When we began lockdown in March of this year, I thought – maybe naïvely – that the pandemic would be in our review mirror by year end. Here we are, however, with cases rising in many regions across the world and second waves of lockdown in certain areas. While we all long for our lives to normalize, we must find fortitude to wait this out with safe practices and patience.
I recently held a Focus Group with some of the Future of Field Service Advisory Forum members to discuss what best practices they could share from how their companies have handled COVID thus far that may help their peers prepare for this second wave. It was a great conversation – I continue to be heartened by the connectedness among the industry and the inclination to come together during this crazy time to help one another along. Here are some of the points that came up in conversation – thought processes, strategies, and steps that participants felt served them well in navigating COVID challenges.
Let Go of Business as Usual – It’s Time to Get Creative
There were a number of points brought up in conversation about how companies’ normal course of business has been significantly impacted by COVID. Particularly companies that serve retail locations and restaurants have seen drastic declines. Even those who haven’t been hit as heavily have had to alter the normal business processes to comply with lockdowns and keep employees and customers safe. While the outcome varies from company to company, what was shared in conversation was a willingness to let go of business as usual and quickly get creative. This may mean diversifying the business, embracing innovation, altering delivery methods, introducing new services, or a variety of other things. But the commonality is that companies who have navigated COVID successfully haven’t done so by being tied to the legacy of how things have been done.
Lean on Digital Tools to Maximize Safety and Adapt to a Virtual World
Some companies have been able to adopt tools like Remote Assistance to move to a remote-first service strategy. This enabled organization to persist in providing customers service during lockdowns, and really sets the stage for a more evolved way of working even post-pandemic. Much of the conversation within the Focus Group centered around the fact that the focus on physical intervention as the first line of field service will be a thing of the past even once COVID passes. Looking beyond service, companies also discussed technologies being used to replace other functions that were previously conducted in person – like training, for instance. And those whose organizations have needed to continue with essential, in-person service throughout the pandemic discussed ways they’ve been able to rely on planning and automation tools to optimally schedule and route technicians in a way that reduces travel and minimizes exposure through avoiding peak times to keep both employees and customers safe.
Don’t Downplay Employee Emotions
This has been a hard year for everyone, and it is essential not to overlook or minimize the emotions your employees have. Not only are they likely struggling with concerns around health and safety, but those concerns may be compounded worry over the future of t heir job or overwhelm from the introduction of new technologies or processes. Companies that have done well managing COVID share a focus on empathy – a dedication to remembering the human side of all of this and recognizing and addressing the emotions of their employees as best they can. Leaders have gone out of their way to develop more personal means of checking in and staying connected in this virtual world. Some companies have noticed that as remote service ramps up, technicians fear for their jobs – and are working hard to address these concerns and put minds at ease about what’s to come. In a time where we have to move fast to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, don’t overlook the need to put your people first.
Act Global; Empower Local
Global organizations have faced an extra layer of complexity because COVID cases, management, and restrictions vary so much from region to region. As such, it was brought up that there isn’t any real way to centralize the rection to local COVID circumstances. Rather, these organizations have worked to centralize access to information and resources but empower the local units to react in the ways that best fit their individual conditions. Certain best practices are created and communicated at the global level, but each region feels empowered to react to their own changing circumstances in the way they see fit. Part of what makes this possible is a move toward more real-time data analysis and far faster decision making. This enables communication between central and regional functions and helps everyone to stay in lock step on the approach.