Learning how to manage a remote team has never felt more timely than now. Truth be told, it was always going to be an important tool in your management toolbox and, as a field service specialist, whether your industry is plumbing, heating, HVAC or security.
This is why we’re going to cover three main aspects to managing a remote team: the challenges, a few tips and tricks, and the best practices a good manager (that’s you!) should always have in mind. Not only will we be referring to your technicians but also a remote admin team that is able to work productively from any location, whether that’s the office, their home, or a cafe. Let’s get started!
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1. Challenges when managing remote teams:
Information transparency and real-time updates.
You’d think accountability and trust would be the no. 1 challenge when it comes to managing a remote team (and we’ll get to that shortly) but, according to our field service clients, the main problem they encounter is the time-wasting, stressful back-and-forth communication methods they have to use in order to make sure everyone has the same information.
This can relate to a technician having to call/message the office to let them know they’ve left an address, confirm end-of-job details (e.g. for a plumber, that would be turning on the water sources, cleaning the work-space, offering the customer a future maintenance job or a recommendation to change the appliance), then call again when they get to the next job, have the office send over a quote after they’ve assessed the situations, etc. All this is a loss for productivity and a major win for needless bureaucracy!
On the office side, it’s important to have these confirmations in order to be able to update schedule spreadsheets, inventory lists, and contact the next customer to let them know a tech is on their way (or is going to be late). In the absence of automated customer notifications, even if your business is fully digital, these manual tasks are a must that makes remote working more difficult than it needs to be, therefore, losing you more productivity and increasing your expenditures.
As we mentioned previously, accountability is another challenge when managing remote teams. It’s not about you or another manager not trusting your employees. Trust is a requirement when you hire a person so it should go without saying that you’re confident your techs and admin are working hard even if Big Brother isn’t watching.
Accountability is different from trust in the sense that it refers to assigning responsibility for various aspects of a field service business. For example, when a customer calls in to ask about having been offered a discount if they accepted a quote within 3 days of receival, then receives a full-priced invoice, as manager, you need to check what went wrong. For this, you need to know who sent the quote and booked the job, then who wrote the invoice. When you’re managing a remote team, it’s not a matter of turning around and asking the people around you about it.
At the same time, unless you only have one person as an admin, it’s hard to track who made edits and sends off documents without calling/emailing everyone – which takes time. Multiply this by the number of times customers inquire about details (or techs about missing parts) and you probably have enough hours to create a part-time position for “paperwork tracker”. That’s not a good sign when it comes to your field service business productivity.
Secure access to information.
We’re way past the cabinet file days so at least you won’t have to lug that over to your home office. So why ask your team to carry hard-drives full of Excel spreadsheets and Word templates? Well, you could move everything to a shared Google Drive or use Dropbox which are both good options for smaller businesses.
However, once you start doing bigger projects or earning some of those coveted property maintenance contracts, you’ll find that access to information regardless of location remains paramount, but data security also becomes an immediate concern.
Your customers’ information should be at the forefront of your mind anyway, considering how important privacy issues have become. A Google Doc or a Dropbox folder that anyone can access via a simple link isn’t nearly enough to guarantee security. Employee turnover can also cause security breaches, as remembering to cut off access from a myriad of stitched together solutions when an employee leaves the company can easily lead to errors.
Imagine the litigation potential if that employee inadvertently causes problems for a customer because they still have access to their address and contact info all due to the fact that someone forgot to cancel their access to a Google Doc from 5 years ago.
2. Tips and tools for managing a remote team.
The ability to access real-time information about your technicians, jobs, customers, and finances whenever (and wherever) will give your service business a leg up over the competition.
Video is key!
Whether it’s through Zoom, Skype, Slack, or any other software: there are many solutions you can put in place to help you keep in touch with your staff, whether it’s office members who might be working from home, or engineers carrying out essential work in the field. You’ll find yourself increasing productivity in a remote management situation, as video communication simply saves you time from back-and-forth messaging and gets everyone on the same page, sans passive-aggressive email cc-ing.
Video may feel strange at first, but it can surprise you how quickly you get used to the idea. It’s not a new feature—we’ve been using Skype and other webcam programmes for well over a decade—but increasingly (and perhaps ironically) as more customer service interactions take place online, customers have shown an interest in connecting via video, too.
For instance, I’ve held interviews with people as a customer service agent in the past, and I’ve used the video option for a tech service who helped me solve a query without me needing to bring my computer to the shop; even medical facilities make use of video, remotely assessing patients to save them a needless trip.
A similar strategy could even benefit your own staff and customers, especially with basic queries or DIY fixes you think you could walk customers through. This can save time, effort, and money, all at once. It’s certainly worth considering the impact for your services.
Cloud based field service management software
While there’s more to see about a specific software solution for field service businesses below, it’s worth mentioning some general points about cloud based software and why the cloud should be at the forefront of your mind if field service business productivity is a major concern for you. This G2 article details the importance of the software deployment phase, which a manger should keep in mind when deciding on a solution.
Cloud based job management software is all about being able to connect information remotely, all so that data isn’t simply held in one place. Well…that’s technically untrue. What I mean by that is: all your data isn’t held in any one physical system. Instead it’s stored in the virtual cloud, which means you can access your data from anywhere in the world where you can get an internet connection.
Most of all, this is secure access and in the aforementioned case of an employee leaving the company, all you have to do as a manager is delete his user ID from the system and all your customer and business data will remain secure.
By storing your data in this way, particularly when it automatically synchronises with the cloud, you can keep your staff interlinked and up-to-date with the info they need. It’s added security, can save you space, and is often cheap, as well.
If you’re not sure about these tools and how they can help you manage a remote team, try answering the following questions. If you get mostly “no’s”, that means you should at least consider having a look at a (better) digital helping-hand:
Do your technicians have manuals, job information, etc. available on their mobile device without having to come to the office?
Can your technicians create digital checklists and forms using a mobile app while they are on-site?
Can you remotely see how much time your technicians are spending on each job?
Can your technicians request or order parts from their phones without going back to the office?
Are you able to visualize all job schedules for the week outside the office?
On the job record, are you able to view pictures and videos uploaded by the technician?
Are you able to see when the technician is on the way, arrives, and leaves the job?
3. Best practices you should be aware of when managing remote teams.
There’s no way to sugar coat this: the above tips and tricks only work if you’re extremely good at juggling multiple digital solutions (e.g. Google Docs and Sheets, text messages, Calendars, etc.) or use an all-in-one software that enables you to have your whole field service business on a single screen.
It can take time, but it’s important to make sure that if you’re new to software, you’re going with a product that offers you insightful training, quality customer service, and updates regularly (all things Commusoft does, according to our users!), giving you the best chance to adapt and use your new-found tool to its full potential. With those three things in place, you can feel more confident that your transition will be as smooth as possible.
Think of the simple tech you use every day (we’re talking about the mobile phone in your hand). You probably use it to do a lot more than you realize; whether it’s sending texts, pinging emails, organising your calendar, or even using it to learn another language.
The point is that for all these tasks, you’re able to use a single tool that lets you do a lot of complex things and which also takes up very little space compared to doing those same tasks separately, on paper, or through other more traditional methods.
Software, then, and your digital strategy can become the nuts and bolts that keep your business together and help it function like a well oiled machine, regardless of where the “engine” (that is, the office) is located.
As an example, service managers using our software in the past year achieved the following, all while being perfectly prepared to run their business from anywhere, regardless of the challenges presented by recent world events:
Customers added: 647,341
Invoices created: 898,014
Jobs created: 1,450,500
Estimates created: 190,949
The takeaway on how to manage a remote team with software
All in all, when you sit down to think what it would take to turn your teams into fully remote, independent, and productive members of your field service business, things can look a little daunting. The best thing to do is make a list of the aspects that pose the biggest time and money wasters. Keeping in mind the little productivity robbers like end-of-job confirmations and inventory check-out notifications.
However, you know what’s better than a list? A checklist! Much like the one we’ve put together below to get you started. You never know, you might find you’re already fully-equipped to run your trades business and organize your teams remotely and if not, you’re on the right way! Click below to get your list and start checking it off!
Hi! I'm Cristina Maria
And I want to bring next-level strategies to the field service industry. When I'm not working on the best tips to grow your business, I'm on the lookout for a sci-fi novel to beat The Foundation.