At this writing, we are now several months into the COVID-19 crisis. We all know that life as we know it has changed. But it is still possible to run a successful field service business. We've thrown together a summary of what we've seen and heard from our friends in the field that could be useful as you go about your work.
Hopefully, all of our Academy members have loyal and trustworthy employees. Now is the time when you'll have to lean on this trust for business continuity and safety. One of the things we know is that physical distance and isolation reduces risk of infection.
Note: the following passage is not scientific or medical, but purely anecdotal.
One of our employees at FieldPulse had a guest from out of town stay in his home with his family for five days just as the outbreak was starting. That guest later tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning home and falling ill. Only one other member of the house is believed to have contracted the illness. Why not the other four members of the household?
They believe it is because the person who got sick spent a lot of one-on-one time over five days in the car with the guest who later tested positive. The lesson here is that confined spaces, where people are sharing a lot of the same air, could increase your risk of catching or spreading the virus. At FieldPulse, we are all working from home indefinitely.
But that might not be possible for your business. So our advice at FieldPulse, absent any official guidance, is to define interior spaces and mandate one person to occupy that same space.
Only the assigned person is allowed into a space, and they are not allowed into any other confined spaces. In common spaces like hallways and doorways, mandate that only that person is allowed in them at a time, and allow enough time for air to circulate or dissipate. If your building has offices, only the assigned person is allowed in that office. Only one person should be allowed in a vehicle.
Two-man crews in a single vehicle is probably riskier than sending two vehicles to a job. (And gas is much cheaper now, anyway!) And so on. This may not always be possible and honestly sounds almost ridiculous in the extreme nature of this advice. But if you want to be as cautious as possible, this might be an approach to consider.
We have heard since the start of the crisis about the importance of hand-washing. What is not mentioned as often is object and surface contact. I am a longtime germophobe. The rest of the team here at FieldPulse knows about my obsessive hand-washing in the office and refusal to make skin contact with doorknobs. I'm a strong believer that skin contact with shared objects is a significant transmission risk.
This logic, if true, would mean that crews who share tools and materials, touching the same seatbelts, etc. between hand-washing negates the value of hand-washing. Nitrile gloves can be useful in minimizing cross-contamination of objects, but not if they are not removed after touching shared objects. Remember that every pair of gloves should only be used to touch one specific set of things. Using gloves to touch everything defeats the purpose of gloves.
These are not scientific but practical techniques that may keep your team safe. And we're sure that there are many more. (We'd love to hear about them!)
As a germophobe, I am keenly aware of the fears with face-to-face interactions. I was pleased to hear about the great lengths now being taken by restaurants offering curbside takeout, but shocked to learn that in practice it may be futile. In particular, the payment process aspect seems riddled with risk.
What good is all of this social distancing if we're going to hand over credit cards and pens to complete the transaction? But the solution is simple: bleach wipes. If your customer is nervous about payment, you can always offer to have them pay you by mail.
But we all know how important it is collect payment on the spot. So you may wish to have your agent keep a bag of bleach wipes on hand and wipe down anything that is handed back and forth between your customer and your agent. If all of this seems very extreme, we agree! We are in extreme times. But safety commands a premium now more than ever. You don't want to risk a customer falling ill and accusing your business of the exposure. Nor is anytime a good time to deal with sick pay or workman's comp issues.
Also, the extreme measures you take to keep people safe in confusing or uncertain times will speak volumes about your brand and your leadership.
We recommend documenting all of the policies and actions being taken across your business in response to this crisis, and communicating them constantly to your teams and your customers and prospects. Re-record your telephone hold messages and voicemail greetings. Include your safety precautions in any emails and replies to customers. Put it on your Facebook page and your website.
Information and action are incredibly valuable in uncertain times. No one has all of the answers, but most folks know that being able to discuss the things within your control and the seriousness of your actions is about all you can ask of anyone.
Also, consistent communication is a skill that every business owner benefits from, especially in our industry, and even when we are not in times of crisis. By telling the world the right things consistently, you are developing a skill that will contribute to your business success for the rest of your working life.
Most importantly, stay positive, exude hope, and be patient. Cool heads prevail in challenging times.