No field tech wants to live in an app

None.  Zip. Zilch. Ninguno.

They just want to get their work done.

If your app can speed things up for them, then they will give it a shot and try it.  But if your app slows them down, you will face an uphill battle with field tech adoption.  That’s because field techs are busy, battling a time crunch, unpleasant weather, unfamiliar surroundings, equipment malfunctions, missing supplies and tools, and even budgeted hours to complete their work.

20 seconds or less

Twenty seconds should be enough time for a field tech to turn their phone on, load the form, fill it out, submit the form, and put away their phone.  Any more time required to fill out a field form will cause friction with your field techs, particularly if they are using phones instead of tablets.

How did we come up with this 20-second mark?

Years of experience with field techs—including myself conducting environmental field work for a couple of decades—have taught us to keep forms short.  The shorter the better.

Forms that take no more than 20 seconds to complete won’t impact the field tech too much.  They can whip out their phone, jot down what needs to be recorded, submit the form, turn the phone back off, and continue doing their business.  Then when they need to jot down some more information again, they repeat this simple process: whip out the phone, jot down what needs to be records, submit the form, and turn the phone back off.  Repeat as needed.

Compare that to a long form:

  • Field tech whips out their phone, fills out the form by entering lots of information, scrolls down the form, fills out more information, submits the form, and turns the phone back off.
  • Same process as a short form, except that it might take 2 minutes or more to fill out the form.  This means that the field tech has to stop what they are doing and focus on filling out the form.  If the weather sucks, this means entering info into a tiny device while the field tech’s hands are falling off from the cold, or sweat pouring down their forehead in the blazing sun, with a hard-to-see screen due to the glare…or any number of chaotic things going on in the field.

Long forms will frustrate field techs


Point is, most times, filling out a form on a mobile device is yet one more thing that the field tech has to do, among a plethora of things they already have to do.  Don’t make it harder on them by using long-ass forms that might look great in a cozy office setting, but which most likely are onerous to fill out in the field.

Why do people build long-ass forms in the first place?

Oftentimes, when a company first switches from analog to digital, they tend to try to replicate their paper-based or Excel-based forms within mobile phone digital tools.  This approach will generally lead to long forms, which is a mistake.  It’s best to look at things more holistically…

  • Does it make sense to use that form you’ve been using forever?
  • Do you need all those fields on the form?
  • Can you break out the form into several smaller forms, and let the backend part of the system handle the aggregations?
  • Can you think of ways to improve field data capture, now that you are thinking of a switch?

An analogy of this is when people switch from gas-powered cars to electric cars.  While the change from gas to EVs is not difficult, its still a change.  You have to consider battery range, plan your trips a bit more, and so forth.  The benefits far outweigh the pain, but you have to think a bit differently about it.

Similarly, when you switch from paper forms to digital forms for field work, you have to think a bit different…

Long paper form?  Break it down into several smaller digital forms

If you are switching from paper to digital forms, a good approach is to break your long paper form into several smaller digital forms.  That way, the field tech can pop open a very specific, short form, fill it out, and move on.

Trust me on this: your field techs will embrace short, simple forms, and they will reject long and complex forms.  They just will, for the aforementioned reasons.  

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