Top 5: Key differentiators for deskless workers

The mobile worker segment is rapidly expanding and is essential to our economy. German Autolabs founder, Holger Weiss, takes a look at the crucial differences that separate the desked and the deskless.

We recently quoted a piece from Forbes.com by Chris Turlica, CEO of MaintainX, a software platform helping frontline workers in maintenance and operations. Chris made some interesting observations about the status of software for mobile workers, the highlight perhaps being his observation that only a fifth of the global workforce work behind a desk.

The other 2.7 billion people are therefore part of the mobile workforce.

As Chris highlights, these people are routinely ignored when it comes to new, fast and hot productivity software. Most of the innovation comes in SaaS, complete with colourful dashboards and project management chat solutions.

So, what are the top five issues that differentiate a desk worker from a deskless mobile worker?

In the digital world a screen is everything — the bigger, the better. If you have a desk, it’s easy to have a large screen in front of you, maybe two or three in parallel. A big screen displays visual information clearly and beautifully, allowing you to flip between windows and tabs. A big screen is great.

What does your desk look like? There’s your laptop, your screens, your phone, there might be a coffee mug and a set of keys. I bet in many cases there are still print outs, files and folders, books, PostIts, notebooks and all manner of legacy paperwork from the analog world. This is exactly what your desktop is made for, to store whatever you need to do your job with no regard for space.

The opposite is true for deskless workers. Whether you’re a maintenance engineer in a large factory or a construction worker on a remote site, you often don’t have much more space than the pockets of your pants.

A deskless worker’s job usually involves doing something with their hands. Steering a vehicle, holding a tool, assembling parts of a production line. Often the workflow is a sequence of various steps all requiring (and thus blocking) the hands. Or consider the delivery driver: holding a steering wheel, grabbing a scanner device, carrying a parcel… there’s not a single moment where the hands are really free.

If you’re sitting at a desk, you usually do many things in parallel. You are multitasking. While writing this piece (at my desk), I’m looking on my phone to check who just sent me a Signal message. Not so if you are a deskless worker. Parallel tasks are difficult to perform. And if workers are busy with a task, additional information can very easily create cognitive overload. Anyone who has tried to navigate across an unfamiliar roundabout while fielding an important business phone call can empathise with the difficulties felt here.

Desks are not dangerous — at least not according to the statistics. What is rather more likely is for a critical situation to arise while driving a 20 ton truck in bad weather, or while repairing a wind turbine on a 150 meter mast, or while working in a car assembly plant alongside robots. Deskless mobile workers have a much higher risk of getting injured, so limiting distraction is essential.

It becomes pretty clear that software and solutions for mobile workers need to comply with rather unique conditions. The situation that Chris Turlica outlined for maintenance workers is very much echoed in what we at German Autolabs see for professional drivers and mobile workers. For many years now we’ve focused on developing voice-enabled solutions to support people in their daily jobs. It’s essential for us to really understand workflows and that’s what makes the whole operation so complex.

The solution often turns out more beautiful than the puzzle.
Richard Dawkins

Our voice-first assistance solutions are being built and trained for the needs of the people who use them. There’s a world of difference between:

  • Using a voice assistant in your kitchen with a stable wifi connection to carry out a simple task like playing a song or setting a timer, and:
  • The assistant anticipating your needs in advance and providing the exact information to you when you need it most. Relevant, timely and intelligent.

In our collaboration with DHL UK we informed delivery drivers right before their next stop about everything important, like the weight of the parcel or instructions such as ‘don’t leave it with neighbours’. This information has to come proactively, much like instructions from a rally co-driver. The impact is greatly diminished when the driver has to ask for the info first.

If solutions are tailor made for the requirements of mobile workers, they can support them meaningfully. In our case this means:

  • Voice-first human-machine interaction. If I don’t have a big screen and I’m busy with something important, voice is superior to any graphical information. Even if the system shows me the right details, it is of little help if I cannot read it.
  • Typing, writing and paperwork are all impossible for a deskless worker in many situations. A voice assistant is a perfect tool to fill out forms or send information back into a system.
  • Voice solves the hands full problem. Admittedly voice can not replace your hands, but it’s a good way to support them. Imagine a repair person has both hands busy with tools while working to fix an elevator, and needs to know technical details from a handbook. Instead of interrupting the job and searching manually, a short question to the assistant will provide the answer.
  • Voice assistants have one clear advantage for deskless workers: they are less distracting and faster than other forms of communication. Less distraction means a higher level of safety and lower levels of stress. This results in happier people, and happier people tend to be more productive. Win-win.

German Autolabs vision is to create a brighter future for logistics workers with intelligent, easy-to-use technology. To find out how we can help your business, head to germanautolabs.com. Thank you for reading.

We build voice assistance solutions for professional drivers.