How to upgrade crew scheduling: replacing the white board
Keeping crews scheduled to go to the right job at the right time is a challenge for most trade contractors of all sizes. The needs of projects change rapidly and communicating with workers of where to go and when to be there can become a full-time job. For most construction companies, labor costs are the largest expense so managing the workforce is critical to making a profit.
In this blog post, we’ll explore various ways to manage crew schedules. Some are traditional ways that have been used for many decades in construction and others use modern technology to streamline the process.
What is Workforce Management?
The term workforce management is defined as “a process that maximizes performance levels and competency for an organization. The process includes all the activities needed to maintain a productive workforce…” (Wikipedia)
In other words, it’s making the labor force as productive as possible to keep customers happy and maximize the bottom line. This may seem simple enough on it’s surface but for anyone who has been responsible for this task, they know it’s not.
Here are some factors that must be considered when managing your workforce:
1) What projects have the highest priority for labor?
Most trade contractors and gc’s have multiple projects going at the same time. It’s important to know which ones have the greatest need for manpower to keep project going and keep the client happy. This can be tricky when there is simply too much work and not enough resources.
2) Are projects ready for labor? (are the prior trades done with their work?)
Sending labor to a project that is not ready for them costs time and money and can impact your ability to perform efficiently which is how the project was most likely bid. Knowing if the project is ready for example for flooring to be installed might require someone to stop by and check before sending a crew.
3) Are there any filler jobs that can use extra labor if some get freed up?
What if your workers finish their job and it’s only half way into the work day. Do you have another job near by that they can go to to finish the day? It’s helpful to know what “filler jobs” are available to you at any given time.
4) What is the policy for sending workers home early if they finish early?
Does your company send workers home early if they run out of work? Many do but some find work for the workers even if that means going to the shop or cleaning out their work truck.
5) What is the policy for keeping workers at home when things are slow?
When things get slow, does your company have workers stay home or do you create work for them in some other way?
6) What is the most efficient way to staff the job?
For any given project, what is the best way to staff the job? Do you send two workers or four? Knowing how it was bid and the best way to perform the job is critical to making the job profitable.
How to schedule work crews to maximize efficiency
The Office White Board
Construction is an industry filled with tradition. One traditional tool for crew scheduling is the old fashioned chalkboard or whiteboard. Many construction companies still use these today to plan out projects and workers. The concept is centered on the idea that the office is the center of all planning and communication.
The owner and managers put projects and the needed workers on the board to show what is coming up and who is needed where and when. Workers would come into the office in the morning and get assignments or someone calls/texts them the day before each work day.
This technique for crew scheduling has worked but there are many reasons why it’s becoming outdated. The primary reason is that with increased mobility of management, the office is not always easy to get to. This means the board isn’t getting updated and it’s impossible to see what is on the white board from the job site.
In addition, time is lost if workers must come to the office before starting work. There may be some trades and situations where this still makes sense but most companies want their workers to go direct to the job site to maximize productivity.
One upgrade from the whiteboard is to use a spreadsheet to track projects and worker assignments. It allows for a bit more mobility since it can be kept on a laptop however it does still have many drawbacks. The primary problem with a spreadsheet like Excel is that it’s not collaborative. If you have more than one manager requesting labor for a project, it’s not easy for them to access it since it’s a file sitting on a computer.
An upgrade from a spreadsheet file like excel is to use an online cloud-based sheet like Google sheets. This allows for collaboration with other managers and since it’s mobile and can be accessed from any device, it allows for more flexibility.
The most complete solution with fewer downsides is using a construction app like BuildCenter. This is a cloud-based app that works on any device. Scheduling is a simple drag & drop process that is easy to use and clear to see what is planned. More companies are realizing the benefits of this type of solution since it also communicates with the workers on their phones showing them where to be and when. This cuts hours of texting and phone calls. When things change, the app is updated from anywhere and the information is always available to the crews.
Managing a workforce can be challenging at times but there are new techniques that make it less difficult and provide more freedom from the office. The whiteboard has given way to online solutions such as BuildCenter where everything is simplified and automated to free up time and perform work more efficiently.
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