During COVID-19, we’ve all come to realize that workers on the front lines — those who manufacture products, load airplanes, transport goods and install equipment — are essential to keeping our economy and supply chains moving.
Companies are deploying apps for tracking tasks and orders, handheld devices for scanning inventory, and hands-free augmented reality headsets, to boost worker performance and productivity. But the great promise of digital tools for that purpose doesn’t always pan out. A 2019 Deloitte survey found 40% of mobile workers saying they weren’t using company-issued apps and devices because they weren’t comfortable with the technology. Further, 70% said they felt they hadn’t received the right training in using their smartphones or tablets for work tasks.
Despite steady advances in the technology over the last two decades, there’s been little or no modernization in how workers are using it effectively. And that failure can have real implications for the business.
While businesses know they have a problem — whether in the form of lost sales, uncompleted jobs, high turnover, excessive downtime or more accidents — they often miss the point that the root cause, in most cases, is poor digital adoption. And that results in a poor approach to training. It’s an ugly cycle.
Low rates of digital adoption by workers can cause problems in many ways. They include:
Work isn’t getting done right. When workers don’t know how to do their jobs properly, work doesn’t get done the right way. And that has real costs to the business.
For example, if a delivery rep doesn’t know how to use their mobile app, it might mean they deliver the wrong product to the customer, or don’t complete the sale. If a field service technician can’t use digital tools to troubleshoot a problem onsite, that could result in an uncompleted work order and additional costly visits.
Improperly trained workers often stop work to ask for assistance, and these kinds of delays can create workflow bottlenecks. If an employee makes a mistake during a manufacturing process, or incorrectly updates a customer record, even more time is wasted by others who have to redo the task.
Poor productivity means lower profits, and the financial impact can be even greater when employees make repeated mistakes or use an app incorrectly, which can directly increase write offs and reduce revenue.
Higher turnover. The failure to engage mobile workers carries substantial costs. In a study by the Center for American Progress, the cost of employee turnover was estimated at between 16% and 213% of an annual salary, depending on the position. Gallup found that disengaged workers lead to 37% higher absenteeism and 18% lower productivity.
Even worse, when employees depart, they can leave behind a substantial knowledge gap that isn’t easy to fill. Over the course of doing their jobs, they figure out how the organization functions, from navigating varying personalities to recognizing the value of key relationships to understanding the nuances of the company’s culture. Building this kind of institutional knowledge takes a lot of time.
More downtime. Mobile field workers are mission critical, and operations leaders don’t want them out of the field or out of service for any amount of time. A ServiceMax survey found that 82% of field service companies have experienced unplanned downtime over the past three years. The source of the downtime in 60% to 70% of the incidents was human error — in other words, poorly or improperly trained workers. Each incident of unplanned downtime costs a company an average of $260,000 an hour, according to Aberdeen Research.
More accidents. Failure to provide effective training to mobile workers puts them at greater risk of accidents, exposing the company to potential fines and lawsuits. Not training them on how to do things like safely moving heavy items, stocking shelves and climbing ladders can lead to workplace injuries or even death where heavy machinery or hazardous materials are involved.
When mobile digital tools aren’t used by workers consistently or correctly, many problems can emerge. The key is being able to both spot the problem and correctly identify its source.
Justin Lake is the chief executive officer of Skyllful (formerly Venado Technologies), a provider of a mobile digital adoption platform.
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