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A Free System to Cut Your Work Time in Half and Make Clients Happier!
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Minnesota Community Living March/April 2010

A Free System to Cut Your Work Time in Half and Make Clients Happier!

By Steve Hoogenakker, Concierge Landscape Environments

I get about 10 new ideas every day. The first nine are usually pretty bad, and the 10th has some merit. This is definitely a #10.

As I was cleaning out emails from 2009, I noticed I had about 100 emails from one medium-size CIC from this summers’ service. Wow, I thought, I didn’t realize we had that much back and forth communication. This didn’t even count the 40-50 phone calls over the seven month period or my attendance at a few board meetings. In addition, when I looked through a few of the emails, it wasn’t uncommon to find that 3-5 people had been in the loop on each email!

An example might be a request to repair a piece of downspout that had been run over by a mower. The process started with a homeowner, to the president, to the property manager, to me. I would write up our work order, it came back completed. I’d email back to the property manager again, and he’d contact the homeowner or the board. The inefficiency of this madness is amazing once you think about it, but what can we do?

If it were possible to cut out 1/4 of the emails and time from beginning to end, it would be a fantastic creation, but I’ve found a way to cut out over half, and it’s free (for now).

To do this, we’d have to have a single place where the information resides. A single place accessible by the property manager, the contractor and (optionally) the board. The association website software seemed the most natural place, but until Mark Johnson from Arcstone can build one, we found a method that works today and it’s free!

  1. A spreadsheet is created for an association. The spreadsheet would have 6-7 COLUMNS listed across the top 1. ASSOCIATION NAME 2. WORK ORDER #,3. DATE, 4.SERVICE REQUEST DESCRIPTION, 5.WORK ORDER RECEIVED (by contractor) 6.WORK ORDER COMPLETED, and 7.COMPLETION NOTES.
  2. The file is uploaded into Google Docs (free). You can then share it with whomever you wish. It’s easily done by inviting people to join using email addresses. Maybe the head of the grounds maintenance committee, president, property manager and contractor. If you want it available to the whole board, you can easily set permissions that allow the primary people to edit and update it but allow the board and/or homeowners to view it. Allowing all homeowners to view it in effect publishes it to the web so everyone can see it. That doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.
  3. You can set up notifications so that any time a change is made you can be notified once a day or immediately.
  4. The property manager enters in the work order request, and notification automatically goes to contractor.
  5. In the worst case, our office prints up the work order, marks the spreadsheet so everyone else knows that the work order was received with the date and sends it out to the field the next day. When completed, the office can enter it in as complete the following day, automatically updating everyone, or the same day if the crew calls it in. The best case scenario is if my operation manager or foreman has a mini-laptop in his truck; he can enter in the completion the minute it’s done! We can immediately markup the spreadsheet, along with any notes. Instead of making a chain of calls, property owners can view work orders on the web 24/7.
  6. Everyone can view that the work order was sent, received, date done (or not) and any information. No phone calls were made, no emails were sent. A complete record of all work orders can be kept all year long, although that would be a pretty long spreadsheet.

We saved all of the emails and phone calls. If I have mobile computing, I probably got the work order out into the field and the completion back 1-4 days sooner, and again it’s your favorite price, it’s FREE!

This system would make a managers life a lot better in the winter where speed is 10 times more important.

Google Docs is just releasing a method to upload all kinds of documents. Instead of a spreadsheet, if the property manager has an electronic work order, maybe it can be uploaded, shared and updated by me, the contractor the same way. As property managers start to customize this idea, it’d be wonderful to share it with CAI membership so we can create the best documentation available in the country.

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