Out in the wilds of the world (of the suburbs north of Boston) I’ve seen every manner of barrier, mask, visor, partition, dome, and so on—all with the purpose of quartering off those pesky microbes to keep one another safe. At one place, the partitions will be made of flimsy plastic, while another has installed glass barriers that permanently separate their staff, which is to say that the scope of personal protective equipment (PPE) ranges from things that can come down with the help of a light breeze to things that are now permanent fixtures of our lives. So, too, will it be for things like masks, visors, and so on.

Perpetual PPE, as it were, has a variety of connotations and considerations for service, certainly, and it’ll be necessary to start thinking now about how some of this stuff will function beyond the quick stopgaps that we’ve built over the last year. Here are some considerations for what the next step of COVID preparedness might involve:

Developing a Coherent Strategy for PPE

We touched on this last week when we were considering how to meet people where they are, but service businesses interact with the world in different ways, and building a policy of consent is, first and foremost, integral to meeting that customer’s expectations.

As we emerge from our caves, and allow people to enter them to conduct service, it’ll be important to establish boundaries to maintain the new expectations of a weary world. Cynical people might call this “kid gloves”, but a year’s worth of trauma and anxiety doesn’t wash off, and if you want to be a business that is taken seriously, you’ll take people’s expectations about personal protective equipment seriously as well.

This will start with evaluating employee expectations, but it’s also about enabling employees, ensuring that the right materials are available in vehicles and at job sites to maintain cleanlieness and expectations, and that that training is disseminated, understood, and agreed upon. It’s a simple thing that can go a long way for the customers. Some will certainly brush it off. For others, it’ll prove that you actually care about them.

Rethinking Resources

Perhaps, you have, like me, concluded that mask dispensers will now be ubiquitous in public spaces in much the same way as hand sanitizer and tissues. There’s a rolling spectrum of where, why, and how these sorts of one-off materials will be disseminated to staff and customers in any given space, but as people stop carrying masks in their cars all the time, because they don’t need to, perhaps they’d like one while they stroll through a department store.

This is another one that is simple, but courteous—get in front of customer expectations, and start planning for this future today. Many businesses have made slap-dash changes to their floorplans to combat COVID. Maybe now we can take a step back, look at what we have, and make clear plans for what comes next.

What do we do with Waste?

This is a lot more complicated. I’m not unearthing some vast conspiracy when I said that PPE waste will continue to be a problem—It will. What we do in the short-term is important, but if PPE will be a continued fixture of how you conduct field service, it’s important to at least consider what the environmental impact of those actions will be. Perhaps it’ll overlap with the way that you manage your investment in the circular economy, or it’ll simply be disposal guidelines, but there’s no doubt the opportunity for disruption at some level, here.

None of us expected that we’d be wearing masks and taking precautions for this long, and without a doubt, there’s a contingency of people who will wear masks forever, for various reasons. Building plans for how we navigate these new dynamics will be necessary, and may even end up giving your business a leg-up.

Tom Paquin

Contributor, Future of Field Service