Why field work is the next area for digital transformation
The post-pandemic field workforce is evolving, enabled by evolving digital technology. Lucy Clayton, Head of 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 be applied to the disruption experienced by desk-based workers during the pandemic. The ability to work remotely at scale, enabled by digital technologies, has changed the way we work forever. And will significantly impact organisational life of the future.
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’re potentially entering an era of evolution for field work. In response, 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. In this first of a series of three articles, I’m going to delve into the insights I think decision-makers will find most valuable.
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 positively impact their working experiences. But this may be about to change. Especially due to the societal, organisational and individual drivers that are 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 work, for example. The pandemic has caused further disruption to the field workforce. 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 is putting teams under pressure. Further issues as a result of Brexit or labour supply shortages are also impacting industries with prominent field forces like transport and distribution. The supply chain problems that have made headlines are forcing organisations to rethink field work.
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 emerge from the pandemic and 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 better mobile connectivity. These influences are leading to more integrated workflows and new digital processes – such as e-signatures – 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 of the 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 insight paper covers four main areas where we see this happening:
- Individual field worker productivity
- Operational efficiency
- Customer service
- Health & Safety
In my next post, I’ll cover each of these in more detail.
To find out if your field force is evolving to meet current needs:
- dive into our new paper with insights from industry observers and commentators.
- Listen to our Blue Door Podcast episode with Ant Morse as discuss ‘what’s next for field based workers?’, and his observations of how organisations are preparing their field based workers for new ways of working.