Why field work is the next area for digital transformation
16th November 2021
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The post-pandemic field workforce is evolving, enabled by evolving digital technology. Lucy Clayton, Business Thought Leadership at Virgin Media O2 Business, looks at the evolution of field work and the impact of societal, organisational and employee drivers.
Digital transformation may be an over-used term, but it can certainly be used to describe the activities and experience of many desk-based workers as they rapidly saw a need to do the work required of them from home. And this ability to work remotely at scale, enabled by digital technologies, has changed the way we work forever.
But what about the experiences of field-based workers? Frontline workers haven’t had the same media focus as their desk-based colleagues. Still, the technology supporting successful field work has been evolving for some time. And now it’s providing opportunities for change to benefit both field workers and the organisations they work for.
We’ve all experienced so much change in how our lives have had to accommodate, work, travel and health instructions, it shouldn’t be unexpected that we’re entering an era of evolution for field work. In consideration of these seismic shifts in customer and employee expectations we published our insights paper, “Is your field force evolving to meet current needs?” It provides a range of perspectives on the future of field work to help stimulate fresh thinking and kick off internal conversations.
The value of your field force
Society has always been reliant on field workers. During the pandemic, the contribution of the frontline has come to the fore. Where would we have been without our nurses and paramedics? How could we have coped without delivery drivers and shop workers?
Organisations, too, rely on their field staff. Here at Virgin Media O2 Business, we lean on our field sales team and remote engineers to support new customers, resolve issues and deliver services. They are the lifeblood of our organisation and are utterly essential to what we do.
However, I’m not sure whether all field workers have enjoyed high enough levels of technological investment to make a positive impact on their working experiences. But I think this will be about to change, due largely to the societal, organisational and individual drivers highlighted in the report.
The way we consume goods and services has been in a state of flux for several years. You only have to look at the impact of online shopping on field delivery work, for example. For delivery drivers, there is now an expectation of contactless delivery at our doorsteps. The ability to work from anywhere and nervousness about face-to-face interactions, is prompting a more fluid approach to contact with sales representatives.
In some industries like construction, a backlog of work caused by the pandemic has put teams under pressure. Labour supply and supply chain issues are also impacting industries, all with an obvious effect that change and adaptation is needed.
Organisations have been quick to react. Rapidly modifying services and operations to meet the needs of customers. This has also had an impact on field teams through changes to processes, working hours and workloads. As we begin the return to heightened economic activity, increased demand is putting additional pressure on these teams. They now need to deal with higher volumes of work without compromising the higher expectations of customers.
But there are deeper, longer-term organisational factors in play. A pressure to drive efficiencies. To cut costs. And to take advantage of automation, and the opportunities provided by new technologies; from AI and data analysis to IoT and better connectivity options. These influences are leading to more integrated workflows and new digital processes — such as e-signatures and automatic dynamic route scheduling – that are changing day-to-day field work.
Compliance regimes and customer expectations around privacy also mean there is an ever-increasing need for field workers to collect and act upon data. Inevitably, HQ will also analyse this data for performance gains or improved health and safety. While this can lead to transparency and better customer service, it can also create added pressure for field workers.
The combination of societal and organisational drivers can lead to what feels like a substantial change. Field workers may be under increased pressure to perform and stay productive. They may be required to learn new skills. Or to use new digital tools. Meanwhile, the impact of the pandemic may leave them feeling isolated or concerned about their wellbeing ‘at work’. For organisations, it is essential they see this field force transformation from a human-centric perspective.
In looking at the drivers, I’ve mentioned some challenges involved in the digital transformation of field work. Yet these also represent huge opportunities to change field work for the better, much of it enabled by technology. Our insights paper covers four main areas where we see this happening:
- Individual field worker productivity
- Operational efficiency
- Customer service
- Health & Safety
In our next post, we’ll cover each of these in more detail.
To find out if your field force is evolving to meet current needs, download our paper with insights from industry observers and commentators.