As costs skyrocket and financial uncertainty abounds, we must do what we can to help our employees stay productive. If we’re going to survive these turbulent years, we must do our best to keep morale high and costs low.
So… what are some low-cost solutions we can try to help our employees out in the field feel less isolated and more productive?
Two Problems Distributed Field Teams Face
To start off with, this blog post will focus on two core problems that often influence the productivity of field teams – and distributed teams in general. Firstly, disconnected employees often don’t perform as well as they could. Secondly, your field teams need the right tools to take their productivity to the next level.
So let’s tackle these problems, one at a time.
Dealing With Disconnect
Being disconnected from fellow team members, managers and – more importantly – the company vision can have a negative impact on productivity. This is why company leaders should ensure that all distributed team members maintain this necessary connection.
But how? It’s an easy enough concept to understand, but action is what brings about change.
So here are a few ideas to get your action plan kickstarted.
1. Regular Check-Ins
Making sure your employees are okay is important. It’s too easy to skip this step for your field team since they’re never around. The thing is, they go through dips and challenges just like the rest of us.
So it’s important to schedule some time for them and, if necessary, help them with the challenges they may face. This is especially important for individuals who work alone. Whether they’re on the road or in a home office, it can be a lonely life.
2. Virtual Team Building
Once every week or two, it could be a good idea to host a virtual team-building event. This could be a virtual coffee, a game, or any other activity that the team would enjoy together. It may not be the most productive hour, but it does help team members form closer bonds. It can also help to fight off loneliness.
There are countless options in this department, and you are limited only by your imagination. Of course, it could be good to mix it up – not everyone enjoys all the activities. Make sure to rotate activities so that everyone gets to do one they enjoy.
3. Opportunistic Meetings
If your travels happen to take you near a fellow team member, check in! Share a coffee, and enjoy some casual chit-chat. It would do them good to know you value them enough to meet up.
And this one isn’t just for managers. Team members should also be encouraged to meet up with each other if they happen to be in the same area for a while. It does us as humans good to connect.
Appenate hosts two retreats per year – one local and one international. We find that meeting face-to-face can be quite invaluable. Something that the employees have added, however, is mini-retreats. This is just a get-together over a weekend for employees that are in close proximity to each other.
It could do wonders for morale and can be relatively inexpensive. Plus, it only takes a day or two to organize and attend.
There are many more solutions to this challenge, and we’ve purposefully listed only a few – there’s plenty of creative license here. Now let’s move on to the second problem with field teams and productivity – the right tools.
How To Determine The Right Tools
The second half of this short guide depends largely on the specific tasks your teams need to complete in line with their duties. If you have a field sales team, perhaps something like Salesforce would help (even though it’s a tad pricey).
If you have a team of building inspectors, something like Appenate could fit in well.
In fact, Appenate could fit into a wide variety of businesses. But more on that later. For now, you need to determine what tools your team could use. So once you’ve figured out your needs, there are a number of important questions to answer.
Question 1: What Are Our Choices?
Look around for tools that fit your needs. Ask around, too, if you can. Recommendations from friends in the same industry can be valuable. Make a list, and get ready to test a few of these (most tools offer free trials).
Research the options you find, look at customer reviews, and select three to ten of your best options. Check that these tools fulfil your basic needs in terms of functionality. Add those that look the most promising to your list, and move on to the next questions.
Question 2: What Are The Risks?
Paper forms aren’t secure; that much is for certain. They’re easy to lose. That said, they aren’t available online for anyone with a little hacking know-how to steal.
So take a good look at your chosen tools. Have they had penetration testing done? Do they have appropriate encryption in place? Do they adhere to the specific compliance certification standards of your company?
These are all great questions to ask a salesperson. So be sure to make use of that initial sales call that you’re bound to receive, and gather up as much information as you can.
Needless to say, if the risk is too great, you can scrape that tool off your list right now.
Question 3: What Capital Investment Do We Face?
There are products out there that’ll give you great efficiency – from a laptop. Then you try to use their mobile application, and it’s trash. So, to use this software, you’ll need to buy laptops for your field team (if they don’t have them already).
The same can be said for mobile devices. If your team down already owns smartphones, you’ll need to include this in your initial capital investment. These are some of the few reasons why holding onto paper a little longer could make sense – until you can free up the capital needed for a larger investment.
That said, most already own smartphones – so now look to the capital cost of your chosen solutions. What do they charge per user? Do they offer an annual plan with a discount? Do they require large up-front fees?
Make sure to note all of this down. You’ll most likely save money – whichever tool you choose – but the return arrives so much faster if your tool proves to be affordable.
Question 4: How Receptive Is The Workforce?
This is a big one. You can’t force people to use something they don’t like. Well, maybe you can – but that’s bound to cause a disconnect and undo all the hard work from the first part of this blog post.
So you’ll have to introduce your team to the new solution. Face-to-face works best. You can show them how easy this new tool is to use. And you can tell them just how much time they’ll be saving.
For your drivers, for example, less time sitting around filling in paperwork after the delivery is complete. A simple scan and an e-signature and off they go!
Here’s an interesting idea… offer them an additional 15-minute break for every hour they save? Or, perhaps, if all the work is done and you’re ahead of schedule, let them go home early once a week.
Whatever approach you choose, it’s up to you and what your industry looks like. As you get your workers on board with the new solution, just be sure to apply a gentle hand and not cause further disconnect.
Question 5: How Customizable Is It?
Once you’ve got your employees on board, they may have additional requests to make the tool even easier to use. So the question here is, how easily adaptable is your solution to the needs of your employees and your business as a whole?
Is it a rigid tool that won’t bend an inch to your will? Or is it a totally custom solution where you control everything?
This is an extremely important question. Let’s say, for example, there’s a sudden change in legislation. What do you do with a rigid tool? You submit a request, and you’re at the mercy of the company on whether they’ll make the change or not. That’s if they ever even do.
A custom solution may require more initial effort to set up, but in a case like this adapting to changes is easy. Simply educate yourself on what’s needed, and make the changes. Then instantly roll out the new forms to employees with a single click.
With how fast things change, the world definitely needs more custom solutions. Just look at our recent pandemic. Things changed overnight, and we were all caught unawares. Not ideal.
Question 6: How Do We Buy?
There may be other questions before you get here. For example, ‘how do we get the CEO on board with this?’
For the most part, however, these core questions will give you better tools to provide to your workforce. Efficiency will go up, and by extension, so will productivity. So why think about it any more?
It’s time to implement your solution and roll it out as widely as it makes sense to do.
Happier Employees Do Better Work
We’ve all had at least one experience with a sullen individual who – it was plain to see – did not want to be at work that day. It makes the situation unpleasant and could even lose clients.
A simple example. You have a nearby store where you go to buy milk every day. There’s one across the street as well though, so you always have options. One day, the employee at your chosen store quits, and you find a new person behind the counter.
This person frowns every day. They greet you curtly. They ignore your ‘how are you?’ And, most painfully perhaps, they never laugh at your little jokes.
One day, as you approach the store, you decide to try the one across the street. From the moment you walk in, the clerk smiles at you warmly. ‘Beautiful morning, isn’t it?’
You smile as you find that your favourite milk is a little more expensive here. But as you reach the counter, the clerk engages you in warm conversation. They even look genuinely happy that you’re here.
The next day arrives. Which store are you going back to?
Happy employees make happy customers. Happy customers are, more often than not, a pleasure to work with.
Creating Happier Field Teams
Dealing with the issues that can cause disconnect can improve employee morale. So can providing them with the right tools. So take this guide away, and work on these aspects of your business or team.
Make sure to monitor changes in productivity as best you can. You’re sure to see an uptick – and perhaps even a rise in sales as well.
Custom Field Solution A Fit For You?
Before you go, we would like to pitch Appenate as a potential partner in giving your employees the right tools.
Appenate is, in essence, a mobile app builder. With it, you can create powerful checklists, sales order sheets, data capture forms and so much more. These apps can then link to data sources to store all your critical information, and they can link to your other tools to ensure automatic data flow.
Perhaps most importantly of all, you enjoy friendly and responsive support whenever you’re in need. Add free training to the mix, to help you build your first form, and it’s basically a no-brainer, isn’t it?
Appenate won’t be a fit for public-facing applications – it’s an internal tool exclusively. That said, with over 10 years of progress under our belts, who better to align your teams in this rapidly changing digital world?
You can start a free and obligation-free trial by signing up here. If Appenate doesn’t work for you, we’re happy to concede to a better-fit solution, but it’s worth a try, right?