Skip to main content

In the world of HR Technology, we spend a lot of time discussing high potential talent, creating great experiences, and crafting solutions for “moments that matter”. But for a long time, we’ve segmented the workforce along traditional lines by role — exempt or non-exempt status, corporate staff versus production or field staff — and had sharp dividing lines for how we’ve digitally enabled segments of the workforce that tend to be dispersed, hourly, and non-desk based workers. Such employees typically have access to operational and HR systems through kiosks, iPads, or by going through phone-based HR support teams. What they tend to not have, however, is full access to a business’s core collaboration platforms and suites of mobile-enabled solutions.

The Covid-19 pandemic has suddenly exposed this gap as a serious problem. The current reality is our corporate employees who help “flatten the curve” by staying home, working remotely, collaborating on content in real time, and transacting through mobile- and social- enabled platforms. This, while non-desk employees in manufacturing, retail, healthcare and other businesses are “providing essential services” in an increasingly stressful and at-risk environment. The challenge that emerges is for HR needs to stretch to support the non-desk segment of the workforce while enabling them to collaborate more effectively with their local management and with each other. Without better digital service enablement from HR and better collaboration capabilities in their own teams, this crucial segment of the workforce will be badly under-served in the biggest “Moment that Matters” likely to happen during any of our careers.

Admittedly, there have been significant blockers to rolling out modern tools to non-desk workers, and those should be acknowledged. Primarily, they include:

  • Legacy HR systems have been poorly suited to support direct access by non-desk workers
  • Even modern cloud HCM systems deployed as a “lift and shift” from legacy solutions often de-prioritized the rollout of direct access for production and non-desk staff, missing an opportunity for more self-sufficiency
  • Many firms have not landed a broad BYOD (“Bring Your Own Device”) policy that simplifies the distribution of apps to front-line workers
  • Wage and hour laws complicate the usage of corporate apps by hourly staff, even (or especially) when used for things like training or onboarding tasks
  • Extra systems provisioning of high-volume, high-turnover staff may seem like a high-effort/low-reward investment by HR or IT

This has long fostered an information, communication and transactional capability gap between corporate and field staff. Non-desk workers in some industries have historically reacted with shadow IT solutions, including rogue use of public social media to network with their team members in the field, which only leads to corporate IT feeling even more reluctant to prioritize more direct access technologies for this workforce segment.


As our own Jim Scully discusses in a previous blog, the current pandemic has forced HR to rapidly stretch in ways its traditional operating model was not designed to support. One segment of the workforce driving these new operating requirements is the non-desk workforce, some of whom are currently providing essential services to keep the economy running – and keeping all of us safe from the spread of infection, it deserves to be noted – which requires more intensive support from HR than ever before. We’ve been hearing from clients for weeks about support call volumes from the field escalating overnight into tens of thousands of inquiries from everything about leave options, emergency procedures, safety issues, emergency reporting, distancing guidelines and more. Without a better collaboration out in the field where such work is taking place, front-line workers are left to their own devices – literally – and those devices are often disconnected from their employers when they need them the most.

Some of the challenges to solving this problem seem daunting. Traditional platforms designed for corporate use are often overkill, or not set up for use outside firewalls, or require e-mail addresses, local wi-fi, or other technical prerequisites not universally in place.  Fortunately, modern collaboration platforms are being adapted at a pace we’ve rarely seen before, and these can be rolled, out in many cases, to a broader workforce in just days – not months. Microsoft Teams, in particular, seems to be having a moment as firms rush to convert daily in-person meetings to a virtual mode of delivery.

For frontline employees, there are other solutions even more specifically tailored for non-desk manufacturing, healthcare or other roles for connecting people with each other and with their management, and they don’t require extensive infrastructure or setup. Services platforms like Dovetail and ServiceNow can easily be extended to the entire workforce, and many firms already have them rolled out to other parts of the workforce, simplifying the process of selecting and licensing. ServiceNow has even rolled out dedicated free apps to support Covid-19 emergency scenarios.

Other options include dedicated solutions like Beekeeper. We have seen clients have great success using Beekeeper to enable retail, production and other staff to execute key use cases, including:

  • Team/social feed-based communication
  • Group chat
  • Direct chat
  • Corporate announcements and messaging
  • Surfacing workflow items from other back-end systems
  • Easy setup via QR codes on personal devices during onboarding
  • Rapid deployment measured in weeks, not months

Smart usage of configurations and policies can control for wage/hour rules and ensure usage of corporate mobile solutions meets legal and contractual requirements.

In light of the current emergency and the frankly heroic efforts healthcare and other workers in frontline roles are undertaking on behalf of their employers, their customers, and the public at large, better digital enablement of this workforce segment needs to be a #1 priority for HR today. This is the biggest Moment that Matters for a lot of workers today, and there are some pretty great offerings on the market that can deliver a great experience to your non-desk staff. It’s time to enable the entire workforce to participate in the Now of Work.



Harry West plays a leading role in the success of both Leapgen and our customers with over 20 years of experience as a Human Capital Management (HCM) professional. Harry has run HCM Advisory and Change Services for Alight and the Workday and HCM Strategy consulting practices at Appirio and was a Managing Consultant in the HCM Strategy practice at Knowledge Infusion, advising firms around the world on how to get the most out of their workforces through better alignment of people, processes and technology. Harry was also a leader in the Product Management organization at SAP AG and SAP Labs for over 15 years, where he led the introduction of new HCM solutions for managing people and talent for users of the SAP Business Suite.

Harry has been a contributor and presenter at numerous industry conferences and webinars on the future of work and global HCM topics, including Workday Rising, SAPPHIRE, Dreamforce, HR-XML Consortium, CoveoImpact, Conference Board, HCI, and other HR and technology-related events. His recent interviews, and presentations have appeared on BloombergNext,,, Huffington Post and in international research publications. He lives in the Seattle area with his wife and two sons.

Leapgen is a global digital transformation company shaping the future of work. Highly respected as a visionary partner to organizations looking to design and deliver a digital workforce experience that will produce valued outcomes to the business, Leapgen helps enterprise leaders rethink how to better design and deliver workforce services and architect HR technology solutions that meet the expectations of workers and the needs of the business.

Need more content just like this? Sign up so you don’t miss a beat.