The following article from The Service Council’s Sumair Dutta appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Field Service magazine, our newly launched print edition.
Some of my ideas are original. This one isn’t. And I’m glad to say that it isn’t, because I come across so many bright minds in field service management. One of those minds is Steve Nava at Luminex. In a recent conversation, Steve spoke about his intention to extend the concept of an open office to his field service workforce. What a novel idea. When we think about open offices, we typically think about a traditional workspace that promotes visibility and collaboration. But what about improving visibility and collaboration for those who call their van or truck an office?
Coffee Break Camaraderie
I was reminded of this discussion with Steve during a recent trip to meet customers in Columbus, Ohio. While working at a local Starbucks, I noticed a fleet of four service vans parked right next to each other. These vans belonged to the same service provider, a large HVAC and facilities management organization. The four field service technicians in these vans weren’t working together at a customer site, but they were definitely developing camaraderie over coffee. This went on for 25 minutes, at which time all four vans went their separate ways.
This type of collaboration is repeated every week all over the world. It probably drives dispatchers and service managers crazy, given the desire to maximize utilization. But to my mind, it’s a good thing. Field service technicians need to be connected to their organizations. Otherwise, they can get very isolated in their work, which typically requires long hours of driving and working alone.
Field service technicians need to be connected to their organizations. Otherwise, they can get very isolated in their work, which typically requires long hours of driving and working alone.
In our recent “Field Service 2016: The Technician’s Perspective” report, technicians cited isolation as one aspect they disliked the most about their jobs. This was true across experience levels, but more strongly among field workers who had recently entered the industry.
Sharing Knowledge, Formally and Informally
Not only can the open office concept drive greater collaboration and innovation in the field service ranks, it can also drive greater knowledge sharing across the organization. The wealth of knowledge about customer issues, product challenges, and procedure failures built into the minds of these technicians is significant. Structured knowledge management efforts to capture this information are essential to the survival of service businesses. But unstructured sessions and meet-ups can also be extremely beneficial — not to mention building engagement and loyalty among field techs.
Organizations are engaged in various strategies to create a more open and collaborative field service working space. Several schedule frequent meetings for their field service teams, where techs are allowed to collaborate and partner on topics of technology, customer management, and safety. Other organizations are creating mentorship or apprenticeship type of programs where technicians from one region are paired with those from another region for a period of time. Several companies also host technician competitions or retreats that allow for improved communication and collaboration. Retreats are typically reserved for the top salespeople — but why not for top service technicians?
Using Tech to Forge Connections
Some organizations have resorted to technology to create a tighter-knit technician community. Take Luminex, for example. Technicians get greater access to the entire team’s service workload via Luminex’s field service application. As a result, field service techs can support one another in their time of need and can also work to improve service delivery to customers as a team. This requires a culture of customer-centricity and collaboration, one that Steve is very interested in driving.
Other organizations are also using technology in novel ways. Some are extending messaging or collaborative platforms, such as Slack and HipChat to the field. Others are developing platforms, such as Zinc and TigerText, specifically for dispersed field-based workforces. In the same vein, video and merged reality tools, such as Librestream, Help Lightning, and XOEye, are being used for remote assistance and field-based training. And demos for Microsoft’s HoloLens, promise an environment where field technicians can collaborate with each other on repair procedures and more in a virtual meeting environment.
We’ve also seen organizations resort to gamification to promote collaboration and recognition. Recognition is a wonderful elixir for isolation. We’ve seen gamification being used effectively to promote safety, as in the case of a TSC member organization providing access to safety scores and leaderboards to field service techs on their mobile devices.
But at the end of the day, technicians like their coffee and donuts. They like working collaboratively. How about we let them have their coffee? After all, coffee isn’t only for closers.