Building Your Team: Tools and Tactics for Effective Internal Crew Communication - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Building Your Team: Tools and Tactics for Effective Internal Crew Communication

If your lawn or landscape company is on the smaller size, effective internal communication with your staff probably isn’t a struggle as you can host meetings all in one place. However, as your company footprint spreads with multiple branch locations in different states or regions, chances are email alone simply won’t cut it when it comes to staying in contact with your teams.

While email and texting shouldn’t be tossed out of your toolbox, utilizing a variety of different communication methods can help ensure your messages aren’t being overlooked and are reaching the right teams.

“For companies that find themselves needing a more robust communication system, the benefits after investing are realized quickly,” says Shannon Speratos, senior vice president of Sperber Landscape Companies, based in Westlake Village, California. “Streamlining messages to a specific audience; two-way sharing of important information in real-time; data storage by client or property; and easy access to records not only makes the entity more professional, it may also help separate them from their competitors who do not have such a system.”

Favored Communication Apps and Platforms

Russell Landscape Group, based in Sugar Hill, Georgia, has 10 branches spread throughout the Southeast. They use Cognito Forms, which allows them to create custom reporting forms where users can enter complex data. These forms are routed to the appropriate recipients using conditional logic.

Will Dutton, general manager for Russell Landscape Group, says they’ve been using Cognito Forms for four years now. Everyone has an app called ‘Mobile Manager’ where they can access these forms. Crew leaders can select their region, their branch and then fill out various forms such as a manpower request, a billing request, or communicate to the horticulture or irrigation team about an issue found on site.
The user answers a gauntlet of relevant questions and then the report goes to the person in charge, depending on the request. They even have a social media submission form.

Photo: Russell Landscape Group

“If you have a picture that you want to post of something that you’ve done, like say the enhancement team has done an amazing job and he wants to post a picture,” Dutton says. “He imports it and all that. It goes to one of our people that handles the social media, and then they approve it, and then they post it.”

Previously, Dutton says they were inundated with emails and texts. With Cognito Forms, they are trying to reduce the amount of time spent on their devices.

“We try to limit emails and texts unless necessary,” Dutton says.

Green Lawn Fertilizing/Green Pest Solutions, based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, has over 200 employees throughout the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware tri-state region. Alex Wolfington, senior vice president of business development at Green Lawn Fertilizing, says they use a variety of communication methods including, Go Happy, Microsoft Teams, Evite, Paylocity, group chats and email.

Evite sends notifications about company events to employees’ personal and work emails, while Paylocity’s Community feature shares announcements and general information. Go Happy is their newest communication platform and is a texting solution for company announcements.

“We choose Go Happy as it had integration with our HCM software (Paylocity),” Wolfington says. “This was great to send reminders or information about company events such as meetings and team building events. Another driving force was that front-line employees don’t always check emails, but a text is convenient and quick.”

With a number of partner companies and a national presence, Sperber Landscape Companies use a combination of specific text groups, Google Docs, emails, internal newsletters, their cloud-based operations software and face-to-face conservations to stay in contact with their team.

“Text or email threads for specific audiences are universal, but not always the best form of communication,” Speratos says. “We offer a multitude of services in markets from the Bahamas to the Hawaiian Islands and work in nearly every climate. Having groups in differing geographies, service lines, or network groups requires us to have specialized communication.”

Speratos says they have built the systems as they grow and they’re constantly evolving. Their operations software allows for notifications, instructions, issues, maps, and photos to be shared.

“All landscape businesses are in the service sector and our clients are becoming accustomed to fast and accurate information,” Speratos says. “Without a platform that provides for meeting or beating those expectations, a company could find themselves as the underdog in their niche or market.”

Keys to a Good Communication Platform

If you are looking for a new communication platform to add to your operations, consider your company’s needs.

Photo: Green Lawn Fertilizing

“Any company considering an investment in an additional platform should evaluate their needs based on the size of the business, coverage area, and client mix,” Speratos says. “The answers to these questions, again in my opinion, will dictate need.”

Dutton says the main key they look for is efficiency. With Cognito Forms, they can proactively get in front of issues, and it also serves as storage for them as well. Every form is stored on the cloud and can be pulled at any time.

Wolfington says they look for the ability to send out reminders, set events in Outlook calendars, reach employees quickly and easily, and multiple redundant communication channels. A good internal communication platform should also be easy to use. Speratos agrees that a good system should be accessible and simple.

“A complicated format discourages people from using it,” Speratos says. “A simple, easily understandable system is a must.”

Speratos says it’s also a good idea to seek out a platform that can evolve to handle more users, more sophisticated technology and has adequate data storage.

Encouraging Engagement

A common struggle with internal company communications is employee engagement, where they are reading and acting on the messages you are sending out.

One way to increase engagement is to break your messaging into smaller subsets of departments and teams. For instance, Russell Landscape Group has a safety meeting every Friday and each branch has a three-person safety committee. Dutton says at least one representative from each committee has to report to their weekly Teams meeting and go over next week’s safety topic, so no matter where an employee is in the company, they’re all being told the same thing.

“When you’re running a company the size of Russell Landscape, we have to be able to get things out to the team in an orderly fashion and expedite it, but it has to be the same message,” Dutton says. “The only way to do that is to have these meetings where the people that need to know are the people who are going to report back to their team so they all hear the same thing at the same time.”

Wolfington says they put the onus on their managers during weekly meetings to review with their teams all the events and meetings that have been shared in their internal messaging efforts. What you choose to share with your team will also vary, but it can include anything from weather-related alerts and reminders stay hydrated and take breaks to recognition and encouragement messages.

Engagement can be even more of an issue if you are pushing out a new communication platform.

“As much as the technology is a convenient and effective tool, we do still struggle to get consistent buy-in and homogenized use, especially at the field level,” Speratos says. “Some members of the team are early adaptors and have laid the road for others to follow; however, we continue to train and encourage universal adoption to bring the rest along.”

Dutton says getting employees to use their Cognito Forms comes down to daily reminders and continuing to train the team on the benefits of why using the system works.

“We still have issues of some crew leaders just don’t want to use it for whatever reason,” Dutton says.

Wolfington says they struggled with company engagement in the past, which is why they added Go Happy to their methods of communication.

“Front-line associates don’t always stop and read email, but a quick text is much more convenient, so this has helped get more engagement,” Wolfington says. “The addition of Paylocity Community also helped as front-line associates engage with the system daily to clock in and out so they will see the push notifications.”

This article was published in the July/August issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Edge magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the content manager for NALP.