size fits all solution to connecting the deskless population, but there are some consistent principles that help Employee Experience professionals communicate effectively::

  • Investing in technology is a key part of the solution; make sure your clear what challenge it’s fixing - do the research
  • Don’t just launch it; onboard people thoroughly 
  • The launch isn’t the end; content post launch is far more powerful than the launch itself 
  • A clear ambassador strategy is integral; they should sit at every level of the business
  • Senior leaders set the precedent; get them engaged & equipped
  • Facilitate the moments of joy; give your people a reason to talk
  • Face-to-face is still important; don’t sacrifice in person experiences  

When done right the benefits to truly connecting with deskless employees are clear; powerful advocates, authentic content, a richer culture and more engaged employees.


Find out more about MSL Employee Experience on LinkedIn 

Grace Mills

Director of Employee Experience