Being able to effectively communicate as a team can make or break a business.
“I’ve seen businesses completely fall apart over bad communication,” says John Crider, owner of Crider Landscaping in Chattanooga, Tenn. “And in landscaping, it’s even more hectic and makes it more important. You’ve got crews, office staff and homeowners all scattered around, and you’ve got to keep up with everybody.”
Tony Sellers, owner of Sellers Services, of Rochester, Ind., says he and his employees talk about how to improve communication every day.
He says while good communication is vital, utilizing the technology has been a tough adjustment.
“I miss it when people used to have to run me down,” he says. “Now they expect me to answer an email in 30 seconds. In some ways it’s overwhelming, but we’re learning to adjust.”
Texting is trending.
While it may sound simple, Crider says texting can be an ideal way to keep crews in constant contact. The company’s office is remote, which makes communication even more essential.
“We do a lot of group texting,” he says. “It’s super helpful. Our office (phone) line can receive text messages, so some of our billed staff can see the communication coming in and out of the office. Our managers can just check in on the text stream and stay up to date on some of the conversations going on.”
Crider says the company primarily texts because crews out in the field prefer it.
“Some of (the crews) we’ve had to push the communication side with and some we had to see what they preferred and tailor it,” he says. “With some, emails and computers aren’t their strong suit, so they prefer texting.”
Crider admits he hasn’t always been an avid texter, but he made the switch for the betterment of the group.
“I’m personally not a big texting fan, so I had to comply a little more,” he says, adding that it’s not always the office’s first choice, but the company prefers to have the crews dictate the flow of communication.
Sellers says he uses a mix of email and text to keep in touch with his customers and crews.
“Email is still preferred,” he says. “We’re finding that texting is much easier, and a lot of clients are going to texting. I’d say it’s about 50/50 between email and text. But the phone conversations still happen.”
A fair phone policy.
At Crider Landscaping, the employees are using their personal phones to stay in touch.
“Currently, we do have a dedicated tablet that bounces around, but everyone prefers to use their own phones,” he says.
“We kind of monitor it. Our field managers are really good about not abusing that policy as far as taking a bunch of personal calls all day.”
Sellers says providing employees with work phones helps improve productivity.
“All of our crew leaders have a business phone,” he says. “We’ve kind of gone back and forth on that a little bit. Some guys just want to use their phones, but if something goes wrong, then they think we’re responsible. I don’t think we have anyone who is still using a personal phone.”
Year-round employees tend to take the phones home at the end of the work day. As far as seasonal employees, he says they leave them at the office.
Sellers adds that several apps crews use to keep in touch are already downloaded on the business phones.
Apps where it’s at.
Sellers and Crider both say their teams also use various apps and customer relationship management (or CRM) software.
“We utilize two CRMs for certain aspects of things,” Crider says. “Our CRM also helps push communication through some apps.”
Crider adds his employees can pull the app up on their phone and do their reporting from the jobsite.
“We use it for our end-of-day reports for our crew leads,” he says. “It’s super helpful. Our crew lead can fill it out and send it in and it automatically generates an email to our office.”
The CRM, which is designed specifically for landscape professionals, also allows for fleet management.
“Our CRM has some GPS functionality, but we’ve yet to really utilize it,” he says. “We’re actually working on that now. We try and segment our workdays and crews based on parts of town, so we have a general idea of what crews are in what part of town any day of the week.”
Crider says he continues to look for more apps to help his team communicate better. He adds they’ve been trying to get more employees on board with scheduling/planning apps.
“We’ve used it some but have never been able to get buy in from the guys to use it,” he says. “Some of the office staff uses it as more of a storage database or to share documents.”
Sellers says he also uses a software system designed for the landscaping industry and really enjoys the apps it provides. He says his employees use it for work orders and for timekeeping.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit this spring, Sellers said it forced his business to lean on the technology even more.
“Our time clock used a thumbprint, so basically we had to quit using it,” he says. “So, we wanted to eliminate the paperwork that had to be handled. With coronavirus, it forced us to get this thing rolling. We had a few crews who weren’t using it yet.”
Sellers says the transition has been pretty seamless.
“We were already using it in the maintenance world, but our project guys weren’t using it as much,” he says. “Now, we have everyone on board and they’re actually finding out how much easier it is. They can just put their material usage and everything right in. It’s been great.”
Connecting in times of crisis.
Crider says COVID-19 also changed how his crews communicated.
“When COVID-19 started, we started looking at how to operate with minimal contact,” he says. “Recently, we’ve found ourselves using Zoom. My wife is a teacher and we were trying to sort out how to do more face-to-face or screen-share meetings… and she gave me a crash course in Zoom. We found it worked well and we liked it.”
Sellers says his company has also been holding a lot of Zoom meetings.
“Zoom has become our go to for meetings,” he says. “Even if someone is just downstairs, we’re still ‘Zooming.’”
Sellers hopes his crews will be able to get together face-to-face more soon.
“We’re trying to get back to getting guys together a little bit to build comradery,” he says.
Crider says that during a global pandemic, or anytime really, communication needs to be fluid.
“It’s one of those things that are constantly changing,” he says. “If we were to say, ‘this is how it’s going to be,’ it wouldn’t work. We’d be in a mess. Our communication would lag greatly.”