3 tools to keep business as usual” during social distancing”
March 18, 2020 · 10 min read
In these uncertain times, business owners can feel the full brunt of economic changes. Green industry professionals have the luxury of being able to work outside in small groups while in the field, limiting the exposure to most crowded environments.
With this being said: government mandates for limited nonessential work, working from home where possible, and limiting travel can be a massive detriment to operations. While this economic state is most certainly going to have long term effects on our businesses, focusing on what we can control will help us weather the storms.
This article outlines 3 tools and some suggested practical uses to help you maintain somewhat of your “business as usual”. While no software, tool, or strategy is going to solve this problem; the techniques listed here are designed to help illuminate a positive take on the current state and hopefully help you approach these challenges creatively.
How often are you endlessly scrolling through text messages and emails between you and your team to find some information that you need right away?
In a time of social distancing, when you can not simply lean over and ask your employee in the office or out in the field a quick question, instant messaging becomes vital.
Clunky, overloaded text messages or hard to find emails can make life hard when your team is not all in one place.
Slack is an instant messaging platform that allows you to communicate one-to-one with employees, vendors, team members or groups of many with ease. With both desktop and mobile versions, it allows you to easily keep in touch wherever you might be.
Ideas for Using Slack
One on One
Your employees are taking in all the same media overwhelm about the current status of the world just like you are. They are concerned about their family, their job, their health. Show them that you care and that you are here to listen and help support them unsettling times.
With slack, you can have one on one threads with each of your employees just like a text message. The difference is this direct message is searchable, easy to upload photos, links, videos and outside content. In addition to work-related correspondence, be sure to ask them about their personal life, are there things you can help with? Can you just be there as a sounding board reassuring them that your company will get through this together?
For groups of employees, vendors or contractors there may be messaging and content you want to share with everyone. Slack allows you to add unlimited members to a thread for the information you wish to share in a group setting.
Oftentimes there is information, communication, and content about one particular topic, job or client that you want to keep all in one convenient place. Slack has a “channels” function where you can simply create to keep track of all information and discussion relative to that topic in one spot.
You can then add as many members as you want to this channel so they can participate and get access to this information. Sure beats lengthy, sloppy email threads where all sorts of things get lost and misunderstood.
Some examples could be channels for:
- Large clients with recurring property maintenance work to manage
- Large projects with timelines, phases, materials and vendor coordination
- Your Company Departments: Sales, Administration, Operations, Management
Slack does not have to be used for just internal communication. As one of the largest messaging platforms, Slack has many integrations and connectivity options that allow you to invite clients, outside partners and even other software tools you use right into the slack channels.
When communicating with clients, partners or vendors about more complex topics, it is important not to lose the Social element in a time of Social Distancing.
Intentions and tonalities can be lost via instant messaging, emails or text messages. Nothing can beat being able to see someone’s face while they are speaking or receiving information.
For communication that is better held in-person or over the phone, consider a program like a Zoom for video conferencing. Zoom is an easy to use platform that allows you to create “virtual rooms” – essentially a link that can be shared with any number of people. Everyone with the link can log in to this room and it connects you via audio and if you wish video through a device’s webcam. Zoom can be used on any mobile device with an internet connection.
Ideas for using Zoom
Whether you have a staff of 1 or 1,000, meetings are a necessary evil in running a business. Instead of stuffy, impersonal email threads or hard to hear phone calls, connect everyone on video so you can see people’s faces and talk openly as you would in-person.
With a program like Zoom, you can also allow anyone on the meeting to share their screen this way if you are hosting a meeting on your computer and you want to go over your work orders for the week, weekly sales numbers, the upcoming schedule etc. you can easily share your screen so everyone on the call can see and participate.
- You may have morning meetings with your field staff to go over today’s production workload. (Daily Huddles)
- Safety Briefs and pre-job checks
- Weekly Sales meetings – go over projections, proposals, confirmed work, quotas
- End of Day meetings – keep a pulse on what is going on in the field with end of day calls to check progress, talk through issues and prep for tomorrow
These meetings can also easily be recorded so you can share out the recording afterward if someone misses it or just wants a refresher.
Recordings also make for great training material. Zoom and similar programs will record all your saved meetings for you in the form of a link that you can store or share anywhere you may like. You can create recordings on topics or share recordings of previous meetings to use as training for new hires.
Where it appears social distancing will affect us most in the green industry is in our on-site consultations and estimates with clients. The lifeblood of most tree/landscape businesses is the daily/weekly on-site visits to view properties and put together proposals for work for prospective clients.
With mandates for social distancing, so clients and prospective clients may be wary of having anyone come out to their property, shake their hand and meet with them as they are being told to limit in-person social interactions.
One way to ease their worry is to use a video conferencing tool like Zoom to have these meetings with your clients virtually. You can easily have pre-qualification meetings using video conferencing software and it may even be more effective because you can share your screen and show them examples of your work, material choices or your clients can share their screen and show you photos of their property that they may have.
If you are an established company, odds are you have a backlog of work for the next few weeks or even months. While some of that work may be lost or postponed due to t the current conditions, you still have an active duty to serve those clients and fill your backlog with future work.
Let your clients know that despite all the uncertainty out there, your company is still operating and that you are planning work for weeks, months out. In order to ease their concerns, let them know that in this downtime, you are would like to come out in-person and at least walk the property even on your own to get them over a proposal for the work they are interested in.
Have a facetime, video or Zoom type call with your clients while you walk the property. There is nothing saying that your client needs to be there on-site with you to review work, inspect plants/trees, or identify conditions that will affect the job.
If your client can not be on a video call with you, consider recording a video yourself while you are inspecting the property and building your proposal. This is a great way to demonstrate your professionalism and give the client a chance to hear and see you verbalizing the service or project for them.
You can record videos using your smartphone or with apps like Loom and Zoom. These videos can be emailed, text or shared right with your clients giving them experience very similar to what they would have in meeting with you in-person.
Cloud-based Field Management Software
If there is one thing that is unique about the green industry, it is that by it’s very nature it is a disconnected mobile environment. We have technicians and crews that are always remote, always on the go and never side by side with their management teams or office staff.
In some ways, this can make social distancing not as steep of a learning curve because communication and collaboration between the field and the office is an essential part of what we do.
Now more than ever though, we need technology and tools to help us manage and perform this delicate communication relationship faster and more effectively. A quality cloud-based software system is a critical part of running a successful green industry company in any economic climate but particularly one requiring social distancing.
Let’s look at a few areas where a cloud-based system can help us:
Communication with Clients
Your clients are freaked out with all that is going on. Be that rock, that stable company that they can count on and let them know that their tree work, landscaping, lawn care, and property maintenance is the last thing they need to worry about right now.
Use text messaging and emails to send them reminders, alerts and updates. Whether it is a reminder about an upcoming service or an alert about weather delays among other factors, stay top of mind with your clients and send them correspondence to keep them in the loop.
Keep in mind, during a time of social distancing, if you work in the residential space, your clients are going to be home. Put their minds at ease and let them know what to expect and when your crews/techs will be on-site servicing.
If you service commercial, chances are the facilities you service will be empty or limited with activity. Stay top of mind and over-communicate with them so that gates are unlocked, parking lots are cleared and access is granted.
Although we can’t always meet with our clients in-person in these times, we still need to able to correspond with them and share important information. Proposals, invoices, contract details can all easily be shared, emailed or text through a quality Field Management Software system.
Instead of having to leave paper copies that can be one more surface for the transfer of germs and infections, get digital and share your documents using email. A good software program will allow you to send proposals with the ability for electronic signature so there does not have to be unnecessary printing and touching of paper documents.
In situations where you can not meet with all of your crews and techs in person to setup there day, having a new to easily dispatch work to them remotely can make the difference between getting work done and not.
Using a cloud-based routing and work order system allows you to create routes and job lists for each of your crews/techs remotely wherever you are. As long as your system is cloud-based, it should, in real time be able to automatically show up on the crew/techs day with all the relevant information needed.
During trying times, delays, cancellations and other outside factors may effective job progress on an hour by hour basis. You need a system that gives keeps you nimble and allows you to change, edit and alter your crews/techs routes on the fly all while updating in real-time without having to call/text/message them in the field.
Work Order Management
When we are unable to be out on every job in any sort of scenario, it is critical that we can empower our crews/techs with all the information they need to execute on the work we sell to our clients. Clarity of the scope of work is where most client and company frustrations come from.
Particularly during an environment like social distancing, having clear communication and directions in a digital format that can be accessed anywhere can alleviate the details that typically fall through the cracks.
For a full description of best practices on a work order see the article “Are your Work Orders working for you?”
Information needed by crews:
- Client information: Name, address, contact information
- Directions, driving obstacles, road construction, alternate routes
- The order in which you want multiple stops done in a day
- A clear scope of work on exactly what needs to be done on that job
- Man-hours, material quantities, chemicals, expenses
- Equipment needed
Lastly, during an event where in-person meetings with our employees and on-site visits are limited, daily reporting of what is going on in our business is crucial. As an owner/manager, we need to have real type updates from the field and the office on how things are going.
Samples of Reporting:
- Daily completion list – what was production work was completed each day, week, month
- Job costing – what are the actual quantities of the produced work compared to what was estimated..
- Profit Margin reports – based on the data captured from the field, did we make or lost money on that job(s)
- Material and chemical usage