2020 was a challenging and memorable year across the globe. The still ongoing pandemic dramatically reshaped our day to day lives, transforming the way almost every service is performed.
We all felt the impact and ramifications of the shutdowns that took place across the country, many of which still remain in effect today. These new restrictions and regulations caused many service providers to limit or in some cases pause service visits entirely. As the pandemic continued on for the entirety of the year, service providers were forced to rethink how even the most simple service call should be handled moving forward.
With social distancing, contactless, and remote work all becoming commonplace during the past year, it’s clear that many of the trends and innovations that reshaped the field service industry throughout 2020 will likely remain in place for years to come.
With 2021 just getting started, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the past year in field service and make predictions for the year ahead.
2020 – The Remote Shift
2020 posed many challenges, troubles, and also opportunities for field service providers.
As was the case with many industries, the trades felt and continues to feel the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new restrictions, regulations, and safety protocols that were enforced throughout 2020 disrupted field service, leaving service providers in search of new ways to keep their businesses running and staff employed.
The pandemic hit business owners hard. The pandemic brought the economy to a standstill at the beginning of the year, causing financial strains across the nation. According to a recent Gartner report, 44% of businesses are facing decreased budgets due to the effects of the pandemic. Budget cuts coupled with a need to transform each site visit for safety reasons, left many service providers struggling.
As an essential service, work in the trades wasn’t completely halted throughout 2020, but field technicians needed to adapt to this new environment and growing customer expectations. In many ways the pandemic put service providers on the digital transformation fast track, just to stay in business.
“[Technology] will continue to be at the forefront of all plans moving forward. Especially given current affairs with social distancing and the future of remote workforce.”
– Scott Adler, Service Group Manager, W. Soule
The trades took a major hit from the need, mindset, and expectation of a digital shift from both customers and technicians alike. With many industries moving towards remote methods of work and communication, customers began to expect the same from their service providers. With a growing number of individuals reluctant to let workers or anyone into their homes, many customers expected the service industry to step up and go digital. In the same way you can get almost any item delivered to your doorstep with little to no face to face interaction, modern day customers expected efficient, quality service that was contactless, transparent, and digital.
“Capturing photo and video content of the opportunities our technicians find in the field has become extremely valuable to our customers. It is becoming an expectation in our marketplace.”
– Rory Olson, Service Operations Manager, MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions
For technicians in the field, they expected to be provided with the tools and technologies required to safely and efficiently meet the changing needs and demands of their customers. With more and more people growing reluctant to let workers into their homes without a way to limit interactions as much as possible, many techs turned to technology to transform their service. Afterall, the goal is to not only keep customers happy and safe, but also to limit a tech’s exposure and time on site as much as possible.
“Giving our employees the ability to [virtually] tap into the collective wisdom of technicians, who jointly have thousands of years of experience is an invaluable resource. Our technicians collaborate visually, in real-time, with other technicians for a more efficient solution to a complicated issue.”
– Michael Rosone, VP, Service Sales, Arista Air Conditioning Corporation
So, what can we expect in 2021?
Looking at the year ahead, a few widely-held predictions stand out for the field service industry. Less than a month into the new year, it’s clear that many of the pandemic regulations that were imposed this past year will remain in place for some time to come. As the industry moves forward, there are five things we can expect in field service throughout 2021:
- Increased technology adoption – In the wake of the pandemic, many service providers started introducing new technology into their company. From delivering contactless interactions, meetings, and inspections to adopting augmented reality and virtual reality – the market has seen a noticeable shift with a reported 60% of manufacturers exploring new technologies to help them in the future. This shift leads market experts to believe that 2021 will bring even more technology to the skilled trades industry.
- Continued remote flexibility – In the same way that many businesses closed their offices and had their employees begin working remotely, service organizations also felt the need to transition to remote work as quickly as possible in 2020. As the pandemic continues into 2021, many of these remote policies are likely to remain in effect due to their benefits to safety and budgets. In addition to remote flexibility, another trend we’ll see in the future is an increase in freelance field workers. A recent McKinsey report predicted that 50% of service workers will be freelancers by 2025.
- Growing trades gap – The labor shortage in the trades is expected to continue well beyond 2021. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook tells a scary story of upcoming shortages in skilled tradespeople through the year 2028, estimating 215,200 jobs will need to be filled. With an aging workforce, the shift to more flexible, remote, and freelance workstyles may help bridge this gap slightly.
- Increased digital presence – Changing market demands and less in-person interaction on site forced service providers to search for new ways to not only remain in business, but stand out from the competition in 2020. At the beginning of the year, many field service companies found their online presence was lacking during a time where customers were searching exclusively online. Those that had a strong digital presence leading into 2020 found it easier to transition to the new global climate. Whereas companies that had to scramble to adapt to a new remote, digital, and distanced environment faced more challenges. This trend isn’t going away in the new year. As the digital transformation continues to take hold of the field service industry, having an online presence will be a necessity to companies who wish to continue to grow their business.
- Heightened focus on safety – Perhaps the biggest challenge and focus for everyone throughout 2020 was identifying ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Due to the nature of service work, it is impossible to take all operations completely remote, but heading into the new year we will continue to see an increased focus in adopting new protocols and technologies that will help technicians and customers remain safe during service work. We’ve seen many providers adopt new ways to facilitate remote training, remote diagnostics, visual documentation, and unlock access to resources in order to avoid sending additional techs to a site and limit or mitigate any in-person face time with customers.
It’s easy to say that 2020 was an unpredictable year. In the field service industry, many companies felt the strain of having to scramble to adapt their business in order to survive the pandemic. The good news is that many believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Projections expect 2021 to see more growth in the industry as more companies hit a stride with new processes and technologies in place for the future.