Digital Transformation for Non-Desk Workers—A Major Challenge for CIOs and CDOs

Digital Transformation has its greatest potential impact as it relates to the core business process of organizations, which is the creation of goods and services for consumers. In most companies this process involves employees who are not connected to a desk: production workers, retail personnel/frontliners, call-center agents, bus drivers, nurses, service staff, etc.

In a typical production company, more than 50% of people are part of this group. For CIOs and CDOs this creates a major challenge: How can you get your organization ready for digital transformation if you don’t even have a digital infrastructure for half of your employees? 

And when we say “digital infrastructure” we mean the possibility of exchanging information with employees over a direct digital channel. Such a digital channel could be email or the intranet—commodities to most of us, but unavailable to non-desk workers.


A typical setup for non-desk workers looks like this:

  • They don’t have a corporate device (computer/smartphone)
  • They aren’t included in the company directory (Active Directory) and therefore don’t have a corporate email address
  • They don’t have access to the intranet

So, let’s fix that!

  • Give out managed smartphones with volume contracts
  • Include non-desk workers in the Active Directory and the provisional email
  • Enable intranet access

It’s as easy as buying a smartphone with a volume contract for each employee, adding them to the Active Directory, provisioning email, and enabling intranet access. As a rough estimate you’d expect this to be an investment of $30/employee/month, not including the additional effort for training and the project itself. 

For a company with 5,000 non-desk workers this would be a 1,800,000$ investment on a yearly basis. Pfew. Maybe not so easy after all. 


chicken and eggs

So on the one hand, it’s obvious that we need to invest in digitalizing the whole company. On the other hand, the cost for reaching non-desk workers seems to heavily outweigh all immediate ROI benefits. 

While many processes—especially those in Human Resources and Employee Communications—would benefit from a digital channel that reaches all employees, it’s hard to find an obvious entry point which would allow you to rationalize the ROI given the large initial investment. 

If you combine all paper-based processes between company departments and individual employees, you can easily get to a point where the investment is more than justified. But to get there you need to start somewhere and motivate other departments to jump on the train. 


The major chance we see for the digital enablement of non-desk workers is to radically lower the entry costs and time-to-market by using one easy solution: Go with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) instead of handing out managed smartphones.

BYOD statistics, employee app

More than 90% of your employees own private smartphones. The digital services you would roll out to them are highly beneficial (just imagine having access to a shift plan inside an app instead of on a sheet of paper displayed in the factory hall) so motivation to use the app will be high.

Yes, you will need a paper-based alternative for those without a smartphone. But you probably need that as a backup in any case.



While still being the standard communication method inside and between companies, email usage drops heavily in private contexts. Your non-desk workers check smartphone apps like Facebook and WhatsApp much more often than their email accounts. Just consider that text and push notifications are read and responded to within an average of three minutes, while this is only the case for 20% of emails. 

Email is no longer the best channel for reaching your employees. Given the costs you have to invest just to enable email (AD, email account, enablement), it doesn’t seem to be the best choice pricewise, either. 

Your intranet contains all kind of confidential information and project-related content for knowledge workers. It probably lives behind your corporate firewall. Do you really need to onboard your non-desk workers who might need access to only 5% of its information and services? Do you need to invest in licences and take the risk of a potential leak?

In addition, less than half of all employees with access log onto their company’s intranet daily—and they’re often just there because it’s their default company browser start page. Intranets are complex to update, meaning that just a few people are bringing in the majority of the content; they often lack structure; have a high percentage of confidential content; and sadly have a low usability.


Providing services to non-desk workers via private smartphones is a matter of finding the right message and product placement. 

Adoption will drop if you tell your employees to download an unknown third party MDM tool. It will drop if the registration process is too complicated. It will drop if the app you have to download asks for location information. It will drop if there is no clear value associated with using your new tool. 

Isn’t it better to meet your employees where they are and give them what they already know: a plain app, available in the App Store/Google Play Store and branded with your company logo.


We’ve seen companies launch their own fully branded employee app within just 4 weeks.

advantages app over intranet

Being able to do so helps you to see immediate results and provides a foundation for iterative growth. Our pro tip: Identify no more than three initial use cases together with your HR, Employee Engagement, and Internal Comms teams. 

This might be the digital version of the employee magazine, HR forms, paystubs, an employee directory, access to employee benefits, or WhatsApp-like messaging between employees. 

At Staffbase, we provide ready-made components for all key use cases involving your non-desk employees. Use them to get started quickly and create immediate value while spending less than 10% of the investment needed for the “big solution” (managed devices, AD, email). 

Depending on your company’s needs you can add more use cases and customize your own later on based on our standard APIs. This mobile solution enables you to develop an app with your employees instead of for them. Grow with the flow. 


Providing information and services for non-desk workers on their private smartphones is about to become a new category in corporate IT portfolios. With Microsoft’s very recent launch of StaffHub, an Office365 extension that gives employees access to shift planning and basic company information, we expect the landscape to grow even faster. 

Staffbase has over two years experience in the field and works with major industry leaders around the globe. 

Compared to StaffHub and other players in the market, our aim from the beginning has been to provide a comprehensive platform for your frontend workforce. I personally believe that this is key for your organizational strategy. Employees will not download multiple apps. They will not authenticate multiple apps. They will not use multiple apps. With diverse departments launching their own “employee apps” you very soon will end up with an unmanageable chaos which won’t create value. Neither for employees, nor for your company. 

An employee app should be a mobile-first portal branded with your own logo and available in the app stores. Take this into account when planning your digitization strategy!


If you would like more information on how to digitize your employee communications, contact us or read more here:


Find out what’s new in internal comms, why mobile is essential, and how to make your mobile solution a success.

Show me the way