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COVID-19 Lesson: Empowering Your Deskless Workforce Creates a Competitive Advantage

Front view of technician or engineer with protective mask and tablet working in industrial factory. The business and technology challenges arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic are numerous. One of the biggest...

What happened to Personal Computing?

The PC and all its successors have little marvel factor left. Not only have consumers shifted away from PCs, businesses have too. Everything is shrinking as the world moves to…

3 Billion Employees are opposed to Disruption

It’s simple to disrupt something you don’t understand. It’s much more difficult to influence behavior at scale with a goal in mind. This requires insight that traverses data and…

Your Deskless Workers Won’t Use Your Collaboration Software

I’ll be 100% transparent about my experience as a deskless worker. I loved it. At the fearless age of 18, I was in control of a 24,000+ horsepower…

Where are the Knowledge Workers?

In reality, nearly everyone in the workforce is a knowledge worker. You know this if you run a business that needs employees to autonomously learn and apply new skills.

3 Billion Employees are opposed to Disruption

Why do tech companies use disruption as a goalpost for success? It’s this disruptive ambition that’s destructive. It’s not that disruption is avoidable. But it really shouldn’t be a goal. We can drive a heated debate about how this became a clarion call from highly educated people that should know better. Greed and privilege would probably be fair game in this discussion. What we can’t do is ignore an exclusive form of ignorance that promotes dissonance over harmony.  This ignorance fuels righteousness that gives license to trash social forces that are valuable levers for designing solutions people love.

It’s simple to disrupt something you don’t understand. It’s much more difficult to influence behavior at scale with a goal in mind. This requires insight that traverses data and demands commitment to discovering the truth. Most dimensions of social interaction don’t migrate well to silicone without a diligent focus on more than disruptive experiences. Facebook is probably the most notorious example of disruptive toxicity.

The good news is that 3 billion workers are mostly immune to the corrosive effects of toxic disruption. The bad news for the tech industry is a consistent history of failure to reach this audience. It’s a staggering opportunity loss. Business owners that manage anywhere from one to thousands of ‘blue-collar’ workers would be delighted to invest in technology that has the potential to increase efficiency. They shun any form of disruption so this angle won’t work for them. Failure to grasp the major differences in culture is a theme for tech. For example, there are few commonalities associated with workers that have their own corporate PC and those that wear a toolbelt, stock shelves, or run a forklift.

It’s going to take something besides disruption to win them over. Consider that most of these individuals have daily goals that are far more defined than an office worker. For many of them, it’s simply a matter of getting through the day without missing the goals. They have little patience for software solutions that have hidden goals – especially when they increase the drag on deliverables. Many in the industry will punt this risk over to design. They’ll call out a need for better product fit, end-user experiences or UI design. These are all critical, but they need to be built upon a stack of common understanding across the team. Who is the end-user target and how do we relate to them? is the crucial first step.

A little black dress is quite different than a marathon finish line or gold trophy.

Knowing how people behave in a cultural context is the foundation for building software products that resonate. Adidas discovered its’ formula for growth through relevancy by studying customers they weren’t targeting. The ‘little black dress’ changed the trajectory of the company.  Do software companies need to hire an anthropologist? Maybe not. But they sure as hell need to be aware of what they don’t know. A feature roadmap developed in a vacuum of behavioral understanding is a failure by design.

Factor out the unpredictable and identify a problem that you can solve

Want to get your tech team aligned with your end-users’ goals? Here’s a thought, maybe you begin with banishing the D-word. Disruption is not a roadmap. Instead, look for harmonic opportunities. Start by broadening your knowledge of the end user’s goals. Go beyond software design and dig into what gets them up in the morning. We all run a program every day of our lives. It’s the same basic program with some conditional branching. Human behavior is mostly predictable and your team’s goal should be to factor out the unpredictable and identify a problem that you can solve with the least amount of friction.

There’s an astonishing disconnect between the tech community and the ‘blue-collar’ worker. The blue collar’s success at work does not mandate PC skills. The majority of apps developed for this segment of potential users is typically a pile of features that software developers decided was a really good idea. Software developers lack empathy for the blue-collar worker. Maybe they waited tables during summer break and that’s better than nothing. But they seem to forget the visceral realities of being on the frontline of the business.

They have enough ‘disruption’ programmed into their day before they punch the clock

Loading a truck, ordering parts, getting the wrong parts, losing a sale, facing an angry customer, getting to the jobsite on time and dealing with theft are daily occurrences for many blue collar workers. There is no spare time to learn how to use some fancy software solution that was developed by someone who is clueless. They have enough ‘disruption’ programmed into their day before they punch the clock. If your team is looking for success with a 3 Billion sized workforce discover a way to eliminate their most egregious disruptions.

My recommendation is to spend more time hanging out with these noble people that repair potholes, pull cable, unclog drains, install carpet, wait tables and provide services that make all our lives more bearable. Get to know them and their culture. You’ll discover that you have very much in common. They have families, coach soccer and dread being in traffic too. Like you, they want to build skills, experience and bring fresh ideas into the workplace.

The challenge for tech is to learn how they learn. (Hint: It’s not sitting in front of computer or exchanging endless e-mails)

  • They freely exchange knowledge and revere experts that can reliably improve their job performance.
  • The majority of their learning is JIT (Just in Time). Almost all of it is OJT (On the Job)
  • They simultaneously operate as trainers and trainees because their jobs demand it

These are a few observations that should trigger a reset for how tech becomes relevant to 3 Billion deskless workers. You will likely make discoveries of your own and reap the rewards for diligent research.

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