While mobile workforces have always been an important part of the economy and our daily lives, technology is making it ever easier to work more efficiently from the road. Scheduling, routing, invoicing, and signature collection are becoming automated, making administrative processes more efficient – and enabling you to send invoices more quickly
However, managing mobile employees still comes with its share of difficulties. Implementing the following best practices can help you maximize your mobile workforce for improved productivity.
What Is a Mobile Workforce?
Let’s start by defining the mobile workforce. Essentially, a mobile workforce is one that works away from the office or main company facility. Having mobile employees doesn’t look the same for every company — but typically, your mobile workforce is a group of people dedicated to being on the go and the road each day, all day.
Service teams, delivery personnel, heating and air conditioning maintenance technicians — these are all examples of positions within the mobile workforce. These industries and positions naturally require employees to mostly work out in the field on location or otherwise out of the main company headquarters.
The managers you employ to manage staff in these dedicated on-the-road positions need systems and processes to maintain workflow and document transactions vital to your business. Avoiding inefficiencies in the field allows your team to bring your costs down while giving them tools to improve performance.
How to Overcome the Challenges of a Mobile Workforce
Despite the advantages, managing the mobile workforce comes with its share of challenges — there’s more room for miscommunication and work issues. Being aware of those potential issues helps you address them before they become a problem.
Here are some common problems and best practices you can employ when it comes to managing your mobile employees.\
Combat the Lack of Physical Supervision
When your employees don’t work at the main facility, you can’t physically see what they are doing. You may not know where your mobile employees are at a given time, which makes it challenging to keep track of their work and progress. If you manage a team of repair or service personnel, you may not know if they are on schedule or running behind on their appointments.
In many cases, you may never see the results of the work your mobile employees do, or you may only see part of the results when you do inspections. You trust your staff to work properly in the field, but you can’t physically go to every customer location.
As long as the employees complete work properly and on time, this shouldn’t be an issue. However, an employee who gets off track or does the work incorrectly may cost your company time and money. A poor work ethic can also damage your business’ reputation, especially when your mobile workforce deals directly with your customers.
Communicate Expectations Clearly
Communicate your expectations for mobile employees up front to encourage them to maintain the standards set by your company. Without parameters and direct supervision on a regular basis, the employee may slip by without meeting your standards. Outline specific goals, so there is no confusion on what the employee needs to complete.
Track Your Mobile Team Remotely
Using a remote tracking system lets you see the location of all your mobile employees with just a glance. You can often track all your mobile employees via GPS in real time with bread crumbing and time stamps. You can easily keep track of your employees, so you can ensure they work efficiently and aren’t running into trouble along the way.
In an office setting, you can walk down the hall to ask a question or discuss a project. In a mobile setting, employees are scattered across various locations. You may notice less communication happening because of the physical separation. You must rely on phone calls, texts, emails or messaging systems to relay information. Sometimes those messages aren’t received or addressed immediately, which can waste time and delay work.
Staying in communication with mobile employees is essential to keeping projects and workload on track. Regular communication helps you ensure your mobile employees are making appropriate progress on their projects or service calls.
Set Expectations for How to Communicate
Determine the appropriate methods of communication for various situations. For issues that aren’t time-sensitive, email may be fine. For more pressing issues, calling or texting to get an immediate response is more appropriate. If you use email as a communication tool with mobile employees, establish how often they should check their email while out in the field via smartphone or tablet.
Establish Frequency Guidelines
In addition to outlining how mobile employees should communicate, it’s also important to establish frequency. When issues pop up, they should know to check in with you immediately. However, you might also create check-in points at certain intervals. For example, mobile employees need to communicate progress on their appointments for the day at lunchtime, or they need to check in if they fall behind schedule.
Another component to communication is encouraging your mobile employees to share feedback and communicate with you. Develop a sense of safety when it comes to communication, so your staff feels comfortable sharing issues with you. That feedback can help you improve your mobile workforce program, resulting in greater productivity and happier employees.
Mitigate Paperwork Issues
Physical paperwork becomes more challenging when you have mobile employees. Your employees need to keep documentation about the jobs they perform while in the field. This might include service records, delivery tickets and other similar paperwork that become part of your company files.
When the employee’s workplace is a vehicle, it’s easy for those documents to become lost, misplaced, disorganized or damaged. This can leave files incomplete and make it difficult for you to follow up or process the transactions. Employees who must complete client paperwork need to keep the required documents with them, safe and organized, until they return to the office. That doesn’t always happen, especially if issues arise while on the road or if an employee lacks regular organizational skills or doesn’t understand the importance of the paperwork.
Paper documentation also generates unnecessary data entry and time-consuming filing duties. After your office staff processes the paperwork, someone has to take the time to file or scan the papers. You also need physical space to store that documentation.
Have a Standard System of Organization
If you continue using paper documentation, incorporate an organizational system in all company vehicles. You might install a portable filing system with individual folders to hold the day’s paperwork until the employee returns to the office, for example. Establish specific drop spots in the office, so mobile employees know where to put paperwork, and office employees know where to find it.
Consider Going Paperless
Another option is to go paperless with electronic records. When you use the electronic option, the system automatically stores paperwork and transmits it to your company’s servers. Your employees have fewer physical objects to track, which saves time and improves efficiencies. You know your documentation is secure, and your office staff can begin any necessary processing immediately.
Avoid Delayed Billing
Mobile employees spend their days outside of the typical office environment, which means the billing paperwork they’re generating for customers doesn’t reach the office until the end of the day. Management may need to review those delivery or service tickets before they move on to the office admins. That process means keying the billing information into your system often gets delayed until the next day or longer.
Keying in the information can also take longer than it needs to if your mobile employees fill out the tickets incorrectly, leave out important information or have poor handwriting that is difficult to read. Your office admin has to check the information for accuracy, including pricing, part numbers and the calculations by the field employees. Sometimes, the information checks out. Other times, an error might require a call to the employee who created the ticket. Since that person is likely out in the field working, they can’t always answer the call immediately, delaying the billing process even more.
When your billing process takes several days, your customers have to wait for their invoices. In some cases, the process might mean a customer doesn’t receive the invoice for four to six days from the date of service. You might field calls from customers wondering where their invoices are. Plus, you aren’t getting paid immediately if the invoices don’t go out for several days.
An easy solution for faster billing, which ultimately means quicker payment, is to transition to an electronic billing system. Your mobile employees don’t have to fill out tickets by hand, which saves them time. Your office staff doesn’t have to try to decipher messy handwriting. The system automatically generates the invoice, which can be emailed or printed for the customer. It also gets sent to your company’s servers right away, so the processing can happen the same day.
Prevent Data Entry Errors
A related issue that sometimes occurs with mobile employees is data entry errors. When you use a paper billing system, your office staff manually keys in all the information. It’s very easy to key in an incorrect number, and even one mistake can throw off the entire order. Whether the staff member misreads the ticket or simply hits the wrong key, the error can result in an incorrect total.
Create an Environment That Promotes Accuracy
Train your employees on the importance of data accuracy, and prevent situations that can cause incorrect information to be entered — like when the employee is in a rush or is completing many things at once. Check out our guide to avoiding data entry mistakes for more tips on this topic.
Decrease Billing or Charging Errors
Electronic billing can help with this issue. These systems typically let mobile staff choose parts or services from a pre-set list. The system automatically adds those items to the bill and totals it accurately, decreasing the risk of errors. This perk can save you lots of time, money and phone calls from customers who need to address invoice and billing issues.
Make Inspection Work and Documentation Easier
If your mobile employees handle inspections or document damage before doing a repair, you know it can be challenging to fully capture the issues they discover. Employees don’t always write down enough details to fully document the problem. Sometimes, an employee may need approval from a supervisor to complete a repair, or require a second opinion or advice on how to proceed. In other cases, one employee handles the inspection and must communicate the issue to another employee who handles the repair.
Relying on verbal or written descriptions of the problem doesn’t always result in accurate communication. Most people are visual, so having a photo of the issue can make the process easier. One option is to supply your mobile staff with smartphones equipped with cameras. This lets them easily send photos to you or other employees.
Sometimes, you need these images to stay with the job’s documentation. For example, Vanguard eMobile lets users snap a picture and add it to the inspection report, which is much easier than trying to manually attach the photo or printing it to keep with physical documentation.
Many workflow management systems can help you streamline the process for when an inspection requires a follow-up work order. Instead of manually passing paperwork through multiple employees to get it to the repair person, inspection results that require follow-up repair can automatically generate a work order.
This practice provides the repair person with the information and photos detailing the problem, so they know what to expect, which tools to bring and which parts are needed to fix the issue. This streamlined process can save your company a significant amount of time and money.
Handle Rush Orders and Emergencies Efficiently
Depending on your industry, you may have rush orders or emergencies pop up on a regular basis. When this happens, you need to get a mobile employee to the location as quickly as possible, but that’s not always easy when you have different employees going in different directions. You don’t always know exactly where each employee is at a given time. You can guess each employee’s location based on the jobs for that day, but jobs that go quicker or take longer than expected throw off the schedule and put an employee in an entirely different location.
Know Where Your Employees Are at All Times
Tracking down each employee is time-consuming. It takes your office resources away from other tasks, and it means your customer waits longer for help. If a mobile employee is in the middle of a job, they may be delayed in answering the call to go to the emergency.
When you do track down and dispatch an employee to the emergency job site, they may not have the physical paperwork the job requires. This requires a manual ticket for the service, which creates the potential for errors.
GPS-based tracking tools can help you find your employees quickly when you need to deploy someone to an emergency call. Many management systems allow you to see your employees all on one map, so you can quickly locate the closest options to answer the call. This saves a significant amount of time over manually tracking where each employee should be based on the schedule for the day. If the closest employee isn’t available, you can quickly move on to the next person until you find someone who is.
This feature is also beneficial if you have a customer waiting for a scheduled service call. If your employee gets delayed, customers scheduled for later in the day may call to check on the status. You can easily look up the employee’s current location and get a better idea of when that customer can expect service.
Have a Plan in Place
Having an emergency call plan in place ensures everyone understands how to handle those situations. Clear lines of communication also help you get in touch with your mobile employees faster. Have multiple ways to contact those employees, and supply them with quality devices that work well in a variety of settings.
Consider Vanguard Systems’ Mobile Workforce Management Application
Vanguard Systems’ eMobile mobile workforce management app helps your employees increase productivity, while giving you the tools you need to manage them. We simplify everything from paperwork and billing to tracking your employees. Our mobile app is super flexible and easy to customize and change, and can fit into your operating budgets.
Eliminate lost paperwork, speed up the billing process, find your mobile employees quickly and avoid handheld tools and software that’s difficult to change, update or reconfigure. Contact us for more information on our app and our other services, and let us help you determine the best option for your mobile workforce.