The Trend Toward Investing in the Forgotten Deskless Workforce

The Trend Toward Investing in the Forgotten Deskless Workforce

By

The vast majority of the world’s 2.7 billion workers don’t sit at desks every day. They don’t tap away at keyboards. They aren’t “information workers.”

These are the people on factory floors, walking hospital wards, working in agricultural fields, driving trucks, waiting on tables, and standing at retail cash registers. They’re always moving.

So then why, to quote a buzz-generating new report from a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, have these workers have been forgotten and overlooked by technology providers? Emergence Capital gets right to the point in The Rise of the Deskless Workforce with two, eye-opening statistics:

  • 80 percent of global workers don’t sit in one place
  • Just 1 percent of the $300 billion in annual business software venture funding goes to technology benefitting these on-the-go employees

Technology companies aren’t creating solutions to help them do their jobs better. And it’s a problem when tools are designed for just 20 percent of the workforce, said Kevin Spain, General Partner at Emergence Capital.

Kevin Spain Emergence Capital

“It just makes logical sense that once you can build and deploy great software for the other 80 percent of the workforce that there will be similar benefits that you already see in deskbound workers,” Spain said. “Since the report came out, we’ve been hearing from people who say: ‘We’ve been thinking about this in bits and pieces, but this really puts those pieces together in a way that explains what we see happening.’”

Emergence Capital, based in San Mateo, Calif., funds early-stage B2B technology companies. The firm has backed companies like Salesforce, Box, Yammer, ServiceMax, and Veeva Systems. Emergence Capital pays close attention to startups that are addressing the deskless workforce – which also has been called the dispersed, disconnected and front-line workforce.

This report, Spain said, is meant to be a clarion call to entrepreneurs and investors about a growing opportunity.

“Like any change, it takes time for industries to adapt,” he added. “But now we’re there. The data is showing us that this is not a nice-to-have. It’s now a must-have.”

Spain spoke with us about a report that analyzed years of venture-funding data and surveyed 100 companies with large numbers of deskless workers.

***

Why do you think this has received so much attention?

“People are starting to understand that there’s a real need in the market for technologies that service the deskless workforce. The other reality is that companies are realizing that there are more technologies that they can put into the hands of deskless workers to make them more productive. You have IT decision-makers saying they want a budget to do just that. They’re saying that there’s an obvious and emerging need.”

Just so we’re clear, how do you define deskless workers?

“Just as the name implies, we’re talking about people who aren’t spending a majority of their working hours sitting at a desk. Moving around from place to place is part of their job. But that world is fairly foreign to most entrepreneurs and investors here in Silicon Valley because we don’t work that way. We are information workers. We do sit at desks. So, it requires thinking in a different way about the technology and the use cases that make sense for these kinds of workers. That’s why Silicon Valley has been a little slow moving into this area.”

What changed to make it possible to improve productivity for these workers with technology?

“In many ways, it started with the iPhone back in 2007. Now, mobile devices have gotten better. We have tablets. We have wearable devices. We have drones. We have all of these forms of hardware that are portable and gets these new technologies out to this deskless workforce. That has been a huge transformation that’s really only happened over the last 10 years. Companies realize that there’s a growing amount of software that caters to deskless workers and that it’s imperative to put it in their hands.”

Deskless Technology

So, mobile devices are the primary driver here?

“They’ve made it more possible to get information in front of workers at any place, at any time, in ways that just weren’t possible before. The shift has been especially transformative for deskless workers because many of them hadn’t been using any computing devices at work. They would use paper forms of communication or literally get on the phone. So, the impact for deskless workers has been massive. Software has made information workers marginally more productive. But it’s made deskless workers an order of magnitude more productive because what they were doing before was incredibly antiquated.”

What is the big takeaway in the report for you?

“This was the first time that we surveyed IT decision-makers and asked them how they view technology for deskless workers. The big “ah-ha” finding for us is that small, medium and large companies are saying: ‘This is massively important to us.’ It’s not just for the early-adopters. Now if you have a solution for deskless workers, you have lots of IT decision-makers saying, ‘Where do I sign up?’ The survey indicated that this is a broad-based theme.”

Our CEO, Russ Fradin, shared a LinkedIn article about the report with the message: “This is why we built Dynamic Signal!” So, we definitively have a vested interested in connecting deskless workers with their organizations.

“People like Russ were saying early on: ‘This really matters.’ Now you’re seeing that others who make these buying decisions are agreeing and saying: ‘We’re going to put our money where our mouth is.’ But Russ and Dynamic Signal have been out there at the very front espousing this idea for a long time.”

You end the report with “a note to entrepreneurs.” What did you want them to know?

“User experience around deskless worker products is meaningfully different. Sometimes you have to go against the common wisdom here in Silicon Valley about how to build products. One example is you have to think hard about a user experience that caters to portable devices. You almost need to make them extra simple because workers don’t have a lot of time to interface with software. The conventional wisdom of trying to do everything, which typically is the Silicon Valley way for deskbound workers, won’t work quite as well. There are some new rules here.”

***
The first words you read on Emergence Capital’s website are these: “We invest in people who change the way the world works.” That’s the reason why, Spain said, they produced the report. The burden is on their firm to identify what could be the next big trends.

“The deskless workforce is one of those themes and we believe has the potential to create many, multi-billion-dollar businesses over the next decade or more,” Spain added.

Read the full report, The Rise of the Deskless Workforce, here.

Post Author

Mark Emmons

Mark Emmons is the storyteller at Dynamic Signal. He previously was a newspaper reporter at the Detroit Free Press, the Orange County Register and the San Jose Mercury News. He reluctantly uses the Oxford comma.