Meet the Deskless Workforce and the Tech Driving it All

Posted by Steve Holly, Product Manager, Chrome & Devices

Nov 07, 2019


Imagine a cloud-free world. From email that’s accessible from any device to streaming music from a cloud service instead of queuing up a CD to doing video chats instead of phone calls, it’s hard to picture a day without the cloud, isn’t it?

In today’s cloud-first universe, you don’t have to. It drives what we do every day, at home and at work. In fact, the cloud has already started drastically reshaping the way humans across the globe go to work. We are witnessing the rise of the deskless workforce — and the cloud workers that comprise it. 

What is the Deskless Workforce and Who are Cloud Workers?

A new breed of worker is emerging as commutes and traditional office spaces are giving way to remote work locations — a home office, a coffee shop or even the kitchen table. Remote working continues to grow, as recent telecommuting statistics from Global Workplace Analytics reveal:

  • Regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 159% since 2005. That’s more than 11 times faster than the rest of the workforce, and nearly 50 times faster than the self-employed population.
  • 4.7 million employees, 3.4% of the workforce now work from home at least half the time.

It’s safe to say that a number of these remote employees rely on the cloud to get their work done. They use browser-based apps across multiple devices to access company resources while they work from anywhere, at any time. And they love it because it helps them establish a comfortable work/life balance. It also allows them to stay connected with coworkers and not feel left out of the loop.

These are cloud workers. The new deskless workforce so to speak. While many of them still might sit at a desk most of the time, at least for now, they aren’t tied to those desks if they don’t want to be. They can work from the break room, a conference room — or even at home or on the road.

Cloud technologies have disrupted the way we access information, collaborate with each other and even serve our customers. Working anywhere, at any time, from any device, whether it’s a PC, a Chromebook, a tablet or even a mobile phone is fast becoming the norm rather than the exception within many organizations. All of this means managers are seeking answers about how to effectively manage a remote team because of this shift.

A February 2018, Google-commissioned study from Forrester Consulting, “Rethink Technology In The Age of The Cloud Worker,” defines a “cloud worker” as one who…

  • Uses a laptop and/or tablet for work purposes
  • Uses cloud apps daily
  • Spends three or more hours per workday using a web browser.

You’ll find most of these workers in IT, product development, engineering and marketing, but the scope is expanding. Business environments are growing increasingly mobile and will continue to do so into the future as far-flung teams connect with one another effortlessly and virtually.

Cloud computing has had a starring role in this evolution toward the cloud-first office of the future, and a completely different way in which we will “go to work.”

A Look at the Emerging Deskless Landscape

The 2018 Forrester-Google study focused in part on 468 information workers who used cloud apps at least weekly. It also included responses from 1,060 enterprise tech decision-makers that oversee workforce devices.

Of the information workers surveyed at the time, it appeared that one in four could be considered a true cloud worker. And as hinted by those Global Workforce Analytics stats, that number is probably higher now. It will be interesting to see the changes to the numbers in the Forrester/Google report if it is updated in the near future.

Regardless, this study and others indicate that as the way the modern workforce approaches work evolves, organizations have begun rethinking technology strategies. They are examining the kind of devices workers use, the types of computing architecture in place, and even looking increasingly toward the browser over an on-premise server as the key to building a more connected, collaborative and productive workplace.

Offices are becoming increasingly virtual and deskless. As the Forrester/Google report shows, 79% of the 1,060 decision-makers interviewed were interested in “adopting, planning to implement or currently using cloud-based computers” for their workforce.

Suffice it to say, the future of the deskless workplace is starting to take shape. With 61% of enterprises significantly evolving and/or fully transforming their technology in support of employee collaboration, cloud computing will keep pushing this evolution forward in the enterprise.

Deskless Workplace Blog Graphic Larger


Technology that Supports a Deskless Environment

We can talk about the nuances of cloud architecture versus an on-premise server environment, but that is a separate blog or more. From the enterprise perspective, cloud computing infrastructure lays the crucial foundation needed to support cloud workers and the deskless workplace. It’s simple Cloud Computing 101.

From workers’ perspectives, it all comes down to how they get to the cloud to do their work. The answer is simple; their browser. As the Forrester/Google report says, “the browser has become a strategic asset in the age of the cloud worker.”

Browsers such as Google Chrome are the access points to all the tools cloud workers require. Through the familiar web browser interface, they can access a variety of business applications that are more intuitive to use than desktop apps.

From cloud-native collaboration tools like Google Workspace (formerly G Suite)

to devices that are designed with the cloud in mind (hello, Chromebook!), technology is rapidly evolving to support a cloud-first workplace and those who make up its employee base.

The devices that support browser-based work are also crucial to building a strong, enduring deskless workplace. Cloud-native computers such as Google Chromebooks are designed to be cloud first, running on dedicated cloud-based operating systems such as Google Chrome Enterprise.

What does this all mean? Simple. It means there is a new way to work and connect that bypasses the traditional hard drive. With a cloud-native OS and devices like Google Chrome.

  • Most applications and files live in the cloud, not on local drives.
  • The browser is the main interface to access these files, apps and other information.
  • Employees can share a device and log into a seamless computing environment with their individual identities. Grab and Go loaner programs are a cinch.
  • IT can avoid device downtime since it isn’t necessary to wipe and re-provision laptops between each user, thanks to separate sign-ins and cloud-based file storage.

The 2018 Forrester/Google survey shows that organizations are increasingly starting to consider adopting these types of platforms for certain work segments. At the time of the study, 28% of executives reported they used cloud-based computers. An additional 52% indicated they were interested in learning more about these devices — or planned to integrate them into their workforce where it would make sense.

While specialized software needs can keep some types of workers such as those in finance, HR and others tethered to traditional, hard-drive-based computers, a virtual desktop infrastructure is feasible for many other job types.

Cloud-based computers such as Chromebooks deliver benefits beyond efficiency and collaboration. Many of these devices feature a lower price point than traditional PCs. Also, less work is centered around security updates, as cloud-native devices have operating systems that automatically update with little or no user or IT team intervention. Devices can be easily personalized through user logins — and deliver a secure continuity of work experiences across devices.

As enterprise respondents in the Forrester study indicated, cost reduction, improved endpoint security and technology investments that drive worker productivity and collaboration are on IT wish lists for the near future. Choosing the right browser, devices and OS is critical to driving these decisions.

Cloud workers appreciate that they can access files and apps from any location or device. They like that they don’t have to remember multiple passwords and usernames. And the demand for browser-based workplace apps continues to grow.

As connectivity continues to improve and the browser becomes an even more essential tool for employees and organizations, we’re going to see even greater demand for cloud-first solutions, from devices to operating systems designed with cloud services in mind.

The move to a cloud-first world does demand upgrades to infrastructure and equipment so that the deskless workplace and its cloud workers can thrive and collaborate, but the benefits from the investment are many.

Are you ready to see if it’s time to start integrating a deskless workforce into your organization with cloud-first devices? See how you rank on this handy Chrome Savings Calculator.

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Steve Holly, Product Manager, Chrome & Devices

Since 2008, Steve has been on the forefront of the transition to cloud-based services. He has helped companies like Whirlpool, Lexmark, Fujifilm America, Celestica, The New York Times, and the Canadian Broadcast Corporation make the transition to Google’s cloud-based services. Steve spent six years in the Navy, where he got his start in computers. During his service, he visited Japan, Thailand, Bali, Austrailia, Hong Kong, and more.

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