No, this is not a blog about an exercise or stretching regime to attain an agile field service workforce. It’s more of a discussion about planning for the future field service workforce. In our opinion, the time is right for service leaders to rethink the field service workforce of the future given the growing options available for work distribution and workforce selection.
Agile, as a methodology, is primarily applied to software development and delivery. It is also being used by several organizations in product development and research. The first principle of the Agile manifesto is to “satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.” While not all the principles of the Agile methodology are applicable to workforce planning and development, the focus on customer-centricity and responsiveness are transferable.
Field service, as a profession, continues to face disruption from enhancements in automation. While service demand for manual field service work continues to remain high and will likely remain high for the short-term, investments in technology are being driven to reduce the need for manual field service intervention or to enhance the productivity of the currently employed workforce. As the current field service workforce ages and retires, service leaders are increasingly looking to automation to replace field work hours before making the decision to hire net new workers.
Where manual intervention is necessary, field service leaders now have an increasing number of workforce options to meet service needs. This becomes extremely pertinent when workforce demand is seasonal or even unpredictable. Being able to scale up or scale down in a short period of time is something that many field service leaders are looking for in the workforce of the future. The options available fall under three major categories:
- Employee workforce – Full-time field service employees
- Partner workforce – Authorized service providers, dealers, distributors
- Extended workforce – Contractors, freelancers, crowdsourcing
To manage the work allocated to these various types of workforces, or to the overall blended workforce, it is extremely vital to best align the type of work with the type of workforce. For work that requires a great deal of skill, technical competence, and training, it might be best to develop a dedicated full-time workforce. Similar work might also be distributed to authorized third-parties in regions and areas where full-time workforce is not available. The extended workforce really comes into play where there is a greater volume of repeatable and “simpler” work that does not require a high degree of training or extremely high degree of technical competence. Other factors must also be considered when aligning work, such as customer importance, customer affinity for service partner, contractual obligations, and more.
From a workforce supply perspective, more workers are considering freelance models as a primary way to work, or to supplement primary income. According to a 2016 study commissioned by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, up to 35% of the total US working population (or 55 million people) is currently choosing to freelance. Agility and flexibility is a concept desired by both employers and employees. And freelancing isn’t just for the new millennial workforce. Many older workers are looking at a freelance model to continue working and supporting their past employers during retirement.
In field service, a blended workforce model will likely be the most flexible path afforded to service leaders as they navigate workforce retirement, automation investment, and evolving customer needs. To maintain a high quality of work, steps need to be taken to ensure that the right type of work is matched with the right type of worker.