Managing your mobile workforce in 2019

Vinod Saratchandran
Jan 7 · 5 min read

Today’s highly competitive business environment requires enterprises to reach out to customers, rather than wait for customers to approach their facility. As such, a mobile workforce, working on-the-move, outside the office or company facility, has become critical to the success of most enterprises. Field service technicians, marketers, salespersons, delivery personnel, high flying business executives and other mobile workforce are integral to today’s enterprises, to facilitate the customer, delight them, and increase sales. However, managing the mobile workforce involves a different set of challenges compared to conventional human resource management.

1. Ensure Effective Control

The biggest challenge before managers is to know where the mobile employee is, what they are doing, and reach out to them, at any given time.

A GPS enabled remote tracking system, with timestamps, offers visibility into the location of mobile employees, and track their movements, in real time. Such insights offer scope for analytics, to manage performance proactively, and to pinpoint areas of inefficiency and trouble spots.

However, establishing a surveillance state, breathing down the employee’s neck, and requiring frequent reports is counter-intuitive and eats into both productivity and morale. While it is expedient to retain effective control through GPS tracking, check-in points, mid-day reviews, and other interventions, make sure the system is open and transparent. Also ensure, the underlying policies cater to flexibility and promote autonomy, even while demanding accountability.

2. Provide the Required Tech Tools

The mobile workforce of today uses technology extensively. Mobile apps, collaboration suites, and other resources make it very easy to work efficiently from the road. However, the prerequisite is the availability of seamless tools to undertake such tasks. Unless the mobile workforce is provided with easy-to-use tech tools integrated with the core company systems such as the ERP and CRM, it would tell on their productivity, and by extension motivation.

The biggest priority for enterprises seeking to manage their mobile workforce well is developing systems and processes to maintain a sound workflow and documenting transactions vital to the business. Developing intuitive mobile apps as a front end improves productivity and job satisfaction manifold. Enterprises will also have to facilitate the backend, by migrating traditional on-premises applications and tools to the cloud, and offering seamless anytime, anywhere access.

Enterprises would also need to innovate on the security front, co-opting big data and analytics to offer greater insights and facilitate system-wide support and security. They would also need to form effective BYOD policies.

3. Automate Whatever Possible

The keyword when developing tech tools for field staff is automation.

Undertaking routine tasks, especially paperwork is a tough ask when on the move. Yet documentation of the on-field tasks, such as service records and service tickets are very important and indispensable. Apart from the difficulty in uploading the information, chances of errors and a physical piece of paper being lost are high. Electronic capture of vital documentation and automating of tasks wherever possible goes long way in making their work easy. The spill of benefit is the field service employee being able to do more of their core work in the finite time available.

Automation has already taken over several hitherto painstaking tasks, such as scheduling, routing, signature collection, invoicing, and other tasks, in many enterprises, improving efficiency manifold.

4. Overcome the Lack of Physical Supervision

Supervising the on-field employee is next to impossible, at least in the traditional sense. The conventional alternative of managing-by-results is not always practical, considering fieldwork is a time-intensive work where effort counts as much as the results, and in any case, success depends on several extraneous factors. The effective solution to manage field employees is rather to make sure they remain motivated to work properly and in a timely manner.

Communicating better with field employees helps. Make explicit expectations in a clear-cut manner. Outline specific goals, to pre-empt no confusion on what the employee needs to complete. Clarity on job expectations is another essential requirement.

Encouraging mobile employees to share feedback and initiate communications offers multiple benefits. It ensures a steady line of communications, allowing managers to remain in the loop of things. The employee feels wanted and valued, keeping them self-motivated to do their tasks well.

A strong collaborative platform which facilitates seamless and unobtrusive communication is an absolute must, to facilitate all such ends.

5. Involve the Employee

Enterprises with mobile employees should be wary of the adage “out of sight, out of mind.” The very character of the mobile workforce increases the chances of non-communication and the employee drifting or worse miscommunication.

The integrity of field service depends on the establishment of a robust communication platform. Calling or texting to get an immediate response is now commonplace in today’s fast-paced world. A good platform integrates these options seamlessly, allowing the field service to get in touch with others, and the office, effortlessly. Co-opt video calling as the next best thing to face-to-face conversations.

However, over and above-facilitating reach, make sure the field service employees in kept the loop, including them in all important and relevant communications. Have a shared plan allowing each team member access to their projects and all associated chats. Have a trustable document repository, and make it accessible from mobile apps. Have an open calendar with all events and schedules listed, and share it. Maintaining open communication is difficult, especially with a distributed workforce, but by no means impossible.

6. Establish a Viable Business Model

For many enterprises, the biggest challenge with managing a mobile workforce is establishing a business model that syncs well with a mobile workforce. The success of the enterprise depends on geographically and physically dispersed teams remaining cohesive and goal-oriented. This requires shared values, or the mobile employee willing to inculcate and espouse organizational values. While the onus is on HR to recruit and train employees on this front, a mobile platform which facilitates seamless communication and collaboration is equally important for the espousal and implementation of such shared values.

Managing the mobile workforce has big implications. An employee with poor work who goes off track costs the company time and money. Worse, a field service employee with a poor work ethic may damage the company’s reputation in a big way, considering they are front-line staff dealing with customers. A comprehensive mobile workforce management app which automates key tasks, helps employees increase productivity, and gives the enterprise the required tools to manage the workforce efficiently and remain in control, helps. Make sure the development of such a platform is entrusted with a competent tech partner who is conversant not just in the emerging technologies, but who has experience working with real businesses and integrating mobile technology to real-life solutions.

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Vinod Saratchandran

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