Seeking Efficiencies, Gaining Time

In a recent column, I mentioned one point of seeking efficiencies from our employees. Upon further thought, the topic merits deeper discussion. Are our employees working hard? Most definitely! Can they do just a little more in order to perform more work or increase their quality? Absolutely. It is our job to help them achieve these efficiencies.

I am not talking about doubling anyone’s workload. I am suggesting looking at all the areas where we may not be as efficient. These include our employee’s time management, workload management, attachment to and ownership of their job and their basic skill levels.

Let’s begin at the most probable efficiency killer of them all: time management. I cannot tell you how many times in employee meetings I explain the exponential effect of“time shaving.” Studies have shown that a 15-minute break can actually consume some 35 to 40 minutes. Employees typically needs to clean up their work area prior to the break, so they start to put their tools away 10 minutes early and then head off to break. Once break is over, they travel back to the jobsite and begin to set their tools back up. VoilĂ ! 35 minutes for a 15-minute break. We cannot take breaks away from our people. What we must do is to encourage them to be flexible with their break times and have them coordinate their breaks with the completion of a work order so that tools are already put away. Also, encourage them to take breaks in the area where they are working to eliminate travel time from job to break area.

In order to build a team environment, start their day with a short meeting. This does a number of things; brings them together as a team, gives everyone the day’s game plan and allows a little chat time so they don’t spend the first 20 minutes of the work day catching up on what they did the evening before. Also, be certain to use this time as a training opportunity. Building upon basic skills also helps ensure that jobs are done right the first time, thus saving time on callbacks.

Establish and stick to a quitting time. Give the team reasonable times to complete their jobs, turn in their keys and return to the shop to clock out. I have found my team“done” outside the shop up to 30 minutes before the end of a shift. This brings me to time shaving; as the troops see it, it is only 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there; but when we see it, it is multiplied by the number of employees that shave time and it adds up to several man-hours lost each day. I try to impress upon the team that we owe our customer our maximum daily output.

Work-order management is another area that suffers from lost time. It is up to management to make sure the troops have a steady and reasonable workload; it is up to employees to organize their day. We need to train our employees to break up their days by area or by trade (for general maintenance personnel). This way all the work needed in a particular building or trade can be done during one visit and our employees aren’t bouncing from building to building or differing tasks, taking up valuable time in transit. Being organized in how we go about our day is critical to time management.

The use of work carts ensures the technicians are stocked with either a host of supplies to cover most jobs or allows them to work from carts that they can load with pre-organized parts bins. We have set up transferable bins for basic electrical, basic plumbing and general maintenance. This keeps the employees from going to the work site, figuring out what they need to do the job, returning to the supply closet and then returning to complete the job. This action alone can add 10 to 15 minutes to a work order. With an assortment of parts set up specifically for certain areas, they will have what they need and save the back-and-forth trip. That time savings on only one or two jobs in a day adds 30 minutes’ worth of work per employee per day. This is a great efficiency gain.

Scheduling the maintenance staff to work by zones is also important. Keeping tradespeople in an outlined zone is a basic, but important, component of time management. This way, employees are responsible for specific buildings and are not traveling between jobs. If employees need a helper or have jobs that require two people, schedule those tasks to happen on one or two days during the week and have them accomplish those jobs together. Then break them apart to let them accomplish more single-person tasks for the remainder of their day.

I realize much of this is basic, but we tend to wander away from the most fundamental of management practices. No doubt our employees work hard. It is our job to help them work smart and be as efficient and effective as possible.

Michael G. Steger is director of Physical Plant Services for National Management Resources Corp. at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Michael G. Steger is director, Physical Plant, for Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, FL. He can be reached at [email protected]