How to Improve Communications with Field Staff
When communication between management and field staff is not taken seriously, you’re throwing away profits. In fact, the average loss of poor communication is $62.4 million per year for companies with 100K plus workers and $420,000 per year for small businesses with around 100 employees.
The key to stopping the loss of money is to make your communication efforts crystal clear between management and employees that work outside of the office—anyone from sales representatives to technicians and repairmen to farmers. This clarity comes when a management makes directives understandable and easy to follow.
Sounds simple, right? Surprisingly, clear and effective communication in the workplace is quite challenging for many businesses—both large and small.
Getting out the message is one thing, but getting it out in a way that the recipient understands is another. Check out these helpful ways to improve the communication between management and field staff.
Provide a broader context of a job’s scope by letting workers in the field know what they’re doing and why it’s vital. According to a 2017 report, 63% of employees distrust company leadership. It’s a systemic problem with several causal factors. And, one of those reasons is a lack of managerial openness.
Gatekeeping information for no good reason isn’t just counterproductive but can cause low morale. Simply put, it makes workers in the field feel slighted and seen as untrustworthy by the company they work for.
Transparency is a two-way street. Field crews should also let management know what is going on with them. This includes temporary changes to the team – i.e., specialists taking sick or personal days.
Field workers should be open and honest about any delays or issues centered around a project. No one wants to be the office/worksite snitch, and it can be difficult to know whether or not a problem is worth bringing up to management.
Workers who keep their concerns to themselves cost the company money. A study by VitalSmarts showed that when an employee kept an interest or issue to themselves, the average cost to the company was $7,500.
Workers stay silent for various reasons. It can be apathy generated by a company that doesn’t engage its workers. oOr it could be fear of reprisal if it’s an issue that would make a higher up look bad.
The barriers between management and field work crews need to be removed to ensure effective communication. For some types of field staff like farmers or construction workers, for example, one way to do this, according to Professor James Detert of Cornell University, is for management to avoid wearing a shirt and tie when they visit a job site. Detert’s research shows there is no need for a suit at a construction site. Instead, those who are in management should opt for casual attire like khakis and polo shirts or jeans. This approach puts those crews who are out in the field at ease. And, as a result, they offer more suggestions and become more open to new ideas. Of course, this does not apply to sales representatives whose daily attire is a suit and a tie.
Understanding Each Side’s Respective Roles
Many times, management and field workers don’t have a clear understanding of precisely what job the other is doing. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2015, only half of all employees know exactly what management expects of them. For many positions, specific, measurable, time-bound goals aren’t written out clearly by the management.
This is why proactive engagement is so critical. Managers are the leaders, and they must understand what job each field worker does. This understanding allows management to utilize their skills in the most effective way possible.
The flip side of this is that field workers should also know and understand the vital role that management plays. Organizing and running the daily operations of a business isn’t spending the day kicking back in an air-conditioned office and chatting it up. Not only will understanding management’s role give field workers a better appreciation of management, but having a better knowledge of who does what at the home office will let them know who to go to when an issue arises.
No system or employee at any level of a company is perfect. In fact, 92% of workers feel that adequately given feedback is helpful for improving performance. Feedback can help ensure that mistakes don’t happen, and it can turn a good worker or manager into a great one.
Give and received feedback with an open mind. What someone sees may not be the whole story. A simple example are GPS records. GPS records show a company truck continually taking a longer way to a worksite, but it doesn’t explain to management that your workers take that route to bypassing road construction or traffic congestion.
Mobile technology has made sharing information easier and more accessible than ever before. It’s been a boon for business communications. Nearly all Americans own a cell phone (95% ), and 77% own smartphones specifically. This gives management and field workers an immediate way to communicate that requires no training.
Companies might find it easier and more cost-effective to bring in a dedicated bulk SMS service provider like TextMagic for their business. Not only is a service like this more secure than most plans offered by major carriers, but it can also be more reliable when jumping between platforms like an iPhone messaging and an Android device.
Multiple and Unified Communication Channels
Sometimes a job site doesn’t get cell reception, or on the rare occasion when text messages is lost – especially between platforms and competing carriers. The tried and true methods of communication still shine in some instances, which is one reason 89% still use fax machines.
A company should have alternative methods or some other workaround, during these instances. It could be as simple as driving a mile or two until a cell phone has a signal, or management driving out to a site a couple of times a day. A hotel’s landline or video chat via wi-fi can also work.
Unified communication (UC) solutions, like Hosted VoIP, are a perfect solution for management that wants to stay in touch with their field workers. Hosted VoIP providers provide a single solution for messaging, texting, faxing, phone calls, and video conferencing for meetings.
There’s been a lot of buzz about meeting hell, where management calls a one-hour session to go over a matter that could have been handled in an email. Meetings should be impactful, including two-way communication, and involve all levels of workers.
This holds true when it comes to field crews. Leighton Contractors in Australia began having frequent meetings with its field workers where they discussed worksite safety and other concerns the field crews had. The result was a 50% decrease in accidents and a 19.2% decrease in operating costs.
Improve Communications with Field Staff
Ineffective communication is a universal problem. Even smaller enterprises with maybe half a dozen people working out in the field can be left spending too much money due to bad communication.
It doesn’t matter the size of the company or the industry. Finding the right communication solutions will save thousands or even millions of dollars.