Where the rest of the world's workforce is moving, the home service industry has always been: mobile. Today, fears about managing a mobile workforce plague traditional head honchos everywhere. Though telecommuting saves overhead, managing a workforce of telecommuters is not an easy task. The perception is that these workers are enabled by their tools to work absolutely anywhere. But they're usually not working in the car or in a customer's home; instead, they're traveling, or working from their own home offices. In the case of home services, though, workers aren't just telecommuters — they're actual remote employees. They're truly on the go, all the time. It's a part of the job. And that presents a few major challenges for your back office — and for your techs.
1. Try Different Forms of Communication The Challenge: Creating and Maintaining Company Culture One major risk of employing a mobile workforce (and, consequently, one major risk inherent in managing a home services company), is a lack of company culture.
According to the TINYpulse 2017 Employee Engagement Report, "the top factors related to employee happiness turn out to be the intangible ones: interpersonal relationships, culture, and work environment. If your employees don’t like your culture, it’s impossible to take your organization where you want it to go."
How can you possibly establish shared values and camaraderie among your technicians and back office crew if there isn't a central location for those interactions to occur? How could you ensure everyone believes in and follows the same values, such that your company culture is visible from the outside (to your customers) but is fueled by what's inside?
The Strategy: Try Storytelling Communications As the Association for Talent Development (ATD) tells it, one key aspect of managing mobile employees is understanding and improving relationships. You can work to audit each relationship and then understand why they are weak or strong in order to create improvements. You can also switch up your way of communicating.
The ATD writes that you should not only change communication forms in order to facilitate relationship building, (such as text messages, emails, etc.) but you should also consider how you communicate things of a more important nature and provide the aspects of company culture necessary for employee happiness and retention.
"Determining the right amount of detail and when to provide detail is an ongoing responsibility of managing a mobile worker. Try working with more story-based forms of communications. Sharing tidbits from the field and office in the form of stories, anecdotes, case studies, jokes, innocent productive gossip, and even metaphors will relay context, encode key pieces of information, and give mobile workers a sense of inclusion."
2. Get Away From Micromanagement The Challenge: Tracking Productivity If you don't know where your service technicians are at all times, how do you know when they're being productive, and when they could be losing your company money? Even if you identify that tracking productivity is a key objective, the way you approach that effort can impact how your mobile workers perform, so you must have a strategy in place. Your plan should include not only the mechanism that allows you to gain information, but also a strategy for how you'll use and respond to that information once you have it.
The Strategy: Don't Micromanage — Manage by Exception Productivity is a huge sticking point for your organization. Every home visit and service call should both act as a positive customer experience and an optimized service effort (never sacrificing the former for the latter!). With the right oversight (via data collection) you can guarantee that's the case. But when you gain info that says an employee was delayed, for example, don't make assumptions about the data and begin to micromanage individual productivity as a result. Instead, consider stepping in only when something truly out of the norm occurs, or when you are able to clearly see a trend unfold over time. Manage productivity by exception so you can focus your daily management tasks on gaining visibility and devising improved communication strategies.
Another key point: According to Samuel Roberts for Inc., "The Harvard Business Review recently published an analysis of various studies that showed an average of 31 percent more productivity and 37 percent higher sales when employees are happy or satisfied." It stands to reason that focusing on employee satisfaction — though perhaps not the way to track productivity — is at least a way to encourage it.
3. Ask For Employee Input The Challenge: Lack of Transparency and Awareness There are, of course, additional areas — aside from productivity — in which employing a mobile workforce can create information black holes.
Most mobile workforce managers don't need to ensure their workers are submitting invoices and collecting payment right from the road. But home service business owners and managers do! Most mobile workforces aren't providing services on the go, so they don't need to track customer experience in real-time, or respond to requests immediately. Service is in your company's DNA, so you have to find a way to gain transparency into what happens on the road and in your customers' homes if you want to better serve them and keep your employees happy.
The Strategy: Involve Workers in Reporting Your workforce can be a force for good when it comes to reporting. But to help each individual get involved, it's important to remember that your employees may have come onto your team with their own, established ways of recording and reporting on what happens in the field. Some change management may be required.
First things first, ask for their opinions! What works well for them? What doesn't appear to have worked so well for them in the past, and why? What tools have they used to record information in the field? How comfortable are they with technology?
Once you've gathered this information, it's important to implement it, and to clearly explain your reasons for your choices. You have to make your employees aware that their opinions matter; according to Gallup's State of the American Workplace Report, just 30% of employees strongly agree that their opinions seem to count at work. Even if you don't choose to implement exactly the solution they've requested or suggested, by explaining your reasons clearly and respectfully, you can showcase the fact that you've listened, and that their opinions are valued now and in the future.
Additionally, you'll gain transparency, solving for the real challenge here. By gaining employee buy-in for reporting mechanisms, you're more likely to see regular use of those mechanisms, which can help you maintain visibility and reduce unnecessary or redundant back-office efforts to reconcile information.
4. Give Employees Your Trust The Challenge: Establishing Trust Remember how important relationships are to your success? Without trust, those relationships can't gain strength or meaning. As ADT shares, a recent survey by HR.com and i4cp discovered that listening and trust are the two most important factors to remote teams.
But due to some of the challenges previously mentioned here, such as lack of transparency, trusting your mobile employees can be a tall ask. How are you supposed to know what's being done and what isn't, how they're acting in the field, how they're driving, or what they're working on? How are you supposed to know if all of their efforts are in line with company standards and expectations?
The truth is, though you can build in mechanisms to discover this information (more on that later), your best bet is quite a bit more simplistic.
The Strategy: Trust is Baseline Regardless of what systems you put into effect, breaches of trust are inevitable. That makes your decision easy: you have to trust your employees, lest you risk being overbearing and driving them to act in an untrustworthy manner. So make your trust a baseline. Until an employee exhibits some concrete, specific behavior that violates this trust — and you know (for sure!) that this is the case — give your complete trust to every individual. You have no reason to do otherwise. Plus, when you trust your employees, they're more likely to trust and respect you, too.
5. Implement Performance Management Tools The Challenge: Positive Customer Experience and Performance A great customer experience is the core of your home services business. When you're managing a mobile workforce, understanding that experience can be an intriguing challenge. Should you depend on your employees to share customer feedback and update their performance accordingly? Or should you focus on customer surveys, incentives, and performance management tools to help you achieve the objective of providing excellent service, every single time?
The Strategy: Get the Data and Adjust As we've already discussed, building strong relationships is a huge part of your role as a manager. And that extends to performance management. Not only is performance management a valuable aspect of ensuring premium customer service, but it can also be a relationship-building activity (instead of an administrative headache). How?
With the right data. You simply can't understand where your mobile employees are succeeding without somehow tracking their successes, and since you can't look over their shoulders in the office, you need some other tool to help bring that information to light. Customer surveys delivered immediately following service should help you gauge satisfaction and performance, and other data, such as that associated with sales and productivity, can contribute to a better overall picture of your tech's successes.
With this information, you can craft appropriate, individualized conversations with your employees, such that performance management becomes a part of your relationship. Rather than reprimanding, seek to understand goals and help your employees achieve those goals over time.
6. Use Technology to Sync Information The Challenge: Connecting Back-Office and Field Information One of the primary challenges of managing mobile employees involves syncing data between locations. That challenge is magnified when your workers are always on the go, and perhaps never even set foot inside the office where your administrators and CSRs spend their days. How do you tell your field service techs that a certain customer has made a specific request? How on Earth can you manage dispatching without a million phone calls? How do you inform your CSRs of interactions that occur within the home, so they don't have to ask the customer to describe their experience again, should they want to discuss it? And how do you keep all the paperwork for payments and next-sells straight, to begin with?
The Strategy: Leverage Home Service Software The success of your company doesn't have to depend on whether or not your techs remember to deliver paperwork, or on the CSRs' own individual note-taking capabilities. Instead of crossing your fingers and leaving information gathering and syncing up to the mood of the day, choose a field service management software that connects the office to your mobile workers and gives everyone the tools to provide real-time information to their team members. For everything from scheduling service to submitting payments, a cloud-based, easy-to-use home services software is a good bet. Look for one that is built on industry knowledge and expertise, offers performance management capabilities, and provides your techs and office staff with a clean, simple UI.
Added benefit: When employees seeking a technician position find your company, they'll know you already have built-in support for managing a mobile workforce. Implementing the right technology will show that you're invested in employee success, customer happiness, and the growth of your business.