Many small business owners don’t give a second thought about the need for clear communication.
Messages can often be passed across a desk or delivered face-to-face on the other side of the office.
“Most offices don’t need a well thought out ‘communications strategy’,” says small business advisor Dr Greg Chapman. “Lazy communications are probably quite adequate for people who work in the office because you see them all day, every day.”
But businesses with mobile workers need to approach staff communication very differently, Chapman says. “You need to have a much better policy or process for keeping field workers informed.”
Businesses with mobile workers need to approach staff communication very differently, Chapman says. “You need to have a much better policy or process for keeping field workers informed.”
Mobile workforce management software, such as GeoOp, has been a game-changer for businesses that rely on communicating with subcontractors or employees who work remotely. Scheduling jobs is simple, as is providing all customer information while workers are on the road. Reassigning or rescheduling jobs is easy. Quoting and invoicing can be done at the job in real time, with no help from office-based staff.
Businesses using field service management tools often find there’s little need for field workers to travel back to base to speak to bosses or colleagues. During the working day, managers and workers can communicate accurately and immediately “in-app”, with all relevant information available at both ends. It’s possible for mobile workers to spend all day in their truck or service vehicle without needing to actually speak with anyone other than customers, suppliers and the person serving their lunch.
Chapman, whose website is empowersolutions.com.au, suggests a good start for clear business communication is regular staff meetings in the office. “Maybe once a month or once a fortnight, for half a day or something,” he says.
“I think it’s good to make sure you bring in the field staff periodically so they catch up on the comings and goings in the office – the latest policy changes, updates, personnel changes.”
On the job
Once the work begins, clear two-way communication remains crucial. This is not so much a problem in an office, where supervisors have an easier task of spotting and discussing issues with staff or seeing if something hasn’t been understood. In the field, problems snowball easily.
“You need to let the field staff get on with their jobs,” Chapman says. “They’re the face of your business with your customers. But poor communication can produce unintended results which may not be corrected until some damage has been done.”
Regular catch-ups are important to head off potential issues. “You need to have regular communication,”
He says regular catch-ups are important to head off potential issues. “You need to have regular communication,” he says. “It needs to be at a predetermined time each week and possibly each day, depending on the type of business. Maybe at lunch time, the beginning of the day or the end of the day.” These daily meetings set job expectations and routines, and establish what is working well and what isn’t.
Because workers are at the business front line, they provide managers with valuable information about what customers are thinking, and may head off potential problems. “If there’s an issue, [customers] speak directly to the field employee,” Chapman says. “If they’re not happy with the field employee, they will go back to the office and complain. Of course, they may not just complain to the office – they might complain to colleagues and family about the service they received. That can cause reputation damage.”
Chapman says it’s vital that small businesses keep in close contact with their customers, even if jobs can be scheduled remotely. “It’s really important to get that feedback going. Customers know if they’re unhappy that someone will see their response. They can be proactive and call the office but it’s better if they automatically get a survey or even someone who calls up and says, ‘Well, Fred was at your house today. Was everything done to your satisfaction?’”
What can be just as important is establishing a good relationship between mobile workers, their colleagues on the road and the staff back in the office. Electronic communications may well deliver the facts accurately but not the more “human” reasons why things change or go wrong, and last-minute schedule variations can easily create friction. “If you don’t have that sort of rapport with someone, getting those messages can be difficult,” Chapman says. “It’s important that connections are made.”
Mobile workforce management software has done a great job making businesses and employees more efficient, but it can’t be used in isolation. “Workers need to have human conversations as well, otherwise it just becomes so impersonal,” Chapman says. “Field employees feel very detached, like they’re working for a machine rather than a person.”