What Lies Ahead for Deskless Workers on the Frontline in 2021

The global health crisis of this year has amplified challenges facing the deskless and frontline workforce.  As the most at-risk members of our global community, their work has been mission critical in keeping the world operational. 

The majority of frontline work simply cannot be done remotely.  There have been exceptions, like telemedicine, where typically in-home medical services have moved to virtual environments. But, you can’t install a solar system, draw someone’s blood, or deliver most disability and in-home health services virtually.  More than ever, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of frontline workers’ contribution to service delivery.

The biggest challenge deskless workers face

Recently, we surveyed over a thousand workers internationally for our 2020 State of Work Report — Defining a New Normal Amid COVID-19. We found over the course of the pandemic, one in three deskless and frontline workers contracted COVID-19 themselves or know a colleague that has contracted it as a direct result of delivering frontline work in the field. This showcases the need to ensure frontline work can be done safely, and in a well connected and well supported way.

It’s been heartening to see how communities, individuals, organizations and governments have locked arms over the past year to think about the health and safety of frontline workers, solve these challenges and identify new business opportunities. 

The pandemic pivot: responding to crisis

Our partner, BioReference labs, pivoted into a new business opportunity to serve the needs of the nation: delivering COVID-19 testing at scale. With the help of Skedulo, they manage the drive-through testing locations for members of the public in New York City, supporting organizations like Madison Square Garden and the NYC Metro. BioReference labs also delivered testing for the NFL, Major League Soccer, and the NBA and is now focusing on the return to education, to keep  students, teachers, staff and families of the New York public school system and NYU University tested and safe.

What are the priorities for frontline in 2021?

As I’ve spoken to CEOs and other leaders in organizations globally about the future for frontline work, there have been two major themes.

Emerging technologies

Deskless organizations are realizing the benefits of artificial intelligence and smart algorithms that automate time-consuming administrative tasks. Now more than ever, leaders are prioritizing business efficiency and productivity to optimize the future of service delivery for their customers at scale. 

Research tells us that today, less than a quarter of field service work is scheduled by algorithms and bots. It is expected that over the next four to five years, that will increase to over two-thirds. This incredible growth demonstrates technology will be vital to the operations of any frontline organization.

Human-to-human contact

Human interaction is increasingly important, not only internally within the workforce, but externally with customers, as well. The expectations for communication surrounding frontline services is changing as society embraces a digital-first world.

These two themes are on opposite ends of the spectrum. On one side, there is the need for very advanced technology, like AI and algorithms, which will support businesses as they scale. On the other, customer service demands personalized human engagement and communication. 

At Skedulo, we are champions of the deskless workforce, and we have the responsibility to ensure that businesses have the proper tools to support their workers, customers, and own ability to grow.

Putting trends into practice: balancing smarter tech with a human touch

Intelligent algorithms will be used in 2021 to drive outcomes and objectives for organizations that manage frontline workers. This technology will accelerate decision-making processes at scale. As algorithms are subjected to greater scrutiny into how they’re applied, used, and managed, we’re continuing to ask the tough questions to ensure these solutions support organizations from the jump. Take the following scenarios, for example:   

Route optimization

This is a common challenge. We all have been stuck in unexpected traffic before, and for frontline workers this can throw a wrench in their entire workday. 

How do you predictively optimize routing and traveling and the logistics of moving from one appointment to the next in real time?  We realize the complexity and importance of getting deskless workers to the job as efficiently as possible, and we’re thinking deeply about applying technology to continue improving route optimization.

Shift organization

Many frontline workers’ appointments are structured in a more traditional time and attendance manner, like in retail, entertainment, and hospitality. They orient themselves around shifts or rosters, checking in as they start their day, take breaks, and log off. 

How do optimization artificial intelligence and algorithms support businesses as they think not only about cost, but also the efficiencies of that process at scale

At Skedulo, we expect customers to invest in the best of both worlds in 2021: implementing algorithms that can be used purposefully, transparently, and in an explainable way to automate routes and shifts, while doubling down on traditional face-to-face service delivery.

Here’s to a successful and productive 2021!

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