Scheduling Mobile Work: 7 Insights From Customer Research

The Skedulo Design & Research team conducted a survey in August 2023 to understand what customers expect and prioritize from their scheduling processes. Along the way, we collected several insights about mobile workforce scheduling and the technology that supports it. 

For starters, it’s important to know what mobile workforce leaders want to accomplish with scheduling. Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents (72%) said they want scheduling practices to increase operational efficiency. When asked what is important to creating an optimal schedule, most respondents prioritize the ability to maximize travel route efficiency (62%) and maximize the number of jobs completed per person per day (61%).

Here are seven insights related to mobile work scheduling in healthcare,
field service, and residential and commercial services:

1. Schedule changes happen to (nearly) everyone

The best laid plans of mobile workforces often need adjustments. There are many variables in field work: staff members need time off, customers cancel appointments, weather events get in the way, and traffic conditions affect travel. According to survey data, it’s quite common for changes to affect the original schedule. 

Of the respondents, almost everyone (86%) has to modify their original schedule at least occasionally. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed (63%) have to modify the schedule at least somewhat frequently.

For some businesses, schedule changes are particularly disruptive. More than one-third of respondents (37%) say the original schedule changes very frequently or all the time.

Many of these scheduling challenges come from the shifting availability of customers and mobile workers. When asked about the main challenges of current scheduling processes, more than one-third of respondents (38%) mentioned unstable and inconsistent availability.

Note: For the purposes of the survey and the statistics above, “occasionally” is defined as less than 30% of the time. “Somewhat frequently” is defined as 30-59% of the time, “very frequently” is 60-89%, and “all the time” is 90-100%.

2. Smart schedule optimization is a difference-maker poised for greater adoption

AI is already playing an important role in healthcare operations, field service, and many other industries. For a mobile workforce, automated scheduling rules and AI-based optimization help reduce the time required to create and adjust schedules.

Optimization features are a game-changer for many companies. Skedulo customers using the new optimization engine have reduced travel time by 17% and increased the number of jobs scheduled and completed by 64%

Our 2023 survey results show that customers who use the optimization engine are more satisfied with the overall platform than customers who do not—and this is especially true for field service companies. Among customers who use and like the optimization features, more than 80% are satisfied with Skedulo overall. 

However, only 20% of customers use schedule optimization features, according to our survey. 

To increase adoption of optimization tools, they will need to be user-friendly to be integrated into the scheduling workflow. Schedulers, dispatchers, and administrators have high expectations and complex needs when it comes to field scheduling software, and the advanced scheduling features must be up to the task. 

AI-enhanced scheduling is a huge opportunity for not only our users, but for any mobile workforce. As AI becomes more commonplace in field service, features like scheduling automation and AI-enhanced optimization can make a big difference.

3. Internal communication is a common challenge in field service

Communication among mobile workers, managers, schedulers, and other main-office staff is a challenge—especially in field service. When asked what they want from their scheduling practices, 75% of field service respondents want to improve communications with mobile workers and contractors, compared to 50% of all respondents. 

This indicates not only a desire to improve communication, but also a strong connection between communication and scheduling. For field service companies, these processes need to work together seamlessly.

However, the nature of field service work makes this a challenge. Field technicians may be distributed among many residential, commercial, industrial, or municipal job sites. Managers need visibility into the work schedule to ensure workers are safe, punctual, equipped with the right tools, and assigned to jobs that match their expertise. 

Clear and efficient internal communication has a positive effect on the workforce. Nearly three-quarters of business leaders (72%) say good communication increases productivity, and 60% of leaders report noticing more employee confidence, according to a 2023 survey. In field service, this means being able to contact the main office, share updates, record job notes, complete forms, and access troubleshooting guides from any job site. 

4. External communications are often influenced by other platforms & factors

Scheduling mobile workers, by default, goes hand-in-hand with customer communications. Effective scheduling incorporates appointment reminders, updates, and confirmations.

However, communication platforms and expectations vary among industries. In our survey, responses from residential and commercial services companies—such as professional cleaning, installation, and inspection services—stood out from healthcare companies.

Nearly half (45%) of residential and commercial services respondents named poor customer communication as a main challenge of their scheduling process. However, only 11% of healthcare respondents said the same. Field service respondents fell in the middle at 24%. 

Customer communication is a key outcome of scheduling practices for more than half of field service (60%) and residential and commercial services (55%) respondents. Among healthcare respondents, only 37% ranked customer communication as a key outcome of scheduling.

We can’t state the precise cause of these differences, but one theory is this: industries have unique needs and expectations for technology, and some rely on scheduling tools for communication more so than others. 

Healthcare organizations are more likely to have other customer communication tools in place, like electronic health records (EHR), billing systems, and telehealth platforms. As a result, healthcare organizations may be less likely to rely on scheduling tools for customer communications, and may be more likely to seek tools that integrate with other tech

On the flip side, other mobile workforces may not have the same level of customer communications system in place. For these companies, it is simpler to use scheduling software to handle appointment reminders, confirmations, and other updates. 

5. Healthcare scheduling focuses on efficiency, stability, & travel

Home healthcare is an important use case for Skedulo software, and more than half of survey responses came from home and community healthcare businesses. Here are some of our the key findings from healthcare customers:

Improve travel routes

Minimizing travel time is an important part of operations management for home healthcare. 62% of healthcare respondents said improving travel efficiency is a priority when creating optimal schedules. More efficient travel leads to better workforce utilization—something that 42% of healthcare respondents want to achieve through scheduling. 

Improved operational efficiency

Operational efficiency refers to using admin time better (e.g. reducing time to schedule, automating common tasks) and using staff time more effectively (e.g. more jobs completed, less unnecessary travel time). 71% of healthcare respondents named operational efficiency as a key outcome they want to achieve via their scheduling practices. When creating optimal schedules, most healthcare respondents (55%) see maximizing productivity as a priority.

Give workers stability & consistency

Schedule stability helps improve the job satisfaction and retention of skilled healthcare workers—but it’s tough to balance the needs of workers and clients. When asked about the outcomes they want to achieve through scheduling, 61% of healthcare respondents want greater schedule stability. At the same time, most home healthcare respondents (56%) want to prioritize client time preferences in the scheduling process. Of healthcare respondents, 40% struggle with unstable and inconsistent availability, and 34% struggle with limited availability.

6. Field service scheduling focuses on communication & productivity

Improving workforce utilization is a major priority for field service. Here are some notable survey results related to communication and productivity in the industry:

Streamline communication

More so than other industries in our survey, field service companies say they want to improve communication. The majority of field service respondents want to use their scheduling practices to improve communications with staff members (75%) and with customers (60%).

Maximize productivity

When creating an optimal schedule, field service organizations are more likely to prioritize productivity than other industries. 78% of field service respondents say it is a priority to maximize the number of jobs completed per day, compared to a 61% average across industries. Almost half of field service companies (47%) said they struggle with limited worker availability in the scheduling process—which is unfortunately understandable, given the labor shortage in field service

7. Residential and commercial services seek more productivity & less schedule disruption

Residential and commercial services companies come in many different forms. Some examples include:

  • Cleaning and detailing services for homes, businesses, and specialty equipment
  • Installing and servicing equipment, such as security systems, solar panel arrays, and heating systems
  • Inspection services for commercial and industrial sites for quality assurance or regulatory purposes

Here are a few trends affecting customers in these business areas:

Reduce schedule disruption

Residential and commercial services businesses reported the highest levels of schedule changes. More than 80% of these organizations had to modify schedules at least somewhat frequently (at least 30% of the time). Managing this level of disruption is challenging for schedulers and dispatchers, and it drives down overall productivity. 

Replacing manual processes

When asked about the desired outcomes of their scheduling practices, 86% of residential and commercial services businesses said they want to increase operational efficiency. Some of these efficiency gains depend on replacing manual processes and tools, which 55% of respondents said are holding back the scheduling process. 

Increase productivity & increase efficiency

Productivity is a priority in residential and commercial services—and it is often tied to travel route optimization. When creating an optimal schedule, 70% of industry respondents prioritize maximizing the jobs completed per day. More than half of respondents (57%) prioritize maximizing travel efficiency for mobile workers in the schedule creation process. Together, these factors add up to a productive utilization rate for mobile workers—or an unsustainable one. 

Use scheduling to improve workforce operations

Skedulo research shows that schedule changes are a part of life for mobile workforces—it’s all about how you manage these changes. With advanced scheduling tools and better communication, especially for field service, companies can use scheduling to increase efficiency. When managed correctly, scheduling can improve the employee experience and set a business apart from its competitors.

Browse other resources to learn about using scheduling technology to achieve business goals: