Field Service Management And COVID-19 Crisis Readiness


Since the COVID-19 pandemic first struck, individuals and organisations have been facing the challenges of a new reality: movement restrictions, quarantine, and the amendment of social and working practices, so as to minimise physical contact and potential exposure to the novel coronavirus.

Virtual encounters and remote working have become the norm. And with many nations having already experienced recurrent waves of infection, others are facing the prospect of a resurgence in incidents, as the seasons change. These new practices may be the pattern of our working and living, for years to come.

For field service managers, coping with the COVID-19 crisis requires more than simply adapting to new ways of working and living. Organisations must preserve the safety of their workers, while maintaining business continuity. These challenges are exacerbated by the complexities of the working environment, and the uncertainty bred by the pandemic and its ever-changing circumstances.

In this atmosphere, managers and field staff must retain their capacity and agility to act, while combating the fear and doubt that can lead to a paralysing mind-set. Moreover, field service organisations must cover all angles and take in all critical aspects, assuming a full 360-degree viewpoint in their COVID-19 crisis readiness and response.

As part of the Field Service Asia 2020 Virtual Summit, Jan van Veen, Founder & Managing Director, moreMomentum, hosted an online discussion bringing together leaders of the field service management sector in the Asia Pacific region. The panelists included Alain Bienfait, Service Business Director, APAC, KONE, Martin Head, General Manager, Customer Support Innovation, APAC, Fuji Xerox, and Vanessa Oakley, GM, Strategy & Business Operations, Chorus NZ Limited.

The Crisis Readiness Mindset

In terms of implementation, attitudes to crisis management matter as much as the strategic planning and handling of the crisis itself. KONE for example, takes a three-pronged approach to developing a crisis readiness mindset:

1. Local Accountability

Field service teams who are indigenous to an area or an embedded part of a community have a greater understanding of local conditions and practices. In an organisation primed for crisis readiness, they are therefore prepared to respond instantaneously to conditions on the ground, and to work on their own initiative. Previous crisis situations such as SARS and MERS have left a pool of country or region-specific experience and expertise, which organisations can also tap into.

2. A Problem-Solving Mindset

After safety, customer satisfaction is the prime consideration for field service organisations during the current pandemic. This means being able to identify and solve customer problems, while observing all the needed clinical and environmental protocols.

Knowledge is power in this context, and the organisation may adopt the “70:20:10 Rule”, when it comes to learning and development. Here, 70% of knowledge comes through independent learning (doing and testing). 20% comes via sharing, or learning from others. The remaining 10% of the knowledge base originates from traditional training programmes and research.

3. Promoting Trust And Respect

Giving due credit and consideration to those who are making sacrifices in response to the COVID-19 crisis is central to fostering an atmosphere of trust and respect. In addition, organisations must recognise that no-one is perfect, and that mistakes will inevitably occur.

In a situation where field service personnel are juggling issues of personal and public health while working toward customer satisfaction, it’s particularly important to equip and authorise them to do their jobs effectively, and to establish trust throughout the organisation.

Managing The Unexpected

In a situation like the COVID-19 crisis, conditions are dynamic. Things can and will go wrong, and people will make mistakes. Organisations must in turn be dynamic and adaptive, to stay on top of these unanticipated events.

Collaborating With Stakeholders And Maintaining Trust Within The Ecosystem

Field service doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Besides the need to manage internally and to maintain trust and confidence within the organisation, there’s an entire ecosystem of partners, suppliers, service providers, and of course consumers, to consider. And it’s equally important to develop and nurture trust throughout this larger environment.

For telecommunications wholesaler Chorus NZ Limited, this impetus requires the organisation to cooperate with retailers and service partners, and to go out to customer homes and businesses, to connect consumers to this network. New Zealand as a whole has also been experiencing rapid ramp down and ramping up cycles, as its COVID-19 incidence has been fluctuating. This heightens the need for trust and judgment in preserving health and safety -- both within the organisation, and in the larger ecosystem.

The fluid situations characteristic of COVID-19 often result in demands and incidents not covered in formal contracts. The organisation must be agile enough to cope with such “outside the box” occurrences, and conditions on the ground that can alter rapidly. While centralised governance is essential, it’s also important to listen to the views and experiences of workers in the field, and to seek input from the larger value chain, wherever necessary.

Managing the larger ecosystem hinges on three key areas:

  1. Choosing Your Partners Well: Nurturing and managing relationships with external agencies and service providers ensures a sustained and reliable resource that the organisation can call upon at any time.
  2. Enabling - And Trusting - Your People On The Ground: Providing the tools, technology, and support needed for rapid and proactive response on the part of field staff, whose own knowledge and experience of local conditions enables them to make the best decisions.
  3. Establishing Trust As A Mindset: This encompasses confidence within the organisation itself, and confidence in others along the value chain.

Managing Uncertainty

Along with unexpected happenings, crisis situations like COVID-19 breed an atmosphere of uncertainty. In the worst case scenario, fear and doubt can lead to paralysis, and an unwillingness to act. At the opposite extreme, organisations and individuals may take pre-emptive (and sometimes hasty or ill-considered) action. Some strategies for preparedness already observed within the field service sector include the stockpiling of spare parts, stockpiling cash, and customers asking for on site or resident technicians to be available in anticipation of a lockdown.

Field service managers at Fuji Xerox adopt this strategic approach to managing uncertainty:

  • Share Facts Openly: Have a forum for regular communication, and feedback from technicians on site.
  • Control What You Can, Have a Plan For What You Can’t: This applies at all levels of the organisation and its external ecosystem.
  • Consider Alternatives: Develop alternative response scenarios for different COVID-19 outbreak and recovery models.

Creating And Managing Crisis Response Teams

Real-time, in-place planning and execution are key to managing fluid situations like a global pandemic, rather than longer term projection.

Allocating Resources And Personnel for Longer Term Issues

The organisation should keep this level of planning and budgeting independent of the real-time response teams. An agile approach to innovation provides the appropriate tools and methodology for implementation at this level.

Managing Communication And Information Flow

Organisations may host specific forums to deal with core issues, and “No Agenda” meetings where issues can come to light from all avenues. Management may also establish dedicated teams to deal with specific issues, such as Costs, Customer Activity, or Opportunities Created By The COVID-19 Crisis.

Decision-Making Models And Organisational Hierarchy

Industry wide, field service managers should note the following, in terms of decision-making and the way that those decisions filter through the organisation:

  • Recognise and appreciate the importance of input from local teams, which leads to local initiatives and response.
  • Central coordination, rather than micro-management, is key.
  • Top-level management should draw on experiences and input from throughout the organisation, and draw up global policy or top-down directives on this basis
  • You’re dealing both with uncertainty, and human beings -- so there will always be challenges in implementing solutions. 

Food for thought

A couple of quick-fire takeaways during the discussion:

• That Speed Is Critical. It’s especially important at the local level.

• The Focus Is On People. COVID-19 crisis management has to emphasise their personal safety, and facilitate their work.

• Communication Is Paramount. It’s particularly important to let people know that tough times don’t last -- and that those who survive such times must be tough themselves.

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