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Remodeling Trade Secrets

Information about paperless timesheets; using technology to keep clients up-to-date; and communicating with trade contractors.

July 31, 2007
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Timesheets on the go

Paper timesheets are notoriously unreliable. Many employees don't fill them out until the end of the week, when it's difficult to remember what they were doing on Monday. And even then they may be more worried about getting their hours than being accurate.

AAA Services of Central Florida wanted a more accurate way to track the company's labor costs, so the company now uses Field Force Manager, a service offered by Verizon through employees' cell phones. The features allows field employees of the Largo, Fla., company to clock in and out on their phones. AAA managers can check the information on a secure Field Force Manager Web site and print out a weekly report that tallies payroll, says Vice President Doris Logar.

The system also incorporates GPS technology, so managers can see where employees are at any time. They can also see a 90-day history of movement, so past activity can be checked as well.

"We were worried the employees were going to think we were spying on them, but we haven't had anyone complain about it at all," Logar says.

AAA has been using the system for about six months, and the company has already realized a savings in increased efficiency and more accurate job costing, Logar says.

Keeping clients up-to-date

Working primarily on vacation homes means Sawbucks Contracting deals mostly with absentee owners.

The majority of the Ocean Grove, N.J., company's clients live in north New Jersey or New York City but still want to be kept up-to-date on project progress. So using FastTrack Schedule, a computer scheduling program, Sawbucks developed a process to keep the client informed. At the preconstruction meeting where the project transfers from the estimator to the project manager, Sawbucks gives the client a calendar that details the entire process, including scheduled payments.

"Clients are surprised that we're so open about the process," says company co-owner Susan Solebello. "They love it because they can see just how the project is going to progress."

Sawbucks developed the process about a year ago by adapting the FastTrack software it was using for its internal scheduling. The project manager updates the calendar daily, and Sawbucks e-mails updated calendars to clients every Friday after the company's weekly production meeting.

Sawbucks provides a paper copy for clients who don't use e-mail.

"They can look at it and communicate with us if they see any problems," Solebello says.

Trade partners

Having the best trade contractors is essential for success for Winans Construction, so the company does everything it can to keep them informed and educated.

"We want to work with those people who want to be successful, who realize this is a business," says Nina Winans, vice president of the Oakland, Calif., design/build firm.

One of the ways Winans both educates and rewards its trades is through the annual Trade Contractor Alliance Breakfast. This year's theme is "The Client's Perspective," with a presentation emphasizing that, to clients, a project is not just a job; it's their home. The presentation is also translated into Spanish. More than 30 trade contractors and their staff attend the meeting.

The breakfast is also an opportunity to recognize trades with awards, such as Best Proposal, Best Attitude and Fewest Change Orders. The awards are voted on throughout the year by Winans staff.

If you have a Trade Secret you would like to share, e-mail Senior Editor Jonathan Sweet at

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