Part-time Office Can Improve Productivity

AS BUSINESS OWNERS, we are all looking at ways to improve our bottom line. I have implemented a cost-cutting measure in my office that I would like to share with you. It involves transitioning my office staff to a part-time status. Not only has it saved the company overhead costs, it also has improved productivity. Over the past year, I have completely converted my office to part-time employees. Previously,

AS BUSINESS OWNERS, we are all looking at ways to improve our bottom line. I have implemented a cost-cutting measure in my office that I would like to share with you. It involves transitioning my office staff to a part-time status. Not only has it saved the company overhead costs, it also has improved productivity.

Over the past year, I have completely converted my office to part-time employees. Previously, I had four full-time staffers, and then down-sized to three full-time and one part-time. The whole idea came about when I realized that my part-time person was getting more work done in five hours a day than my full-timers in eight hours. From that point on, I decided that I would replace all full-time workers with part-timers as the full-timers left the company.

We are now an all-part-time office with duties being allocated differently than when we were full-time. We have a part-time bookkeeper that works about 25 hours a week. Another person who works 30 hours per week does job costing, invoicing and service tracking. The remaining four people are dedicated to customer service and dispatching, and all share those duties equally, working 25 hours a week each.

Current office schedule

Instead of the traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. office hours, this is our current office schedule:

CSR/Dispatch 1: 7 a.m. to noon

Job Cost/Invoice: 7:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

CSR/Dispatch 2: 8 a.m.-1 p.m.

CSR/Dispatch 3: Noon-5 p.m.

CSR/Dispatch 4: 1 p.m.-6 p.m.

Bookkeeper: Flex schedule; usually works three mornings a week, two evenings and all day Friday (25-28 hours a week).

Each customer service rep/dispatcher splits his or her shift, with half of each five-hour time frame being spent dispatching first and answering the phone second, while the other person answers the phone first. Everyone else is backup to those two if they are tied up on the phone.

I figure that I now get close to 100% production when they are at work because they have less time to get things done, and thus get more accomplished. Most personal matters are handled before or after work.

For dispatching, we have implemented a rating scale that covers about 50 different scenarios when a customer calls the office. Everything from maintenance to geothermal jobs is graded on the level of the techs’ expertise. All the CSR/dispatcher has to do is match the proper tech to the call and schedule it based on proximity of the tech and convenience for the customer. The computer has been programmed to set aside the proper amount of time for that call. With a little training, the person who takes the call will schedule it and may even be the dispatcher.

I have gone from full benefits on four full-time people to no benefits on six part-timers. Savings would equal eight weeks’ vacation, 24 paid holidays, four fewer health insurance premiums, no 401k match, plus lower hourly wages now that the dispatch is spread out over four people instead of one. I estimate my total savings to be more than $40,300.

I had figured I was paying for 160 hours per week of pay, and probably getting 120 hours of work. I now pay for 155 hours, and get pretty darn close to that in production. I have never been more caught up in my office than I am now, and we have the time to do things that couldn’t get done before.

Innovative on-call system

Schaal Heating and Cooling has implemented what we think is another innovative way to reduce costs. Our on-call service system is manned by techs. This is how it works: Our on-call tech starts a rotation Friday night and works the weekend first. During the week the tech starts work at 4 p.m. and goes until 7:30 a.m. He or she then either has days off or finishes calls from the night before.

The tech turns in the on-call cell phone on Friday morning and has a three-day weekend. Our phone lines are forwarded directly to the on-call cell phone that the tech carries, eliminating the need for an answering service. Techs are paid at 112 times their normal rate for on-call as a bonus for taking care of the phone. Each tech has a backup during the on-call rotation.

By doing this, the office can schedule calls for the evening to meet customer schedules. Also, the after-hours trip charge is $99 compared to $59 during regular hours. Our flat rate does not change — only the trip fee. Once a tech has been on-call for 60 hours, he is done for the rest of the week and the backup takes over.

The techs really do like the on-call schedule and don’t want to go back to the old way.

Source of ideas?

How did I come up with these different ideas? My joining the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association and Quality Service Contractors has really opened my eyes on how to run a better company. I have made more changes, all for the better, in the past 212 years than I did for the first 10 years at the company. The members of QSC really are the best of the best. They have the knowledge, experience, passion and desire to get where few contractors will ever get.

Roger Fouche is president of Des Moines, Iowa-based Schaal Heating and Cooling, a residential and light commercial service and retrofit company that has been in business since 1946. The Fouche family has owned the company since 1980. Roger Fouche has run the company since 1998, when his father retired. The company is about 85% residential and 15% commercial; it has about 1,000 residential service agreements; 2004 sales were $3 million; and it has 22 employees. For more information, call 515/288-3631, or e-mail rlfouche@mchsi.com.