I have a question for all my fellow leaders in the trades: How well do you remember the days when you were solely in the field? I’m not talking about the calls that stood out (good or bad) or the things you learned along the way; I‘m referring to the feeling you had each and every day that the field was your domain. Okay, while the memories are flooding back, ask yourself this: How did it feel when you moved from the driver’s seat of your truck to driving your business from an office chair?

As business owners, our transition from field to office seemed the obvious course tied directly to the building and growing of our businesses. However, for our management team, that same transition is viewed, and felt, with much more complexity.

For our team members, the transition from field to office represents a significant shift, not only in environment but also in required skill sets and leadership styles. Sure, they may have been comfortable managing major issues on job sites, but what about management in general?  Let’s look at the ways we can support our team’s journey from roles like field supervisor or lead field tech to service manager or call center manager.

Understanding the shift: from hands-on to managerial

At the core of this transition is the obvious: a fundamental change in daily tasks and interactions. Field supervisors and lead techs are deeply engaged in solving problems on-the-go and making decisions that have immediate impacts. Their leadership style is typically direct and hands-on, which is essential for quick resolution of field issues. However, as these leaders move into office-based roles the focus shifts from immediate operational issues to strategic oversight, team management and long-term planning.

Adapting to these new roles requires a change in leadership style. A field leader’s directive approach must evolve into a more delegative and inclusive style suitable for office settings. This doesn’t mean abandoning the decisiveness that defines field operations but integrating it with a broader vision that includes nurturing team development, facilitating training and managing customer relations from a strategic angle. Effective leaders in an office environment listen more and mentor, guiding their team through challenges rather than dictating each move.

Developing managerial skills

Managerial roles focus more on people skills, administrative responsibilities and a deeper understanding of the business's operational needs beyond the field. Developing skills in areas such as conflict resolution, effective communication and proactive team management becomes essential. Additionally, understanding business metrics and how to influence them through team performance is crucial in these roles. Ongoing training is key to developing these skills.

Time management versus self-management

A significant challenge in the field-to-office shift is managing one’s time — or, more accurately, managing oneself within the time available. Field supervisors often juggle multiple urgent tasks, while office-based managers tend to plan their schedules around meetings, one-on-one sessions, and long-term projects. The notion here is not traditional time management but rather self-management — prioritizing tasks based on their impact on the team and business goals. Deciding when to delegate tasks and when to take them on personally is a critical skill in balancing direct involvement with oversight.

The real-world challenges of this transition are not to be underestimated. Balancing time between fieldwork, office duties and team management requires a keen understanding of where one’s presence will be most beneficial. How does one manage urgent customer calls while also making time for team training or one-on-one employee development sessions? The key lies in prioritizing tasks that align with personal strengths and business objectives and being flexible enough to switch contexts quickly and efficiently.

What you can do to help
 Organizational behavioralists have studied the psychological aspects of shifting leadership styles when moving from field roles to office-based positions. Here are a few ways you can smooth the transition:

1. Encourage cognitive flexibility

This involves the ability to adjust one’s thinking and behavior in response to new environments or challenges. In leadership transitions, cognitive flexibility allows an individual to shift from hands-on problem-solving to more strategic, long-term planning.

2. Support the identity shift

In field roles, one’s identity may be closely tied to specific expertise or the ability to personally resolve issues. As leaders move into managerial positions, they need to redefine their professional identity, which now revolves around enabling others and managing systems rather than direct action.

3. Provide learning and development

Ongoing training and support are vital during this period. Leaders need to acquire new skills such as delegating, strategic thinking, and performance monitoring, which are less emphasized in field roles but critical in office settings.

4. Be a support system

Remember the questions I asked you in the beginning of this article?  As one who has been through it, now’s your chance to be a mentor for those transitioning in from the field.  Support systems not only provide practical advice but also emotional backing which is crucial during significant career changes.

By understanding the transition from their perspective, we can provide the insights and support needed. Remember: It’s not just a change of scenery, but a profound transformation that can be deeply rewarding for both the individual and the leader who helped them get there.