Historically, field services were reserved for businesses with installation and repair components. In the last few years, however, they’re becoming more common in many ways — even in industries where they didn’t exist before.
Now, businesses with no field services component — and no plans to implement one — are following the lead of businesses with a field services component. Why?
Because distributed teams, remote teams, and hybrid teams in industries of all types can learn a lot from the way off-site services operate successfully.
In this article, we discuss tips to improve the way your business’s field services operate — whether they’re the traditional installation and repair or the modern in-office/remote-team combination that has become the new norm in recent years.
Table Of Contents
Field Services Defined
Broadly speaking, field services are a category of work conducted anywhere other than on company property. This type of off-site activity introduces a number of issues into operation and management that aren’t always present with on-site activity.
For example, coordinating an on-site team, communicating with its members, assigning necessary tasks, providing support, and giving access to necessary files and tools often rely on face-to-face interactions.
Not so with field services employees. Because of the remote nature of their work, providing the necessary coordination, communication, direction, support, and access relies on digital interactions and tools like the Inch app to make those interactions possible.
It’s this basic difference between off-site and on-site teams — digital versus in-person interactions — that makes field service management so applicable to the new distributed and remote model of work that has characterized the 2020s so far.
Regardless of whether your business offers field services or not, it can benefit from a thorough examination of the principles and processes that make off-site work both possible and successful.
Examples Of Field Services
As we mentioned, historically, field services were the domain of businesses with installation and repair components, such as:
- Heating/Ventilation/Air Conditioning (HVAC)
- Health care
- Food delivery
- Utilities (natural gas, electricity, water, etc.)
- Self-Service (e.g., vending and kiosk maintenance)
- Emergency vehicle repair
- Appliance delivery
While those industries remain fully invested in field service work, new industries are developing off-site/online programs of their own in order to provide for the needs of their employees and, in some cases, keep their businesses operating.
Examples of businesses that are using the principles and processes of field service management to create a fully remote or hybrid work model include:
- Lincoln Financial Group
- J.P. Morgan Chase
- Capital One
- State Farm
- Facebook (Meta)
Some of these businesses ran on-site teams almost exclusively before the start of the 2020s. Now, they’re learning from and building on the practices that service-oriented industries have been using for years.
Field Service Challenges
Why is getting field services right so important, and what are the worries that managers — especially in industries not traditionally associated with field services — might have about the impact of employees working out of the office?
Team members spread across different remote locations obviously can’t gather in the conference room for an announcement, drop by each other’s desks to brainstorm, or give a quick update on a project to a co-worker when crossing paths in the breakroom.
Modern technology has made field services communication easier than it’s ever been, but the nature of communication changes, and businesses must equip their employees to do it and be intentional about promoting it.
Many managers simply find it difficult to believe that employees will be as productive without face-to-face daily supervision, and fear that remote work will inevitably lead to inefficiency and time theft.
Some of these fears may be rooted in a fallacious assumption that an employee is “working” the entire time they’re physically present in an office. Some employees might also be more productive in a remote environment they find less distracting than if they were on-site.
Still, making sure that remote teams maintain efficiency requires setting proper expectations, setting clear goals, and closely analyzing performance.
Effective field services require an accurate, thorough understanding of all of the tasks that need to be done, the current assignments on each employee’s plate, and the timelines associated with each task.
Traditional field service industries often have highly precise scheduling and dispatching based on years of experience. Some of them also have the advantage of much of their work being done on a day-to-day service ticket basis, like maintenance calls or deliveries.
Companies playing catch-up in field services, or those working on projects with longer timelines and more abstract deliverables, may find it more difficult to properly divide up tasks.
If workload isn’t properly managed, some employees can end up overworked while others are idle, and important tasks may fall through the cracks.
For some businesses, remote work can expose deficiencies in the company’s IT infrastructure and practices.
Even if managers are aware that there are technological solutions to the challenges of having their workforce go remote, they might still have reservations.
The cause of these misgivings might include the cost of investing in technology, difficulty in choosing between competing options, or problems presented by making tools for different aspects of remote work integrate with each other seamlessly.
Translating Field Service Fundamentals
Let’s consider some of the factors traditionally involved in managing field services and think about how the basic concepts apply to the many industries looking to field services companies as a model for optimizing their remote work operations.
Work Order Management
For traditional field service businesses, this is the process of intaking customer needs (shipments to be fulfilled, repair requests, and the like) and tracking where they are at every stage until the job is complete and ready to be invoiced.
Let’s say your company is developing a mobile app or providing financial auditing. You probably don’t have “tickets” or purchase orders from customers coming in every day, but there are still lessons you can apply.
The general principles here are that nothing can get done until objectives are clearly understood and that you need to understand the status of each project at any given time.
Scheduling And Dispatching
For companies that make deliveries or service calls, good scheduling and dispatching are essential to ensuring customer satisfaction. It’s the challenge of balancing customer demand against technician or supply availability, without turning away customers or breaking promises.
You might not be sending truckloads of product out of a warehouse every day or sending technicians to fix things that are broken. Still, any type of project management is an exercise in making the most out of your available resources.
Fundamentally, effective field services for any type of business require utilizing your employees’ time efficiently, setting realistic timelines, managing expectations, and adjusting to unforeseen circumstances.
In addition to the availability of technicians or drivers and vehicles, many businesses in traditional field service-heavy industries must manage inventory constraints. Work getting done is dependent on the supply of in-demand products or vital parts needed for repairs.
You can think of this as a further extension of what we’ve said about resource management, but there’s also a lesson here to be learned about using the proper tools for the job and understanding the uses of all of the resources available.
Effective field service management means making sure your employees are all equipped with the right tools and technology, and also understanding the strengths of each employee.
Tips For Effective Field Services
1) Track Employee Work Time
One of the best things you can do to create a more effective field services program is to track employee work time — both total time and time-on-task.
Regardless of whether your team is in the office or on the jobsite, tracking work time in this way makes it easier to optimize other aspects of the process, such as compliance and payroll.
The easiest way to integrate both types of time tracking into your employees’ workflow is with an app that includes a cloud-based time clock, such as Inch.
Inch allows you to turn any smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop (running iOS, Windows, or Android) into a time tracking terminal that your team can use wherever the job takes them.
2) Manage Tasks
You can make all of your field service activities more efficient and effective by first managing the tasks on which your employees must work.
Whether your team members work in-house, offsite, or online, delegating work and ensuring that it gets done in a timely and correct manner is crucial for your business’s success.
Incorporating task management software into your standard operating procedure makes coordinating complicated tasks much simpler than it was just a few short years ago.
The Inch app, for example, gives you the power to distribute tasks across your team and prioritize what gets done when, whether employees are in the building or across town on a service call.
Team members can even access the task list from any device — phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop — so they always know where they need to go and what they need to work on next.
3) Set Clear Goals
One important difference between companies with traditional field services and many of the companies that are adopting field service practices to manage a remote workforce is the nature of their work goals.
Employees in traditional field service positions often have fairly straightforward day-to-day goals — installing a part or delivering an order, for example. Objectives for employees in other industries working away from the office might not be so clear-cut.
For teams working remotely, it’s even more essential than usual to define regular milestones and break long-term projects into “bite-size” pieces so that employees stay engaged. With Inch, all team numbers understand exactly who’s accountable for what parts of the project puzzle.
One of the biggest speed bumps to an effective field services program is communication. Distributing information quickly and consistently to a large team can take quite a bit of time out of your day if done incorrectly.
With Inch, however, you can send and receive private and group messages with a few short clicks, taps, or voice commands and organize conversations by different teams, locations, or skill sets.
That way, you can keep everyone informed — and stay informed yourself — without skipping a beat.
5) Ensure Compliance
For many businesses, employees who work away from the main office must also adhere to the same business, local, state, and federal regulations that govern the way in-house employees work.
Process checklists within the Inch app make this much easier for team members working offsite, remotely, or even in-house on an unfamiliar task.
Similar to task management, process checklists within the Inch app give your employees step-by-step instructions on what needs to be done and in what order for regular tasks, such as:
- Filling out customer paperwork
- Opening the business in the morning
- Closing the business for the day
- Turning in timesheets
- Vehicle maintenance
- Site repair
- Finding substitutes to work a shift
The uses for process checklists are endless and infinitely beneficial for businesses of all kinds. The Inch field service management software gives everyone in your business access to this powerful compliance tool.
6) Analyze Activity
Regardless of what your field services program looks like right now, it’s vital to take the time to analyze how your team works — both as individuals and as a group — so you can find ways to improve and streamline their activity.
Modern task management and scheduling software provide reports and analytics that provide insight into every aspect of your business. Armed with this information, you can tweak your team’s workflow to be more productive while they’re away from the office.
7) Keep Employees Engaged
There are different definitions for employee engagement, but they all relate to making sure employees have a positive psychological relationship with their work.
Do they care about what they’re doing? Do they understand why the work they’re doing matters? Do they feel that they’re part of a team where everyone has a role and pulls their weight?
Employees who are highly engaged are more focused, more motivated, and more willing to put in extra effort to get things done and help out their teammates.
Making sure employees have clarity about their tasks, objectives, and how what they’re doing relates to the bigger picture of a project is one good way to help maintain high levels of employee engagement.
Time tracking can also be an effective tool for monitoring employee engagement. Team members who seem less efficient aren’t necessarily lazy; they might simply be having trouble staying engaged. Reach out and have an honest conversation about how you can help.
8) Prep For Payroll
Labor costs are one of the largest expenses that your business has to deal with. And the payroll process you use to administer those costs is one of the most complicated and time-consuming.
You can reduce the complexity and the time it takes to run your company payroll by prepping for the final task as your team works.
Inch, for example, makes it easy to examine work hours, time-on-task, and other metrics and essentials from the moment an employee clocks in. Then, once the pay period is complete, you can export those numbers to any number of reports and formats that make payroll a breeze.
Benefits Of Better Field Services
Optimizing your business’s field services isn’t a trivial task. It requires a detailed analysis of your work processes, a drive for excellence, and careful consideration of the right tools for your needs.
Success is possible, though. By applying the principles from traditional field service industry practices and taking inspiration from household names in other industries increasingly switching to remote work, you can develop a strategy that works for your business.
Putting in the effort to get field services right can yield massive returns for your business. Field services optimization can make your job easier as a manager and transform your team.
Improving your company’s field services can give you much-needed peace of mind as a manager.
Implementing the right strategies and tools to optimize your field services helps put to rest worries about time theft, missed deadlines, and costly miscommunications.
Putting the power of software, like Inch, to use for your company’s field services gives you the transparency and understanding of what your team is working on to stay on top of every objective and stay ahead of the game.
Effectively managing field services can yield amazing benefits in productivity, tapping more potential from every employee to not only match your in-office productivity levels but exceed them.
When your employees clearly understand objectives and timelines, can communicate with each other seamlessly, and are highly focused on their work, they’ll be able to get things done quicker, and you’ll see an improvement in the quality of their work as well.
We’ve discussed how good field services management helps with employee engagement. Although high engagement isn’t synonymous with a high level of employee job satisfaction, they can go hand in hand.
Proper field services management can help address many factors that lead to low levels of employee morale, such as frustration with unclear objectives, unreasonable workloads, and feelings of isolation.
Good field service practices help employees feel useful, valued, and supported, making them happier in their work and helping you with employee retention.
Field Services Software For The Modern Age
Field services software has come a long way from the basic scheduling features of a decade ago. Now, modern software makes it easier than ever to combine all the tips and functionality in this article into one suite of tools.
Whether you’re scheduling your team members, monitoring the progress of their tasks, or gathering data for payroll, Inch can help.
With the team management software in the Inch app, you can guide your entire staff — be they on-site, in the field, or part of a distributed team — in the right direction in a timely and cost-effective way.
You can also help them stay productive and support them in their daily work, while simultaneously leading your business toward better growth. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Inch even helps you improve your own efficiency by allowing you to create, save, and reuse task templates for recurring work assignments, schedules, and shifts so you don’t have to start everything from scratch.
Regardless of the industry, Inch can keep you and your employees organized and focused on the project at hand. That can make managing any type of team — field services or otherwise — easier and less stressful for everyone involved.
For more free resources to help you manage your business better, save time and energy, and keep your team on task, visit TryInch.com today.