Field service in the age of COVID-19

July 9, 2020
In this Big Picture Interview, Stacey Epstein explores how to keep your teams safe during this pandemic when they are unable to work from home.

While many are able to work from home during the current pandemic, field service workers by nature don’t have this option. In this interview, drawn from an episode of the Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce podcast, Amanda Del Buono of our sister publication Control is joined by Stacey Epstein, chief marketing officer and customer experience officer at ServiceMax, to discuss how organizations and individuals can stay safe while keeping essential equipment up and running. Visit the new Field Service Job Finder from ServiceMax and Krios at

AD: Can you give us a snapshot of how field service workers in various verticals are grappling with the impact of the coronavirus?

SE: It’s definitely been an interesting addition of stress to the system obviously for all of us, but especially for manufacturers. Coronavirus has put manufacturers in one of two extremes.

At one extreme, you have industries that are basically shut down, like those that produce non-essential items that people aren’t consuming. There are also many factories that have had to stop production due to the stay-at-home order. Companies like Tesla have had to furlough employees because they aren’t allowed to come into work due to shelter-in-place policies.

So, you’ve got some sectors of the industry experiencing an extreme slowing even to the point of shutdown. On the other hand, you have the healthcare and the medical device industries that are just absolutely in dire need of moving as fast as they possibly can.

When we think about the impact of coronavirus on manufacturing, we also need to think of the field service side of it, which is: “Okay, now, we’ve created thousands of new ventilators, but they’re on the shop floor. How do we get them into the supply chain? How do we get them into the hospitals, installed, up and running? How do we fix them when they aren’t working?”

Big Picture Interview

This article is part of our monthly Big Picture Interview column. Read more interviews from our monthly Big Picture series.

That’s the job of field technicians, and so there’s been a much heavier reliance on field workers who are out there making sure critical assets actually work at the end of the supply chain.

AD: If I’m a field service worker, what sort of support should I be requesting from management in order to keep safe and minimize my potential exposure to the coronavirus? And do you have any advice on what steps field service workers could be taking on their own?

SE: I was saying recently to some of my colleagues that as we’re continuing to work through the situation, there’s nobody out there saying, “Oh, well, you know, when this happened 10 years ago, here’s what we did.” So, I think we’re all facing new situations and everybody’s evolving.

We’ve been having lots of dialogue with our customers and the heads of service and manufacturing at many of the companies we work with, and the focus of these conversations is how field service workers are, by nature, not stay-at-home or able to shelter-in-place. So, we really have to think through how to keep field service technicians safe in a world where they’re not even really supposed to be out.

From a management perspective, there is a lot you could do. One is to consider a swing shift model where you’re scheduling the technicians to service the equipment while only security is on-site, and the field service engineer is then given clearance to enter the building during off-hours.

So, if you’ve got to go service a piece of equipment, can you go service it while there’s the least amount of people on-site in that organization? Stagger the crew, and/or limit crew members to one per truck, versus sometimes having two or three people.

Even little things like our iPad app allows a customer to sign the work order when it’s been completed, but you probably don’t want that customer touching the technician’s iPad 10 times a day, right? So, maybe now’s the time to bypass that signature option and let the technician just check a box that says “bypass signature option,” so that you don’t have hands touching iPads.

And then, of course, there’s the most obvious, do you have the proper personal protection equipment (PPE) in the field? Can you supplement the PPE you’re providing and give more protection? Do you have hand sanitizer in the truck? Do you have sanitizer and effective soap in the office?

It’s all of the little things like that to help remind these technicians to really keep themselves safe and healthy on the job.

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