The pandemic completely changed the world of work, and while traditional office jobs will never be the same again – what has become of the working lives for employees not bound by a desk? Deskless workers – including frontline or ‘essential’ employees critical to keeping the economy and society ticking along – now comprise 2.8 billion people or 80% of the global workforce. Yet, nearly 50% considered quitting their job this past year.
Why? Because what they want is a sense of purpose and engagement with their employer — and many aren’t receiving it. According to Quinyx, 33% of deskless workers don’t feel valued by their employer, and even more (37%) feel as if their employer doesn’t listen to them.
Employers are trying to navigate the potential impacts of a recession, union strikes, and quiet quitting — all while trying to meet deskless employees’ unique needs. But how do they engage the deskless workforce at scale, where ‘digital detachment’ – lacking access to company email, Intranet, phone or laptop on the clock – means announcements, incentives and recognition cannot be easily communicated? How do they bridge the gap between corporate management in their ‘ivory towers’, and those working on the factory floor?
Building a behavioral-science backed business case for digital signage
The following behavioral science concepts and communication strategies go hand-in-hand, allowing employers to better address deskless employee woes and inform solutions for each.
In deskless environments such as manufacturing, healthcare, and transportation – digital screens may be an ideal internal communication channel if access to work accounts or devices is limited or non-existent.
Closing the “us vs. them” divide through a psychological contract
Deskless workers are unlikely to be in direct touch with supervisors, in part because they aren’t sitting in front of a computer monitor all day. A lack of technology compounds the communication problem, creating a divide between upper management and everyone else. With 90% of organizations relying on a deskless workforce, it’s more important than ever to bridge the divide between employees and supervisors.
Digital signage can help open up a line of communication between different business units within an organization by strengthening what’s called the “psychological contract,” the unwritten agreement where employees trust that their employer will act in a certain way toward them and vice versa. Companies can achieve this by highlighting common causes that everyone is working toward, together. Digital screens can, for example, share achievements and updates from other teams, cultivating a sense of collective engagement where everyone feels better connected to their work and shares the responsibility of productivity, compliance, and reliability.
Using inclusive language like “we” and “us” on signage can encourage a shared identity. Companies should also take the time to understand cultural differences among their workforce, and display messaging in multiple languages, or visually, when necessary, to ensure it’s inclusive to all employees to effectively bridge the gap.
Implementing social norms influences positive behavior
Social norms, in the context of the workplace, are the behaviors or expectations exhibited and accepted amongst coworkers. Norms center around the idea of “fitting in,” and humans rely on them in a variety of situations without a huge amount of cognitive processing. Deskless employees want to fit in, just like everyone else, and will follow the acts and values created by other individuals — because fitting in is cognitively easier, and likely to be socially and professionally rewarding
Implementing social norms through digital signage, a center of information for deskless employees, can both guide and influence behaviors, while also stimulating positive actions and change. Emphasizing a norm could take on a few different forms: Highlighting the number of people performing exceptionally or emphasizing positive work trends are effective ways to make a point. Ensuring the signs are consistent and easy to process allows for greater understanding to spur change.
The more a desired mindset or action is highlighted on a screen, the more likely employees will start implementing it themselves in their daily routines. With time, other employees will mimic their coworker’s behaviors, too.
Building empathy can reduce toxic “just-world” attitudes
The “just-world” attitude is described by researchers as a “belief that the world is fair, and consequently, that the moral standings of our actions will determine our outcomes—those who do good will be rewarded, and those who exhibit negative behaviors will be punished.” Most people automatically silo themselves off as “good” and reject any sort of negative consequences for breaking the rules. They feel repercussions should only happen to “bad” people, and because they are “good,” they are exempt.
Once employers understand this mindset, they can then effectively reverse it. Similar to acting on social norms in the workplace, digital signage can combat the “just-world” attitudes with messages that spread the idea that all employees are treated equally — even when it comes to breaking rules. On signage, companies can include images of people who are of a similar employment level to the deskless workers being targeted. If praise (and consequences) are relevant to that person, it’s relevant to others, too.
Digital signage also allows for personalization to build empathy among colleagues, and research shows that empathy can reduce the just-world attitude. It can be something as simple as a sign celebrating a birthday, work anniversary, or promotion. If companies are deliberate about it, it gives deskless employees the opportunity to build deeper connections.
When done correctly, messaging has the ability to engage and motivate employees — particularly deskless ones. It’s also an effective way for employers to maintain retention. By utilizing digital signage, and being thoughtful with the most clear, concise, and inclusive language in a particular workspace, deskless employees will finally get what they want and deserve: a feeling of purpose and appreciation for the work they put into the business, and a reason to stay.
Leading product at digital signage disruptor ScreenCloud affords Jonny the opportunity to work with business communicators and HR leaders to build innovative tools and processes for connecting with their people; and transforming digital EX with employee-facing ‘screens that communicate’.
Before ScreenCloud, Jonny spent a decade leading the design of mobile and web-based employee apps for dozens of global enterprises. These applications ranged from a technical briefing app for British Airways pilots, to Reward and Recognition apps for LIDL retail employees, via shift management and employee engagement apps for dozens of logistics, shipping, manufacturing, construction and retail enterprises.
During the last 14 years working in employee-centric tech, Jonny has delivered impactful solutions for businesses as diverse as Sodexo, Carlsberg and Dupont. Always happy when challenged and exploring complex problems; Jonny is passionate about improving people’s working lives, and remains fascinated by the myriad connections between product development/management and the disciplines of HR and leadership