If you have employees working remotely, it can sometimes feel difficult to stay in touch with and/or on top of them. Keeping track of your team's hours, activities, and so forth is much harder when they're spread out rather than centralized at a single location. Similarly, representatives in the field want to feel like they are connected to the back office, not merely sent out into the world alone to try and drum up business. There needs to be two-way communication between reps and managers so that everyone knows what everyone else expects, and the two sides can help each other out as quickly and efficiently as possible when needed. Below are four simple things you can do to keep yourself and your reps in touch with one another, allowing you to help them in the field without ever needing to leave the office.
Make a Plan
Before your reps even hit the road, they'll need to know where they are going, what they need to do once they get there, and how they're supposed to do it. And as a manager, it's important for you to know these things, too. So you and your reps ought to touch base every so often to make sure a plan is in place and everyone is on the same page as far as which accounts the reps should visit and what they should accomplish during those visits. This doesn't have to mean---and, indeed, shouldn't mean---that you plan out every minute of their day. How specific or general you want to get with the planning will depend largely on how many reps you have and what you have them doing, but no matter what, it's important that the entire team is in agreement as to what needs to get done, where, and when. Make these objectives clear and communicate them to each of your reps in turn, so that you can be confident they know what to do once they're out in the field.
It's essential that reps have a certain amount of autonomy. Nobody likes to feel micromanaged, because it gives the impression that the boss doesn't have faith in their skills. That said, there's a big difference between trusting your reps to get their jobs done on their own and failing to manage or track their activities entirely. Even the most hands-off manager need to keep at least one eye on things, so that if any problems or complications arise, they will already be prepared to step in and offer help to the rep and/or customer in question. It's not enough to just make a plan, as I mentioned above. You've got to confirm that all of your reps are sticking to that plan and, if they're not, find out why and help them course correct as soon as possible. Letting your reps handle themselves on a day-to-day basis is important, but that doesn't mean losing sight of the big picture, either.
While you don't want to be pestering your reps by constantly checking in on or pinging them, you absolutely do want to be there for them should they need you. Make sure that your reps have one or more reliable ways to get in touch you whenever they are in the field, so that if they need a question answered or any support from the back office, you will be able to provide it. Just as you want to be able to keep track of what your field team is doing and where they are, they need to know how they can contact you when necessary. And if, for any reason, you're not going to be available for a certain period of time, due to meetings or vacations or what have you, it's important to make sure your reps are made aware of this ahead of time. And ideally, there ought to be someone available to take your place during any times that you can't be reached, so that reps are never left without any support system at all.
Leverage Mobile Technology
Nowadays, most of us carry our smartphones with us everywhere we go, and the same is likely true for your field representatives. So why not take advantage of that? Certainly, the fact that reps can be contacted via their cell phones wherever they are will make all three of the above steps easier to carry out. But on top of that, there are numerous mobile apps available these days can be used to bring you and your field force even closer together, no matter how far apart you are geographically. With mobile technology, reps' efficiency can increase significantly. They save time by doing things like submitting retail merchandising data from the field in real-time, instead of having to gather the info on hard copy forms during customer visits and then send it in to the back office later. This gives managers instant access to the details of what their team is doing in the field, allowing them to ask questions or offer support while their reps are still on-site, rather than after the fact. Mobile technology can also be used to keep track of reps' movements throughout the day, so that if, for example, you want to know which employee is the closest one to dispatch for a particular service request, you can find out quickly and easily. These are two of the most obvious examples, but there are countless apps out there with innumerable other capabilities. Finding the most useful technological tools for your business will make the whole operation run more smoothly and connect you more directly with your reps in the field.
Clear instructions, attentive leadership, accessibility, and supplying the best tools - incorporating these things into your relationships with your reps will improve their performance and therefore drive up productivity across the company. Just because you can't see someone face-to-face doesn't mean you can't work with them closely, and keeping that fact in mind is key to the successful management of any field force.
Matthew Derman is a Pennsylvania-born, Boston-educated writer and customer service specialist. He currently works at Repsly as a customer success manager, focusing on supporting customers, and is a regular contributor to several blogs. He is a comicbook enthusiast, amateur comedian, and dedicated dog owner.