Managing a mobile fleet: How to manage issues revealed by geofencing

Last Updated on March 10, 2023

How to manage issues revealed by geofencing
Source: Freepik

Because geofencing is a powerful tool, organizations that use the feature often rely exclusively on the technology for disciplinary action. For example, when an IT team receives an alert that a field worker has exited a geofence, they may immediately jump into corrective action, such as by issuing a written warning to the offender.

The problem with this approach is that the offender may not even be an offender. While field workers may indeed leave a geofence for unjustified reasons, such as to run a personal errand on company time, there are just as many legitimate reasons for going outside a geofence. Perhaps the worker was invited for an off-site meeting with a client, or they took a wrong turn, which funneled them outside the designated work area.

To account for these edge cases, enterprises should never use geofencing as the end-all, be-all to keeping track of field workers. Doing so will cause several problems with their mobile fleet.

Reduced efficiency

Reduced efficiency
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A geofence should make teams more efficient. Rather than manually monitor where each field worker is, the geofence can alert organizations to instances when they may not be where they should be.

When an organization uses a geofence for black-or-white policy-making, however, field workers will be afraid of leaving this area. This fear is mentally taxing and thus counter-productive: Field workers will focus more on tip-toeing around the draconian policy, rather than on service delivery. This distraction will make them less efficient, not more.

Lower morale

Lower morale
Source: Freepik

When an organization hires a field worker, they are entrusting that person with company property, including both the vehicle and the company-issued device, and their overall brand. Caging them in with an unfair geofence policy reduces this sense of trust, which will affect their morale.

Employees want to be treated like adults, after all. A geofence that effectively punishes them for any infraction shares similarities with rules in an elementary school, not with an agile modern organization. Field workers will not be happy to work in an environment that has senseless policies.

More difficult recruitment

More difficult recruitment
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Recruiting field workers is already tough. Employing poorly thought out policies around geofencing will make it even tougher. No field worker wants to work for an organization that has rules that do not make sense in the real world.

The idea that geofencing can affect company recruitment may seem far-fetched, but it is actually realistic. If an organization’s field workers are bothered by a geofence policy, they will speak out. Given that most industries are insular, word will quickly get around among insiders, and your business will develop employer branding as an anti-worker organization.

Dealing with different geofence scenarios

To avoid these problems, organizations need to remember that geofencing is only a tool, one that should be part of a much broader program of field service management. With AirDroid Business, for example, geofencing is just one part of our feature-rich mobile device management (MDM) solution, which is available for any Android-powered device. We advise enterprises to carefully roll out an implementation that meets several major milestones, so that geofencing can contribute to the efficiency of a mobile fleet.

First, there must be an internal marketing campaign that introduces the geofence to all affected workers. An organization could have a town hall to launch the geofence, followed by sustaining communications across email and messaging. The messaging should revolve around what geofencing is, why it was adopted, and how field workers may comply. This way, geofencing feels like a major initiative rather than fine print that will catch unsuspecting workers.

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Following these communications, there should be basic training around the organization’s geofences. Because it may be too cumbersome to showcase these geofences in the real world, a trainer may point them out on maps in a whiteboard session. The trainer can identify the key streets and locations that mark off a geofence, along with any landmarks. By doing so, field workers gain familiarity with the exact location of geofences, and also see how much of a strategic priority they are for the organization.

After this training, there should be a grace period. During this time, the geofences will be working, but field workers will not get any kind of reprimand for violating them. Instead, they can be advised when they leave a geofence, so they can be ready to behave accordingly when related policies start to become enforced.

When the entire geofence program is active, there will be three common results, and the organization should be prepared for each one of them.

False positive: The field worker left a geofence, but for a legitimate work reason.

Left geofence for legitimate work reason
Source: Freepik

The geofence alert on AirDroid will always correctly identify a person leaving the designated area. It may be a false positive in the sense that a person may have a legitimate work reason for doing so. As mentioned above, they may have been invited for lunch by a client. Alternatively, they could be picking up work supplies, mailing a package, or doing some other business activity. It would be necessarily impossible, after all, for a business to perform all work within its geofence, since no organization operates in a bubble.

The best way to catch these false positives is an intervention. Each time a field worker leaves a geofence, an IT team member should reach out to see whether it was for a legitimate work purpose. If it was, the field worker must document the reason, such as by submitting meeting notes with the client or receipts of the purchased work items.

This system provides some flexibility to workers, while requiring the necessary documentation to ensure that time spent outside geofences are for legitimate work reasons.

False positive: The field worker left a geofence, but by accident.

Left geofence by accident
Source: Freepik

Field workers are not professional drivers. They are just professionals who happen to drive. As such, they will often make mistakes, which causes another type of false positive: While they do leave a geofence, the action may have been unintentional.

For example, some field workers may forget the directions given to them by a colleague and subsequently get lost. Others may rely too much on Waze, which sends them along a haphazard route. Still others may miss their exit and end up a town over from where they are supposed to be.

All of these situations are bound to happen with your field workers. When they break a geofence, they should be given an opportunity to explain if it was caused by one of these inadvertent errors. Unfortunately, unlike for legitimate business activities, there is no documentation that can be provided for bad driving or a poor sense of direction.

Because of this plausible deniability, some workers may use this excuse even though they were actually malingering. Organizations may thus want to cap the number of times a field worker can cite an accident. After X number of violations, the organization can implement mandatory training aimed at reducing these errors. For example, a manager could accompany the field worker en route to a geofence to identify signposts that can help them stay on course. Continued violations after such training may merit punishment: Carelessness, after all, can be every bit as harmful as malice.

Actual Positive: The field worker left a geofence, and did indeed do so for a malicious purpose.

The only other result left is what an organization implements geofencing for in the first place: The field worker leaves a geofence and does so for a malicious or unjustified purpose. If the field worker does not confess during the intervention, the organization can make a reasonable determination based on the full device visibility offered by AirDroid. Device screenshots showing non-work searches or correspondence at the time of the exit would easily confirm malice (a field worker identified as being at a grocery, who has their phone open to a search of “best keto foods” is likely not on a work trip).

Even if this is an actual positive, the organization should not throw the book at the field worker. Most genuine violations are minor infractions. The worker could have left the geofence to take an unscheduled break, run a personal errand, or go to a non-work meeting. While it is helpful that the geofencing identified these incidents, none of them merit immediate termination.

The organization must have a series of escalations, as they would for any transgression that happened in an office. This series of escalations may have five or more steps, such as verbal warning, written warning, second written warning with mandatory training, suspension without pay, and dismissal.

Implementing escalations helps both the offender and the organization. Offenders get multiple chances to correct their behavior and influence others to do the same. This opportunity is essential when employing field workers: They must be extended the same rights as office-based employees, so the organization can continue attracting and retaining them. In this scenario, only the most consistent of offenders would go through all the escalations, who even their peers would agree deserves to be terminated.

Carefully establishing an escalation procedure improves an organization’s talent base: Rather than take a black-or-white approach by punishing workers immediately, the business can turn once awry workers into productive members of the team.

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Going with the geofence

IT teams should treat geofencing like every other tool in their arsenal. While this feature gives them the ability to detect when field workers are not where they are supposed to be, this alert should be only the first step in a much more nuanced process.

Upon any violation, IT teams should intervene to determine whether the field worker was doing legitimate business, which should require documentation, or whether they made a driving error, which may require additional training.

Some field workers will indeed be caught malingering. These instances can be corroborated by the full device visibility offered by AirDroid, which will provide context into what the person was doing when they left a geofence. Even if they are guilty, however, there should be a series of escalations in place for each transgression.

Central to achieving these changes is a shift in philosophy. Organizations need to view the purpose of this technology differently. Geofencing is not for kicking bad workers out, or even keeping good workers in. Used correctly, geofencing via AirDroid Business MDM is designed to keep everyone in the workforce on track, both literally and figuratively.

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