8 Ways To Make Communication With a Remote Workforce More Productive
Jeff Seale runs family-owned Accurate Electric, Plumbing, Heating and Air Services in Glendora, Calif., near Los Angeles, as a wholly remote operation. In business since 2005 and having grown to 17 employees, the home services company has always been that way.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Seale, a ServiceTitan customer since 2015, was in the process of opening a brick-and-mortar office. With those plans on hold, he’s continuing to run his company remotely, using storage facilities for equipment.
But the communications tactics and best practices he has learned over 15 years could help other home services companies not as familiar with having employees work from home.
Many of those companies have been forced to become remote workplaces, something Seale says has pros and cons.
“Do you really need an office? Everybody has internet at their house, right?” he asks. “Do you really need to spend the money on furniture and rent and utilities and internet? There’s unlimited data in everybody’s house.”
But Seale admits to being a fan of face-to-face communication and daily huddles. In a physical office, “I think people can be a lot more productive. And I think you can have better morale.”
Maintaining morale is more important than ever because of the pandemic, he adds. And remote workforce or not, good communication is crucial.
“With everybody being remote, and everybody’s job is kind of up in the air, and our call volume diminishing, it’s really important to communicate,” Seale says. “I send personal texts to the team. And group emails about where we’re at as a company.
“When you communicate well it sets people at ease, and doesn’t leave them wondering.”
These are his eight tips for keeping everybody on the same page in a remote environment:
1. Hold virtual meetings with the team regularly.
Accurate Electrical Services has a “daily huddle” every morning at 10 a.m. and a weekly meeting using Google Hangouts. More recently, for larger meetings, the company has started using Zoom for video conferences.
2. Use technology for meetings on the go.
Hands-free calls while in transit between service appointments cut down on wasted time.
“I have one-on-one meetings with my management, anywhere, anytime, most of the time while we’re driving,” Seale says. “Most of the time during the day we're driving, so we're actually being productive.”
Seale also uses the chat feature within ServiceTitan to communicate with technicians and with clients.
3. Prioritize communications with an urgency protocol.
Seale says the staff is constantly texting and making phone calls amongst themselves, so the company has developed protocols.
The least-urgent communications, he says, are sent in emails. For a quicker response, he sends a text message. Phone calls are only for the most urgent needs.
The company uses group texts to let the team know who’s managing the dispatch board, who’s in the office, when staff is leaving the office or going to lunch and other company-wide information.
Seale also maintains a group text with the management team. It’s akin to a priority communication system. “It just goes to the four managers, and then we respond Johnny-on-the-spot,” he says.
4. Consider next-level phone protocols, too.
Sometimes technicians need to speak to management right away when they’re with a customer. That’s when a phone call is required. But even phone calls have a protocol.
“If I get a call from a team member and can’t answer it the first time, if they call right back, I know it’s urgent,” Seale says.
“I’ll drop anything if I get a double call.”
5. Set up a number for simultaneous calls to the whole management team.
Accurate Electrical Services has one Google phone number that simultaneously rings all four of the managers.
“Again, we have a priority in place,” Seale says. “On the first ring, they’re most likely going to want to talk to our service manager. And he’ll try to pick up first. If I’m on the phone with him and that phone number rings, we don’t even say goodbye. I just know he’s got to take it.”
In other instances, if that line rings a second time, Seale takes the call. Rings three and four are designated to other managers.
“One of the four of us is going to answer that phone call right then and there,” he says.
It’s important to make sure employees know not to abuse that line.
“I’ll stop anything to answer that line,” Seale says. “So, we made sure to set some boundaries and have clear expectations about when to use it.”
6. Encourage and train for active communication.
With remote employees — especially apprentices — there is a learning curve with getting technicians to maintain good communication. Seale says a manager needs to be aware that reaching the optimum level of communication can be a trial-and-error process.
“Our dispatchers need to know when a technician is done with a job or when they’re clocking out so we can manage them within ServiceTitan,” Seale says. “They might forget to let us know they completed a job, and next thing we know, they're off to the next one. And we're like, wait a minute, we didn't want you to go to the next one, yet.”
Seale has an informal communications training process in place. “I’ve become aware that sometimes it's going to take up to five times to get it right,” he says. “I don’t get mad the first time. But by the time we get to five, we have an issue.”
7. Don’t neglect in-person team meetings.
Seale says face-to-face contact is critical. It offers a time to reconnect on a personal and a professional level.
Without a physical office (for now), Accurate Electrical Services rents a meeting facility at least once a month for company-wide meetings. The facility has big screens and large tables for group presentations.
He has coffee and donuts brought in for the team and starts the meeting casually.
“It’s a recognition time,” Seale says. “We read the great reviews that people have. Maybe we’ll hand out checks or cash.”
From there, the meeting gets more operational. “We’ll discuss changes we’ve made, or things that we’re rolling out, things we need feedback on,” Seale says. “And then we go around the table and ask if anybody has something that we should all address.”
8. Use a reliable field service software.
Seale’s company does plumbing, heating and air. Before switching to ServiceTitan in 2015, he says, his field service software wasn’t always reliable.
“I had to have a server in my house, and we had to have a separate computer for everybody to log into,” he says. “If the internet would go down at my house, we were in big trouble.”
The setup required an extensive paper-based backup system. The night before, screenshots were taken of all the next day’s jobs, and all the clients’ information was put on the schedule board as a backup.
Those problems disappeared with ServiceTitan.
Now, Seale says, “if one of our people doesn't have internet, they can get on their phone and log into ServiceTitan and keep on working.”
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