I have learned a lot with two years in at Elevate Land Surveying, but there are a few that stand out:
- Employees are the lifeblood of the business, treat them well, the company goes as far as they will take you.
- Focus on providing good quality services rather than just cheap services. Quality will always outlast cheap over the long run.
- It is no longer critical to have a traditional office to run a successful land surveying company.
The last point on the realization that I did not need a traditional office has allowed me to successfully focus on the first two points. Attracting employees from traditional firms further affirmed my convictions that others felt the way I did. I knew that there were some key advantages we could offer employees in our method of the “office”. Having worked over 10 years at more traditional land surveying firms I also knew how most companies operate:
- Mornings involve the traditional meetup where field staff meet with the project manager in the office. This is where you are handed your instructions and physical files for the day.
- End of the day the field crew comes back and debriefs the project manager on the day and the day wraps up with the download of data and leaving files for the office staff.
- All the office staff are in the office as well, as they need to be there to work on the physical files/folders that are placed there by the field staff.
- Half the office space is taken up by filing cabinets housing all the files for the thousands of projects completed. You cannot imagine the chaos if a file is lost, as that would then mean closely examining each cabinet. Even more space then is taken up by large printers & plotters.
Not sure if anyone sees what is wrong with this scenario, however for me working without a traditional office has allowed greater flexibility for me and my employees. It has allowed for us to review and innovate upon age old practices within our industry. The restrictions forced by COVID has further convinced me in continuing our way of working. What was once done out of necessity has now become necessary to continue to maintain the efficient system we are building in getting our work done seamlessly.
These are common issues on why I feel there is hesitancy to move away from the traditional office structure. Some of these items I have struggled and wrestled with over the course of the last two years:
1.) Having no office does give off a sense that the company is unsuccessful or unprofessional, with the impression being if they were doing well or good at what they do, they would be in an office by now.
Addressing the success part, other than not having an office we enjoy many or more of the same perks of traditional companies:
- All our employees enjoy 100% benefits coverage.
- We give out two annual bonuses in a year.
- All though all our workers are paid hourly, we currently have a practice of guaranteeing them 40 hour work weeks.
- All of our full-time workers got an average pay raise of 7% from 2021.
- All our workers get to work from home and or commute to their work sites directly to and from their residence.
Addressing the professionalism aspect is easy, the work speaks for itself. I have heard it once said that most of the clients may not fully understand or appreciate the work or standards needed to produce a land survey plan; However, what is evident to any client is being attentive to their calls, emails, and delivering on promises and timelines. Once the client sees that you can be trusted to deliver a quality product, it will not matter if you are working in a corner office on West Broadway, or in my case a basement in Surrey.
2.) Culture is everything and how do you develop a sense of culture and team if everyone is out on their own without seeing each other? What about the exchange of ideas and training employees? Traditionally these are items that are best served in a shared physical space.
The culture part for me really is about creating an environment where employees thrive and do not perform based on fear or pressure. An example I would bring up is that I rarely call or interact with my employees on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons. Mondays being the start of the week I do not want to blitz an employee to get into work mode, while Fridays I would rather have the employee look forward to the upcoming weekend rather than an intense work-related conversation. I do not believe culture is created with forced team parties or events, the simple act of empathizing and caring for employees goes a long way. The training portion along with the exchange of ideas is easier said than done, however you just need to be very purposeful when planning meetings. At Elevate we have monthly team meetings for our office and field staff. We go over issues that have come up and discuss ways to avoid them. As an employer being accessible and approachable will also allow the employees to provide you honest feed back on what works and what doesn’t.
3.) Following the thought above, how about employee accountability? Is it possible to ensure your workers are working efficiently and on time? Is that not why everyone should report to an office at the allotted time?
A lot of the accountability question is answered in some of the items addressed in the questions above. For an employee there needs to be a direct correlation between the company’s success and their success. Bonuses, pay raises, benefits, guaranteed hours are all some of the ways an employee will see they have a stake in taking ownership in the company’s continued success. As an employer it is also key to set out expectations at the onset of every project and task. However once you have a suitable system in place accountability will not be an issue. The real work is in establishing the culture that produces peak performance from your employees.
Two years is a short time to claim that our ‘work from home’ mantra has been a success. However, I can say that the early results have certainly been promising. While I cannot speak for other professions, the initial results we have seen at Elevate seem to suggest it is no longer critical to have a traditional office to run a successful land surveying company.