The Multi-Billion-Dollar Opportunity Behind the 80% of Employees We’re Neglecting

March 2, 2019

The secret is out: The most successful companies in the world are the ones that understand their employees are their greatest competitive asset. What’s baffling, though, is that most enterprises today are fundamentally neglecting 80 percent of their workforce when it comes to communication and engagement. Within this disparity we find perhaps one of the greatest opportunities within today’s corporate and investment landscapes.

Allow me to elaborate.

The Value Within the Forgotten Deskless Employee

According to Gallup research, increased employee engagement has been proven as a key means of boosting an organization’s productivity, profitability and customer ratings. This should come as no surprise. After all, employee engagement is directly tied to the customer experience, and organizations that lead in customer experience are four times more likely to be experiencing growth of more than 10 percent. Moreover, only 34 percent of workers report being engaged with their work.

In light of the importance of employee engagement, the findings of a recent report from Emergence Capital on “The Rise of the Deskless Workforce” are all the more powerful. According to Emergence, a full 80 percent of global employees are not tethered to a desk. They’re mobile. They’re on construction sites, in hospitals and schools, and driving vehicles all over the world. They’re the literal faces of so many of today’s companies, and yet only 1 percent of today’s annual $300 billion in business software venture funding is going to technology benefiting these on-the-go employees.

That’s not just a missed opportunity. That’s a massive problem.

Antiquated Solutions for a Modern Workforce

For the most part, enterprises, technology entrepreneurs and investors to date have been acting like the only employees who matter are the ones who sit at a desk. For those employees, there’s been a great deal of development when it comes to communication and engagement tools—mostly in the form of tools designed to be accessed on a desktop.

So what about the vast majority of employees who don’t sit at a desk? Well, they’re getting letters…in the mail. And posters. And stand-up meetings. They’re being told to rely on antiquated intranets that weren’t built to function properly on mobile devices and that don’t issue alerts when there’s a communication that warrants their attention. Such approaches are annoying for any employee, but they’re downright laughable to the newest wave of young Gen Z employees who are beginning to enter the workplace. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that I have to text my children just to tell them to check their email. That’s precisely the mentality and expectations that today’s employers are up against, and they’re woefully unprepared from a technology standpoint, particularly when it comes to deskless employees.

Correcting a Classic Blunder

OK, so how on earth did we let this happen? When faced with the numbers, the oversight seems so obvious. But perhaps it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. In fact, what we’re seeing is a fairly classic blunder in the marketing world. It occurs when marketers assume—all too often—that the people around them are representative of their audience. That’s a problem when you’re marketing to prospects, and it’s an even bigger problem when you’re communicating with employees. When executives and their HR teams implement solutions with the people around them in mind, they implement solutions built for a desk-bound worker—even if the majority of their employees are no such thing.

The good news is that the tide is starting to turn. According to Emergence Capital’s report, 82 percent of companies surveyed are planning to increase spending on technology to empower their employees, and the transportation and manufacturing industries plan to increase spending on deskless technology the most. Meanwhile, Emergence Capital says some investors are beginning to pay more attention to the deskless software category as well. “Notably, corporate VCs are two of the most active investors in this space, perhaps signaling that we’re likely to see more corporate venture activity from companies with large deskless workforces who see this as a strategic investment in their core businesses,” the report notes.

The enterprises and investors who turn their attention to the deskless workforce stand to realize tremendous gains as a result. After all, we know that employees are an organization’s strongest competitive advantage. Therefore, being able to communicate with and listen to all of their employees—not just the ones tethered to laptops—is critical to success in 2019 and beyond. You can’t move fast enough without this ability. You can’t respond to competitive threats without this ability. It’s absolutely foundational, and the effect of getting this right will be absolutely transformational.

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