There are two ways for an industrial HVAC contractor to boost the bottom line. Either increase rates, or become more productive. You know where you stand on the rate question. Your hourly service fee is already in line for your market and hopefully allows you to make a profit. Consider, however, productivity. Could you boost employee productivity, and therefore increase profits?
First you must define what productivity means for you as an industrial HVAC contractor. Simply demanding everyone work faster could mean corners are cut, work becomes sloppy and in the end, what was meant to boost productivity costs you customers and has a negative effect on the bottom line.
For an industrial HVAC contractor to improve employee productivity, you have to improve efficiency, not speed. You may want to increase the number of service calls per labor hour, or cut down the amount of time spent on each system design and install, but you must make it your objective to do top-quality work at all stages of design, installation and maintenance.
Here are some suggestions for increasing productivity without sacrificing quality:
- Streamline (or Eliminate) Tasks: Don’t waste the time of highly trained (highly paid) professionals with unnecessary paperwork or travel. Streamline or eliminate all non-essential tasks when technicians are on a jobsite. Some companies use entry-level employees to be “runners” that get technicians parts on job sites, fill out work orders and file other necessary paperwork.
- Update Your Report-For-Duty Policy: Do you insist that everyone report to the office at 7 a.m., and then be dispatched to jobsites? What if employees could eliminate the extra time and travel and simply start work on the jobsite at 7 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. or even 8 a.m.? Consider changing company report-for-duty policy. You’d eliminate paying them to hang around drinking coffee and take back lost time by having them drive directly to the jobsite. Remember, idle time is lost time. This suggestion applies at the end of the day too. Going home straight from the jobsite saves employees the time it would take to drive back to the office. While this may not be a viable option for all businesses it is something that could be considered to increase efficiency of processes.
- Overhaul Your Workweek: Driving to a jobsite 30 minutes each way 5 days a week and working for 8 hours a day means 5 non-productive hours spent in a vehicle over the course of a workweek. Think about switching some employees to longer days/shorter weeks. Change the week to a 4-day, 10-hour workday and you cut non-productive vehicle time to 4 hours. Over the course of a year, efficiencies like that can really add up.
- Improve Organization: Make sure your inventory is well organized so less time is wasted locating parts, and that commonly used items can be reordered in a timely manner when stock gets low. Also make sure customer records are efficiently organized so they can be quickly and easily accessed.
- The Right Tools for the Job: Equip employees with quality tools that are properly maintained. Having the right tools in optimum working condition makes any job go more smoothly. This is true from the smallest hand tool to the largest company vehicles. Breakdowns, having to recharge a tool mid-job and having to make do with a tool that’s not quite right for the job — these things all decrease productivity.
- Consolidate Routing: You’ve got to go where the emergency is, of course, but for routine maintenance work, try to be more efficient in routing. If your technicians are driving from job to job, make sure routes make sense and try to line up stops in a pattern that is as efficient as possible. This could mean being proactive. For example, if your techs are going to be at ABC Co. in the morning and you see that DEF Co. across the street is due for service in two weeks, see if you can arrange to hit both places in the same day, thus saving a drive to the same area.
- Leverage Technology: Accessing warranty information, identifying replacement parts, accepting payments, accessing customer history, scheduling, producing employee and vendor agreements, tracking costs, allocating work orders, managing time, checking resource availability, equipment tracking, accounting, inventory management, project tracking, vehicle routing — these are all things that can be done more efficiently if you have the right devices and software. Technology only increases productivity if people know how to make the most of it, so make sure your systems are up to date and everyone is properly trained.
- Improve Company Culture: When employees feel they are working for the good of the company and have a stake in the company’s success, they are more productive. Encourage teamwork and pride of ownership by occasionally hosting social events for workers. An after-work barbeque, bringing in lunch for everyone, or sponsoring a company softball team can help employees get to know each other better and therefore work more efficiently together. Informal gatherings give you an opportunity to publicly recognize jobs well done and give pats on the back when employees go the extra mile, encouraging others to do great work too.
- Analyze Work-orders: As stated earlier, speed should not be emphasized, but if something you thought would take three hours takes 10, follow up. Find out why it took so long. If you require standardized and detailed work orders, it shouldn’t take much time to uncover the reasons why a job took longer than anticipated. Everything you learn from a challenging job can be used to make future jobs more efficient. Knowledge maximizes productivity.
The Final Word
Improving employee productivity in the long run can feel overly time-consuming in the short term. Develop some long-range productivity goals to work toward, even if it means spending more time today on training, team building or updating technology.