Fostering a Good Relationship Between Office and Field Staff

If you’re lucky, your office and field employees get along naturally and you’ve never had to actively work to develop that relationship. Here are some tips on how to improve it if that’s not the case.

Fostering a Good Relationship Between Office and Field Staff

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Do your office staff and field staff get along? If the answer is no, think about the daily stress that truth places on your employees. Happy and engaged employees are long-term employees. After all, who wants to go to work in a battlefield everyday?

In our company, we are one team. We celebrate victories and lick our wounds collectively. Whether you are in the field or the office, the day is won or lost together and there is no in-fighting. This blessing is part luck as well as a carefully crafted culture.

Over time, we have realized that our cohesive environment is the exception rather than the rule in service plumbing. Looking at the common complaints from the industry the issues seem to boil down to a few specific behaviors and attitudes.

Finger Pointing

Creating an environment where people feel comfortable accepting responsibility isn’t easy. Even harder is fostering a workplace where admitting ignorance is encouraged.

Our own perceptions and perspective paint the picture of our daily lives. That’s a lot of ten-dollar words just to say: We all see life our own way and can’t understand how or why other people see it differently.

As a leader, when something goes wrong you should look for why it went wrong, instead of trying to assign blame. Mistakes are going to be made, so don’t make it terrifying to the employees when it happens. Communication is almost always the culprit when a job or situation goes bad, so getting to the root of that breakdown is critical for future prevention.

Who cares whose fault it is unless it was malicious? Instead, focus on having everyone learn from the mistake and identify the training gap. If your team knows that is the goal, understands that goal, and actually believes it, life will get better over time.

When an employee finger-points, I like to remind them that blame is rarely one-sided. Sure, the other person could have done something differently, but what could you have done differently? These conversations force collaboration and can add up to less finger-pointing over time. 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

The field team is just a bunch of roughnecks and the office people are lazy, right? It’s hard to like someone you don’t respect.

When it comes to a respect problem, you have to first identify if it is the person or the position that lacks respect. If the office team has no respect for the hard work and skilled labor of the field employees, no amount of personality is going to overcome that. Anyone on your staff who doesn’t respect the position of the rest of the team might need to have their eyes open. 

Empathy is the understanding of how other people are feeling while sympathy is pitying them. Your employees don’t need to sympathize with their co-workers, but they should understand enough to empathize with them. Every job has its unique pros and cons, challenges and perks. Every person has their specific competencies and incompetencies.

Ride-alongs (or sit-alongs) are great for developing empathy and opening those lines of communication. Once your employees can walk a mile in the other position’s shoes, they are going to see that the job is never as easy as they think or assume.

Check your own behavior as well. Bad-mouthing employees, blaming the other team, and other finger-pointing (see above) should be nixed immediately. Set the tone and vent to appropriate people. If you are at the very tippy top of your organization — like an owner — the appropriate person to vent to is someone outside of the company. Never complain down the chain of command, where you will sow the seeds of disrespect. 

Playing Favorites

This seems to happen primarily in commission environments where the type and timing of jobs is important to the employee’s paycheck. It becomes easy for employees to feel like a dispatcher who doesn’t like them is picking on them or vice versa. Whether real or perceived, preference or a grudge, managing employee feedback on this issue is critically important to keeping your team engaged and job satisfaction high.

First, make sure there are systems in place that prevent preferential treatment from happening. Everyone should understand how this system works, so that there is no room for confusion.

If you play favorites yourself, stop it. If you see it in others, nip this in the bud quickly and with no room for doubt. Two employees scheming to the detriment of others is a fast way to lose good talent.

If the perceived preferential treatment is really staffing and talent level issues, then these conversations need to be managed appropriately. Listen to your teams and pay attention for signals that they feel things aren’t “fair.”

In service plumbing, the challenge is often that your go-to problem-solver — the one who can figure out just about anything — is sometimes burdened by this talent. The truth is, those in-and-out drain cleaning jobs are often more profitable — for you and the employee — than the hard-to-figure-out, planning or diagnostic-heavy jobs. Take a critical look at your compensation strategy (and pricing) to ensure that the good talent has a reason to stay. 

Overall Job Satisfaction

Sometimes you just want to shoot the messenger. Your field and office employees may talk to each other more than they talk to their spouses, so it is natural that frustration might come out once in a while.

If an employee is frustrated with the job as a whole, a teammate is the easier and safer target. To combat this, make sure you know what is going on with your team and intercede as necessary. Conduct employee surveys and actively work on engagement and morale to keep frustration down.

You may be tempted to just claim open-door policy and wait for the problems to come to you. But honest feedback is much harder than that. A passive policy just means that the squeaky wheel gets all the attention. Other personality types might stew away and hurt the company in more passive-aggressive ways.

It takes a lot of trust and earnest effort to get employees to open up about their frustrations. The top way to make sure that employees feel comfortable coming to you about concerns is to ensure that they feel heard when they do. That means more than just paying lip service to listening, but actually implementing ideas and/or being transparent about how decisions are made.

One Big Happy Family

Hopefully your team and office staff get along by default and all of this is relatively easy to manage. If, on the other hand, you have a very toxic situation, there might be some serious work to do. Start by pinpointing where the problem stems from — is it lack of understanding, lack of respect, favoritism, overall job satisfaction, or something else entirely?

It is even possible that the person is just a bad fit for the company. This would be an extreme situation, though, and workplace laws in your state will indicate whether or not “poor cultural fit” would be a good enough reason to let someone go.

Your employees don’t have to all be friends but they do have to be able to maintain professional courtesy while at work. Fostering the right environment for this and smoothing the wrinkles as they occur is one of the hardest leadership jobs there is.

About the Author

Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at anja@acpupstate.com.



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