Don’t Let Office Chaos Chase Away Your Best Technicians

It’s common to have your office team run a little leaner than your crew of field workers. Just be sure that all responsibilities are adequately covered so that everyone feels as if they can properly do their job.

Don’t Let Office Chaos Chase Away Your Best Technicians
It's important for office staff and technicians to understand each other's roles and work together.

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There are two parts to a septic services or portable sanitation organization — the business office and the field staff.

Each area is important and plays a role in keeping the company moving and healthy. The key to a thriving and successful operation is for the two areas to work cohesively and with equal proficiency.

For years, the industry has lamented about how hard it is to find good technicians. I’ve seen (and written about) all kinds of elaborate incentives to lure in new talent, but too often technicians are leaving companies faster than hiring can occur. Without a great office staff to support field workers’ daily efforts, your company won’t be able to get the best technicians to stay. If you are losing workers because of disorganization complaints, frustrations or wasted hours, look at opportunities on your office staff.

A sanitation company is like a relay team. Each person in the organization runs a different leg of the race, but everyone is equally important and working for a common goal — to help the customer. If you think of your field team as money makers and your office staff as a cost center, you have the wrong attitude. Sure, the technicians pump the tanks, clean the units, and likely sweat the most. But a lot happens before and after that appointment to help make your company money. Every step in the process — every leg of the race — requires a teamwork attitude from both field and office employees.

Our figurative baton starts in the hands of the office team who handles a mountain of tasks before we ever send the technician an address. Regulations and licensing, equipment and supplies, marketing, call booking, and logistics all have to line up for there to be jobs for a technician. After the appointment, the baton goes back to the office team where money gets shuffled around, taxes get paid, accounts need maintenance, and tomorrow’s schedule are set in place. The actual field work bit is only one crucial part of the relay.

I know that for profitability’s sake, companies need to run lean. It’s common to keep the office team as small as possible. One office person can support multiple field staff. A technician, their truck, and their tools can only be in one place at a time. So assigning roles in the field is simple. With the office, division of labor is not so straightforward.

The office staff usually starts with one individual who becomes a jack-of-all-office-trades. What starts as answering the phones and a little bookkeeping, soon turns into a full-blown office manager position with a dash of logistics coordinator in the mix. When this person gets overwhelmed, they offload the tasks that are easiest to train. Usually customer service comes first, then dispatch, and accounting. Each of these roles fits into a nice, tidy list of responsibilities. The general manager then wonders why they keep getting pulled into picking up the dropped baton.

As your company gets busy, more and more items get caught in that middle area between administrative and the field, with no one dedicated to managing them. Ideally each person is running the leg of the race they are best qualified to run. But tracking down special orders, equipment breaking on a job site, updating inventories and even running parts are the dirty details that keep that baton moving smoothly throughout the day. These and plenty of other non-routine, oddball and as-needed tasks are often an afterthought for both field and office staff. Yet, when the technician has no resources for managing them, they can completely derail the workday or leave the customer unsatisfied.

My theory is that too few companies invest in staff designed to support the productivity of the field team. They either see each department’s jobs as compartmentalized, or are running so thin that office staff is chained to their desks and field staff is stuck picking up the slack. Field staff support can blur the line between office and field, able and willing to keep the baton moving throughout the day. When we first hired this position, it felt like a luxury, but we soon couldn’t figure out how we functioned without the role. 

No two days are the same in our industry. New challenges, opportunities, and issues are par for the course. When the baton is in danger of falling because of some non-routine task, issue or opportunity, field staff support can step in and take ownership of the problem. They can walk next to the technician or office person to find a solution and keep the baton moving. The more you allow your field staff to focus on doing what they do (and love) the best, the more happy and lucrative their trucks are. This increase in productivity had a positive effect on our technician retention rate.

When a job is at risk of derailing, who can your technicians go to for help? Who will stand with them to make sure that the baton gets over the finish line in a timely manner and with profit to spare? That is a critical question that is often missed in the busy, day-to-day drama of running a portable sanitation business. The better the entire staff understands the interdependencies of their positions, the better prepared they are to work together and keep the technician's day moving. No part of the organization can exist without the other, so it’s best to keep that baton moving.


About the Author

Anja Smith has worked in the plumbing industry since 2012 in Greenville, South Carolina. You can find her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/anjasmith.



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