Should you Communicate with Deskless Workers via Smartphones?

It’s always been hard for HR to communicate with deskless employees in manufacturing, healthcare, retail, agriculture, hospitality, construction, and transportation, representing 57% of the US workforce. In this article, we’ll review how to think through the most common challenges in implementing communications via employees’ personal cell phones, including:

  1. Do they want this? 
  2. How do I know if my employees have smartphones? 

Employees are different

To start, it’s worthwhile reminding ourselves that employees are not a homogenous group. And when it comes to technology adoption, there will always be early adopters and laggards.

One of the things that makes it hard for HR leaders to roll out new technologies to their employees is they need to make sure that there are accessible options for all employees, from the 20-year-old new hire to the well seasoned 60-year old that claims to have never picked up a cell phone. 

The common concern that we hear from companies with hard-to-reach populations is that their employees don’t have cell phones. Of course, it’s true that some don’t. The question is, do enough employees have access so that communication via mobile is worth the investment? 

How do I know if my employees have cell phones? 

Many organizations assume that employees are technologically illiterate because they don’t have a computer at home or live in a rural area with poor broadband access. Yet, ironically, these are the exact employees that have “leap-frogged” the computer and use smartphones as the primary means of paying their bills and staying in touch. 

According to Pew Research, 85% of all Americans own a smartphone. However, when you break out this statistic by age: 

  • The adoption rate is even higher for those 18-29 (96%), 
  • about the same for 30-49 (95%), 
  • and about 12% less for those 50-64 (83%). 

In other words, smartphones have become so dominant that only a tiny portion of working-age people don’t have one; these numbers climb even higher when you look at people who make at least $30,000 per year.

This is no longer an issue of if mobile communications will become a channel for HR info. Instead, it’s a matter of when. It’s pretty clear we’re well past that point. 

You can do a simple formula to apply it to your company. Just plug in the number of people you have in each age bracket, and multiply it by the associated percentage. That is probably your worst-case scenario for the number of people you may need to address using a different communication channel. 

And with only 7% of Americans saying they never connect to the Internet, that different communication channel can be a desktop experience. 

Do employees want to be contacted by HR on their smartphones?

Since there is an “opt-in” component, it’s essential to consider if employees want this type of communication channel. Benefit professionals tend to be particularly pessimistic about how much employees want to see this content. Yet, ironically, employees tend to be very interested in it, and they just want it in a way that’s easier to understand. 

According to a report by Emergence, deskless employees are hungry for tech and feel their work lives would improve with it, specifically related to communication (96%) and HR/benefits (88%). That means that improving communications is an opportunity to boost the Employee Experience during a time many organizations are seeing extremely high turnover. 

We’ve also seen this dynamic firsthand. After opting in to HR communications, almost no employees (<0.5%) will opt-out unless they leave the company or change their number.

Employees are ready

The technology infrastructure necessary to communicate with hard-to-reach deskless employees is in place, and employees are broadly adopting it. For HR teams, it’s now a matter of taking advantage.

How to get started

In our follow-up blog, we discuss how to collect your employees’ personal contact information so that you can communicate with them via smartphone. Check it out here!