by Dr Greg Chapman
Interview with Peter Gearin of GeoOp.
Today I want to discuss the importance of clear communications when a business has a predominately mobile workforce. I'm referring to trades and services businesses in particular.
How important is it for people back at HQ to communicate clearly with their mobile staff?
When staff are located with management, management can supervise each step of the workflow process. Of course this can become micromanagement which does much to demotivate staff, but if an instruction is not understood, the employee can ask for immediate clarification, or if the problem reveals itself later as the task is implemented, supervisor access is quick and easy. But out in the field, poor communication may produce unintended results which may not be corrected until some damage has been done. Field communication tends to be episodic, perhaps at a predetermined time each day, rather than continuously in the office. The nature of mobile workforce, is they need to both be able to operate independently, as well as have their results managed. This requires a far more deliberate communication strategy than for an office employee.
What happens when it goes wrong?
When communication with mobile employees is poor, mistakes occur, the employee may be blamed for these mistakes, and the employee can become resentful when they believe it’s the manager’s fault. Without properly addressing the issue, the employee’s performance may deteriorate. In addition, as the field employee is usually dealing directly with customers, poor performance will quickly impact on the business’ reputation.
What are the best ways to keep communication channels with mobile staff open?
Having regular scheduled times for communication is essential for field staff which not only look at the forward plan, but also provide 2 way feedback over the previous period. If something went wrong, one question the manager might ask is “Is there anything I might have done or said when we last spoke that could have prevented this adverse event?”
In addition, at regular times, the field staff should be pulled back from the field to spend time getting to know office staff and vice versa, catching up with news of the business. When people know each other, field communication is much easier.
For ad hoc communication, messaging services are a great way of staying in touch, as long as replies are timely.
What do managers need to be careful of when they rely on communications technology?
An over reliance on technology means that the personal touch is missing. Conversations can reveal much more through open questions and even tone than texting can ever provide. No one likes to send long texts/emails which might be necessary to provide a greater context to a situation, and they may not be read in the same manner that a conversation on the same topic might be received.
So you need to have a deliberate, and regular direct communications with mobile staff that encourages feedback, and use technology at other times as necessary. Technology is great for more transactional communications – eg putting in orders and invoicing.
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Dr Greg Chapman is the Director of Empower Business Solutions and is Australia's Leading Advisor on Emerging Businesses and provides Coaching and Consulting advice to Australian Small Business Owners in Marketing & Business Strategies Planning & Systems. He is also the author of The Five Pillars of Guaranteed Business Success and Price: How You Can Charge More Without Losing Sales.
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