Deskless Workers Need UC Too

We're all aware that emerging collaboration technologies are changing how organizations communicate and interact. Here I'd like to call special attention to how these technologies include more, or even all, of the modern enterprise.

Unified communications largely benefited knowledge workers. This loosely defined group mostly consists of white-collar workers who perform non-routine tasks often requiring critical thinking. A knowledge worker usually has a phone, email account, and desk.

Of course, the modern enterprise is bursting with other kinds of employees, such as those in manufacturing, on the sales floor, and providing field service. UC has underserved these groups. Sure, they can use an analog wall phone or even a mobile client, but with limited interaction.

Beyond the Knowledge Worker

In a previous No Jitter post, I wrote about six significant transitions occurring in enterprise communications. Although I included both workstream collaboration applications and the shift toward mobile-first, I neglected to call out how these two factors are enabling more effective enterprisewide communications.

Zinc, for deskless workers

Workstream collaboration solutions initially built momentum around development teams. Today, they're quickly expanding to serve deskless workers. Mobile apps defer installation and setup to the end user. Less training -- or even zero training -- means employees begin interacting and collaborating right away.

IDC forecasts mobile workers will account for 72% of the country's workforce by 2020. Non-office-based mobile workers will represent more than two-thirds of the total mobile worker population. Two factors are fueling this trend: the increasing functionality of mobile apps, and the near ubiquity of mobile devices and wireless connectivity.

Workplace at Walmart

Walmart recently announced it was adopting Workplace by Facebook. Employees who had no tool can now suddenly easily interact with co-workers in the same store and between different locations -- for example, to share ideas (and photos) of promotional displays.

We don't know how many Walmart employees are using Workplace, but we do know that Walmart has a lot of retail-floor employees. Facebook confirmed that Walmart is its largest U.S. Workplace subscriber. Enterprisewide communications improve with video broadcast and in-app translation, and in addition to its mobile clients, Workplace has Windows and Mac desktop clients.

Through word of mouth and direct sales, Facebook has managed to attract a reported 30,000 customers (companies not users) to Workplace. That's at least a thirtyfold increase since the service launched about a year ago.

Attention on the 'Firstline Worker'

The same week we learned about Facebook and Walmart, Microsoft launched Microsoft 365 F1, aimed at what it calls "firstline workers." F1 offers many of the core services found in Office 365 subscriptions (including Office Online, email, and Teams). It also includes a new application called StaffHub that facilitates schedules and task management for shifts. StaffHub is mobile-ready for iOS and Android.

F1 can be combined with Office 365 plans. That means a single enterprise can provide Outlook and Office to its knowledge workers; offer StaffHub, webmail, and Office Online to its deskless workers; and use apps such as Teams, Yammer, SharePoint, and Enterprise Video for enterprisewide communications.

It's not just the behemoths either. Similar tactics are appearing from other service providers as well. RingCentral is bundling Glip, its workstream collaboration application, with RingCentral Office UC platform for knowledge workers, and gaining traction for it outside the office. For example, the Structural Group eliminated delays that could last for months by instantly bringing construction workers, engineers, and architects together with in-app messaging and video.

Startups, too, are creating solutions optimized for field workers. For example, privately held Zinc is on a mission to service the deskless. It wants to eliminate office corkboards and thumbtacks, and cites customers such as GE, Hyatt, and the Gaylord Hotels. Zinc offers messaging, voice, video, content sharing, and push-to-talk, plus companywide broadcasts.

This latest round of technology, specifically messaging-centric communications along with mobile-first design, represents a significant expansion in enterprise communications that includes deskless workers.

Messaging-based solutions are more inclusive than voice, IM, and email, and more tolerant to the inevitable interruptions that field workers encounter. These solutions also enable improved content discovery and keep a higher percentage of employees better informed.

Editor's note: This content has been updated since original posting. Facebook has confirmed that Walmart is its largest U.S. customer for Workplace, not its largest customer worldwide.

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Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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