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Taking command of a mobile workforce is one of the toughest challenges you can face in business management.
It’s a relentless task - an ongoing struggle to get the very best out of employees while hitting tight deadlines and maintaining standards.
And it’s a challenge that’s only getting harder as customer and client expectations continue to soar.
This is as a consequence of our move into a digital landscape where online orders and same-day deliveries have become the norm.
But while technology may have raised the bar, it has also provided the tools required to meet this challenge.
With smart use of technology and the right approach - you can significantly improve the efficiency of your mobile workers.
What blocks mobile worker productivity?
To get the best from your workers, you first have to identify the factors that stifle their performance. It’s by identifying these productivity blockers that we can find effective strategies to eliminate them.
These are the most commonplace problems:
1) Poor communication
Not being able to communicate with employees is a key barrier to productivity.
It’s a particular challenge with mobile workers because they spend so much time out on the roads.
Traditionally, communication with field service businesses has been handled via paperwork and manual processes - schedules, task sheets, site plans etc.
If a manager wants an instant update on the location and status of a worker, they have to try contacting them via a call or text message.
A paper based process causes problems by creating a slow and inflexible way of interacting with mobile workers.
The bottom line is that bosses can’t ensure the productivity of workers when they don’t know where they are or exactly what they’re doing.
2) Demotivated workers
The remote nature of mobile working means that employees spend most of their time away from the workplace and off the ‘management radar’.
It’s this separateness that’s liable to make fieldworkers feel disconnected from the main organisation - allowing feelings of frustration and resentment to grow.
A failure to tackle this causes ‘us and them’ attitudes to develop - demoralising and demotivating workers; stifling productivity and putting customer loyalty at risk.
It’s a problem that becomes increasingly hard to solve as negative attitudes become ingrained within a workplace culture.
3) Lack of visibility
One of the most commonplace problems with mobile workforce management is bosses micromanaging - getting too involved in low-level activities and becomingoverprotective over mobile workers.
It leads to a reactive style of management in which remote issues are only identified when they’ve turned into productivity sapping problems.
To get the most out of workers means knowing where they are, what they’re doing and how well they’re doing it.
How to boost mobile worker productivity
To start boosting mobile worker productivity requires the systematic removal of each of these barriers outlined above. To do that requires finding the right tools and adopting the right mindset.
Here’s a look at effective strategies:
Remove manual processes
Manage motivation levels
Improve management visibility
1) Remove manual processes
Managing and scheduling a mobile workforce is made especially difficult when a company is using a manual process. The simplest way to boost worker productivity is by replacing these manual tasks with digital and automated alternatives.
In terms of speed and efficiency, it’s the difference between posting a letter and pinging off an email - it’s seconds compared to days. According to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute, switching to digital management systems boosts productivity by 25%.
Here's some of the best tools to boost productivity:
Digital workforce management
Digital systems are revolutionising the way companies areorganising mobile workers- allowing employees to operate in faster, safer and more efficient ways than ever before.
A system such as MyMobileWorkers virtually eliminates the need for any manual processes by providing remote workers with everything they need via a smartphone app. It significantly cuts down the administration burden on back-office staff and reduces motoring costs as workers no longer need to drop off or collect paperwork.
Global Positioning Systems (GPS)
Digital systems are revolutionising the way companies are organising mobile workers - allowing employees to operate in faster, safer and more efficient ways than ever before. Reducing the time it takes for mobile workers to get to their destination can deliver a significant productivity boost - getting more done with reduced fuel costs. This is why workforce tracking systems have become an essential tool for a mobile workforce.
While manufacturers such as Garmin and TomTom continue to produce efficient and affordable devices, they now have to compete against the powerful free navigational services provided by Google Maps and Apple Maps.
Cloud based documentation
Services such as Google Docs and Office 365 provide a cloud-based way to manage and share company information with mobile workers. Rather than information being ‘siloed’ on office computers, it’s instantly available - wherever and whenever it’s needed. This boosts productivity by removing the cumbersome process of printing, distributing and processing physical documentation, while reducing business costs. It means that mobile workers always have access to whatever information they need to do their job.
Time saving apps
There are a multitude of smartphone apps that help mobile workers to operate more efficiently. To remove the need for multiple post-it notes, there are apps like Google Keep and Wunderlist to create time-saving to-do lists and reminders.
Mobile workers also have the ability to video conference and share real-time images with managers via apps such as Skype and Google Hangouts. It’s an effective way to improve the support received by employees when they’re away from the workplace.
2) Manage motivation levels
Unhappy, frustrated and demotivated workers will kill productivity.
Trying to keep employees on your side is incredibly difficult when they’re spending so much time away from the workplace.
This is why taking charge of mobile workers requires a much greater focus on maintaining employee morale and motivation than conventional business management.
A study by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) found that, when a detailed analysis of work motivations was carried out - only 13% of employees said salary level was important.
The most powerful motivating factor, for 60% of respondents, was job satisfaction; closely followed by good relations with fellow workers.
Here are the best ways to motivate mobile workers:
It’s when employees feel disconnected and unimportant from a business that motivation slumps and productivity drops. To counteract this requires a constant commitment to make mobile workers feel like an integral part of the organisation.
It’s something can be tackled with simple things such as mobile workforce appraisals and regular team meetings. Social events and company activities can also help to build much stronger bonds within a team.
Digital tools can provide effective ways to ensure mobile workers remain a part of the ‘conversation’ - even when they’re out on-the-road. There are now social media style services such as Yammer and Slack that are specially designed to improve communications within remote working teams.
A common cause of dissatisfaction for mobile workers is a feeling that they have little control over what they do. They receive orders from above and are given minimal input into how things are done.
It can demotivate employees and lead to them adopting an inflexible and ‘box ticking’ approach to tasks. The use of digital management systems provides a way to counteract this.
The ability to manage mobile workers in real-time gives managers the confidence and security needed to move to a much more ‘hands-off’ approach.
If an office-based worker has a problem or frustration, they can easily discuss it with colleagues or managers. For a mobile worker, this is often not the case, and it often causes any resentments and tensions tend to build-up.
Even the smallest of everyday niggles can reduce productivity as mobile workers become increasingly frustrated. It’s important, therefore, to build into operations ways for fieldworkers to flag-up any problems
.It provides a valve to release pressures, to ensure good morale and also to identify working methods which are inefficient and the cause of discontent. So listening to ‘moans’ can lead to more effective systems and more productive workers.
Incentives and rewards
While pay alone may not motivate mobile workers or boost their productivity, incentives and rewards can be effective. This is especially so when digital management systems are used - providing accurate performance data on every aspect of operations.
This means managers are able to set achievable targets and reward employees who are able to hit them. Often it’s small recognitions of good performance that are more effective than anything financial.
Simply recognising and thanking employees can improve morale and boost motivation. Perks, annual awards and special gifts can also be used to motivate workers and maximise productivity.
3) Improve your management visibility
The difficulty of getting up-to-date and accurate information on where mobile workers are and what they’re doing has always stifled productivity.
The emergence of digital management systems and real-time processes allows any field service business to remove this blockage.
When comparing the benefits of electronic job sheets, paper just doesn't stack up.
A smartphone app used by each employee provides managers with real-time data on the location and status of each mobile worker.
Weaknesses and inefficiencies can be identified immediately and tackled before they’re allowed to become costly problems.
The use of Key Performance Indicators (KPI) can provide the kind of insights into mobile worker performance that simply weren’t possible using traditional management set-ups.
What are KPIs and how can they help boost performance?
A digital workforce management system automatically generates accurate data on all aspects of operations. The challenge is how best to use this information so that you can identify weaknesses and ensure workers are being productive.
This is what KPIs are designed to do.
They allow you to filter out all of the data apart from a small number of metrics that provide the information you need for effective management. These will will be different for each organisation but here’s a look at some of the most useful KPIs for a mobile workforce:
Project schedule variance
This is a really simple and effective way to catch problems early. It tracks expected performance, based on previous results, against the current levels. If something is taking longer or costing more, you need to know about it.
There may be legitimate reasons for variations or it could be a symptom of poor performance that needs addressing. Either way, it pays to identify this early, allowing for any issues to be tackled quickly.
Average customer rating
While productivity is important, it can’t be allowed to impact on customer or client satisfaction levels. Digital management software such as MyMobileWorkers allow this to be tracked with integrated task feedback.
It’s an effective way to track performance and to motivate workers to maintain high ratings. By tracking unusually low ratings, it allows dissatisfied service recipients to be contacted and problems dealt with, as well as being able to prevent customer complaints in the future.
Delivery In Full On Time (DIFOT)
For a business providing mobile goods or services - this is the bottom line. It’s a metric which tracks whether you delivered what was promised to the customer within the agreed timeframe.
If you’re not able to consistently hit this target then any mobile service company is liable to struggle. Any improvements to employee productivity should produce noticeable improvements to this KPI.
This metric tracks the percentage of jobs where something needs to be redone or replaced. It’s another way of helping to ensure that productivity increases are not the result of lowering standards.
It helps to identify and guard against the tendency for corners to be cut in an effort to meet targets. Alongside the time and resources wasted by revisiting jobs, there’s the frustration causes to service recipients.
Smarter management = More productive workers
By harnessing the benefits of technology and adopting a more flexible management approach, any mobile service provider now has the ability to significantly boost employee productivity.
While technology is the driver - it’s no ‘magic bullet’. It needs to be accompanied by a willingness to explore new ways of working and to move away from outdated methods that are rooted in a bygone business world.
It requires a 360 degree approach, looking for ways to remove each and every cause of employee inefficiency. Even seemingly trivial tweaks and time saving changes start to deliver serious business benefits when applied across an organisation.