Office Chaos: The Enemy Within

By: Julie Crisara

There are people in the home contracting industry who think that they thrive off of chaos and disorganization. They just naturally go against the flow of having things being neat, clean and orderly and that a haphazard work space and fly-by-the-sea-of-your-pants approach actually makes them more productive and more successful. They get an adrenalized charge off of somehow finding that customer invoice under that pile of magazines at the last second, or miraculously pulling that lost transfer valve out of someone’s work boot. Sadly, in more cases than not, these people are WRONG.

This completely non-systematic method of running a business is not responsible for their successes. The truth is that they’re just talented, hard working and lucky enough to stay in business and make a living DESPITE their chaotic, jumbled style and surroundings, NOT BECAUSE of it. Here are some powerful, incisive steps toward eliminating chaos and creating efficiency.

ORGANIZATION STARTS WITH A CHART

In a modestly sized contracting business, as is with many industries, there is not the luxury to have an incredible amount of job specialization. The person who works reception may also make the photocopies and order the parts. The bookkeeper may also work dispatch. The HR person may sweep the floors. It can get confusing. People may not even know exactly what their job responsibilities are or what exactly their co-workers do. You need to make an organizational chart.

Making a clear, concise chart that hangs on the wall, and can be distributed in copies around the office, will help to curtail the arguing and back-and-forth recriminations when a task needs to be done.

Make sure before putting a specific job title on the chart that there is actually the proper work environment in the office for said title, and that there is a sufficient quantity of work.

LESS IS MORE

There’s really only 2 ways to decrease the stuff-to-space ratio in your crowded contracting office. You can build expensive, disruptive structural additions to your building or you can throw out a bunch of stuff. I prefer the latter option.

Besides throwing unnecessary stuff in the dumpster or selling it off- assuming it has any resale value- you can donate a bunch of redundant office supplies to schools or nonprofit organizations or even to charity thrift stores. You’ll get an additional nice feeling from helping people who could really use the items.

A simple, clean, minimalist work environment will improve productivity and morale. How many pencils, paper clips or little note pads do you really need? Not so many that your space is cluttered. Find a way to get rid of all those filing cabinets. This is the digital age, so put all the data files you can on discs or drives, or even the Cloud, and stop making your company work place look like an episode of Hoarders!

MAP IT

You can’t build it if you can’t see it. Visualization is the first step for a lot of incredibly successful, high achieving people. Therefore, before embarking on a large scale re-design and re-organization of your offices, or even if you are moving into a completely new building, draft an actual overhead map of the entire space, accounting for EVERYTHING. This accounts for where each department and type of employee sits, or does their job, and where the various tools of the work place are located, as well as the best place for a break room, photocopier room, supplies, etc.

By having a map before you start physically filling in the offices with equipment, furniture and employees, you can manage the dynamics in a smart way, like by putting the CSR’s, who are on the phone a lot, away from your dispatcher, who will also be receiving completed service tickets from the field. Thus you are avoiding a noise/distraction conflict.

Creating this map will also greatly assist you in knowing how many employees your contracting company needs to have at any given time, which ties in nicely with your organizational chart.

PRIORITIES, PRIORITIES, PRIORITIES

Some employees in a contracting company perform the amazing magic trick of seeming like they’re working frantically a lot of the time, but yet somehow at the end of the day, or the week, or the quarter, you’re not sure what they’ve really accomplished and what contribution to revenues they can show. What could help solve that phenomenon is a really thorough, detailed and accurate JOB DESCRIPTION for each employee.

This undertaking could take a long time, so take it in steps, piece by piece. You can begin by listing each employees Top 8 or 12 duties of the day, in order of importance from most to least.

For instance, for a contracting field service tech, the most important task would be fixing or installing at the customer’s location. You would still want the service tech to help organize the parts room or communicate and debrief with the CSR’s, but those duties would be further down the job description list than doing front line tech work in the field, which is the absolute single most important thing those guys do. Do this for every employee in your company- it will really help clear up inefficiency, redundancy and the neglecting of urgent business.

GO WITH THE FLOW- AND DEFINE IT

Look at your home contracting company as a complex machine with many moving parts and follow each “piece” of work as it comes in at the very beginning until it gets resolved at the very end. How does it flow through the machine? Does it move smoothly and logically through the various “gears” of the factory? This is called a FLOW CHART.

Make it visual as well as written out in a text form. What happens to their job from the time they first call in to inquire, to the time their paperwork is filed away after they’ve paid and their problem was completely fixed?

You might decide that all customers get a nice greeting card after going through the system and that ones who spend more than $1,200 get a complimentary iPod or some such gift. Think of it like a very well run restaurant. You can follow the order as it comes in from the waiters, and see the linear fashion. The salad, the side dishes, the entrees are prepared, as each plate passes through different specialty cooks who add something, fix something, and take the plate to the next level of preparation until its a delicious, finished dish. And it’s all done with speed, efficiency and perfection.

KEEP NO SECRETS

Secrets are great for intrigue novels and thriller films, and they’re okay for protecting people’s feelings in a friendship, but they’re terrible for keeping in business! If I’m running a contracting business and I find out one day that Bertha the bookkeeper keeps a harder-to-crack-than-WWII-Axis-code record of vital company records, handwritten on onion skin paper, in an old cigar box under her desk, I’m gonna be pretty furious. All company records need to be like a window that’s been properly washed- TRANSPARENT!

Anybody at any time should be able to access important company records and understand them. They should also be able to search quickly through the records to find any specific item, with all items quickly searchable by various relevant criteria. Whether its technician tickets, CSR scripts, customer invoices or what have you, all this data should be clean, organized and highly accessible. You’re running a contracting business, not a bookie joint or international gun-running organization.

BE HERE NOW!

Sure it’s neat to show off the ostrich quill pen, Underwood typewriter, and solid jade abacus that your staff uses uses to help run a contracting company, but to really compete and thrive in the the contracting industry of the late 2010’s, you need the TECHNOLOGY of TODAY- a level of gadgetry that all of your competitors, suppliers and customers are probably using!

Your using outdated, “vintage” technology in the office will quickly stop being quaint and charming and will start making you look like Fred Flintstone, except far more broke and depressed. If you have low bandwidth internet or are using Windows ’86 on your computers, spend a few dollars and make all of your systems faster, more powerful and compatible with the outside world.

Like it or not, computer and other electronic technology is a huge part of what companies work with these days and what defines their service. So don’t wait until the mythic “some day soon” to update your systems and upgrade your software and hardware, do it as soon as you possibly can. It’s one of the best expenditures of money you can make. The time saving apps, software programs and devices of today can actually revolutionize the way your contracting company does business, and for the better!