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Introducing "The State of Technology for the Deskless Workforce"

Several years ago, Emergence turned its attention to a very important, yet often overlooked, population of global workers: the deskless workforce. More than 2.7 billion strong and representing 80% of workers worldwide, they are employed in factories, fields, stores, healthcare facilities, and construction sites. Yet, despite their numbers and impact, they are often forgotten by entrepreneurs and investors.

In 2018, we published a report that detailed how, for the last several decades, the innovation engine in Silicon Valley has catered almost exclusively to desk-based knowledge workers. We learned that despite hundreds of billions of dollars of VC investments each year, less than 1% of it went to companies building technology for deskless workers. We also reported that IT buyers at companies with large populations of deskless workers actively wanted to purchase more technology to serve this important portion of their workforce.  

Deskless workers deserve our attention, our support, and our gratitude. Many of them work in areas such as healthcare, logistics, and public safety: sectors that are essential to our economic infrastructure and vital to our everyday lives. They often work long hours, sometimes in dangerous conditions, and are often among the first to lose their jobs when hardship hits the companies they work for. All of this has become increasingly clear since the onset of the pandemic.

This year, we centered our deskless workforce research on the experience of the workers themselves. We wanted to understand how technology, or the lack thereof, is affecting the lives of those in these critical jobs. The State of Technology for The Deskless Workforce 2020 surveyed ~1,500 deskless workers across 20 industries and focused on topics related to their access to and use of technology in the workplace.

What we learned reinforced our previous finding that there’s still a large and unaddressed need for better technology to serve the deskless world.

Deskless workers are reliant on technology. 

Of the workers we surveyed, we found that 75% of them spend at least half of their time using some form of technology while at work. In some ways, this surprised us given the anecdotes we’ve heard from deskless workers that suggested their companies didn’t provide them with much technology.  

Deskless workers are not always provided the best technology to do their work—and they want this to change. 

Over 80% of deskless workers are provided desktop PCs or laptops to do their work. Clearly, devices such as smartphones and tablets would be more appropriate for workers who spend their time on their feet or away from the office. The workers we surveyed also indicated that the technology they’re given is often slow or hard to use. Unsurprisingly, 60% of the deskless workers we surveyed are unsatisfied with the technology they’re provided to do their jobs.

Deskless workers believe that management doesn’t fully appreciate their need for better technology. 

Many of the deskless workers we surveyed don’t feel their companies appreciate the extent to which better technology would help them do their jobs. This translates into limitations on the amount that can be spent on better technology. Almost half of those we surveyed believe that budget constraints prevent their companies from providing them with the best hardware and software. 

In the absence of support from their companies, deskless workers are addressing the technology gap themselves. 

Over half of those surveyed have brought their own technology to work in order to perform their jobs. Most turned to technologies they were already using in their personal lives. One third proactively sought out new hardware and software specifically for the purpose of helping them do their work better.

Availability of technology is a key factor when deskless workers consider a new job. 

When considering a new job, more than 78% of deskless workers surveyed consider the availability of appropriate technology to be an important factor. Given the high cost of recruiting new employees and the significant amount of employee turnover that exists in many deskless-heavy industries, employers would be wise to consider how better technology might help them improve their ability to attract and retain deskless workers.

The opportunity to create better technology for deskless workers is one of the biggest opportunities for enterprise entrepreneurs today.

If you are interested in speaking with us about our views on the deskless workforce or are an entrepreneur with a deskless technology company, please contact us at