The forgotten workforce – Re-engaging deskless workers post-lockdown

Ross McCaw, CEO, OurPeople

As lockdown restrictions ease, and people begin to return to more conventional work schedules and environments, companies are looking to not only re-engage and communicate with their workforce, but to also maintain focus on those continuing to work remotely.

While there has been a lot of talk about how remote working is improving productivity and enabling a better work-life balance, most of this narrative has focused on those in desk positions.

But, what about the ‘forgotten workforce’, those for whom being deskless is part of their career?

How exactly can employers ensure this subset of workers feel as included in both the ‘back to work’ and ‘how are you getting on’ conversations as their desk-based colleagues? It’s a particularly pertinent question given that gyms, theme parks and other facilities, where deskless working is common, are beginning to open their doors.

The blended workforce

As the UK makes its way towards a new blended work model – a mix of in office, at home and deskless working – it’s increasingly important to ensure all employees feel included and valued.

For the forgotten workforce especially, while remote working can seem liberating, at times it may feel more lonely or distant due to the lack of connection between colleagues and managers. This can hinder productivity and even, at its worst, cause a downward spiral in employee mental health.

Crucially, so much of ensuring the essence of community and purpose is retained for all teams is about feeling; feeling safe at work, feeling that your voice is heard, and feeling like you are part of a team driven by a common purpose. A lot of this comes down to communication – getting the right message out there, in a format that is engaging, and providing a forum for feedback and response.

An adaptable workplace which communicates with and empowers all staff is fundamental to creating a happier, more supportive environment. But, how can employers ensure success?

Two examples of a blended workforce which we will use in this piece are gyms and theme parks. Gyms are often made up of office workers, front desk staff and instructors and personal trainers on the floor, whereas theme parks consist of office workers, ride operators, park cleaners and ticket admission staff, to name just a few. In both examples, this is a vast range of people who need to be regularly engaged, all working within different environments.

Here’s our advice on how best to ensure the new blended workforce stays productive for every business:

Human connection

Human connection and interaction is crucial to both the success of a business and also the mental wellbeing and satisfaction of employees.

As reduced numbers of staff return to their workplaces, the integration of both communication services and regular in-person meetings and catch-ups can create a stronger bond between employees and their leaders. It’s also an opportunity to ensure any concerns – perhaps around health and safety – can be dealt with swiftly and efficiently.

The right communication

It’s important to ensure all workers receive communication that is relevant to them, and their position.

When thinking about the theme park example, there is a physical detachment between the employees working the rides, those at ticket admission and those currently working from home. The same is true for many other businesses, although the role of the workers may differ.

It’s easy for those who may not be on a mailing list or have missed a meeting to feel out of the loop and, perhaps, purposely excluded. A lack of access to colleagues, mentors and resources may also affect workers, leading them to feel detached.

Alongside regular meetings in the office with all employees and one-to-one feedback sessions, which can ensure workers are happy and engaged with the information being pushed out, it’s important to offer more casual channels of conversation. This will make it easy to check up on how fellow employees are doing, share ideas, get feedback on work, and ensure clear communication on what needs to be done.

Saying this, not every employee should get every bit of information – it’s all about the right communication and ensuring information only reaches the intended employees.

Having deskless workers receive information meant for those in the office, or vice versa, can lead to employees becoming overwhelmed at the sheer amount of communication they receive, and engagement could fall as a result.

Changes in management behaviour

Managers should keep consistent, informal and transparent connections with all employees to make sure they are happy, on track, and feeling as though they are heard in their workplace. Ensuring employees are satisfied and engaged can really pay off in their performance.

Simple changes in behaviour, such as acting on relevant suggestions, responding to emails quickly and praising informative contributions or success, are a great way to ensure a sense of belonging and worth.

Social apps

In the workplace, instant messaging apps, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, are popular ways to keep up to date with colleagues on a day-to-day basis. But while they might be convenient, they cause issues, with employees often feeling as though work is creeping into their personal lives.

More seriously however, whilst companies assume that these apps are suitable for business communication, there are actually major security and privacy implications to this use.

Whether it’s simply engaging in conversation with colleagues or sharing work documents via these apps, the way employers and staff communicate can actually violate the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) because the business doesn’t have control of where the data is going. If caught, GDPR infringements can lead to a maximum fine of €20 million or 4% of annual global turnover – whichever is greater.

By making sure an employee feels wanted and useful at the company, such as by simply asking for their opinion, praising effort and allowing them to be heard, their self-confidence and gratification can soar, no matter where they are working. An encouraging atmosphere can also rub off on other employees who will soon be exhibiting similar behaviours of affirmation and inclusivity.

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