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October 2004

Growing Pains - Starting a Remote Location

It’s a familiar feeling for a lot of people. You have grown your business to the point that the travel time to service your customers is affecting your company’s productivity, or you want to expand into a new county or state. You know how to find the right location that is near major roads, has good utilities (phone and electrical service), but how do you expand the office activities without losing control, or running at a loss until the operation is up to speed?

This is a big job for a company - it is as difficult as hiring and training your first employee. There is no trick to success in this venture, except vigilance and hard work. However, there are some guidelines and tools you can use to help minimize any problems.

The first is to establish good communications between the remote location and your main office. Land-line phone, backup cell service and high-speed internet access is a minimum to get started. If you want, you can have the phone service put the remote phone on your hunt group and, if all your phones are busy in the office, the phone will ring in the remote office.

Computer access to the main office can be implemented by using Windows XP-Pro and Remote Desktop Connection. This works great, it’s cheap and supports printing at both the main office and the remote location. You can find this installed on your system in \Programs\Accessories\Communications\Remote Desktop Connection. This is the part you run at the remote site. The host site is turned on in the Control Panel using the System icon, select Remote tab. If you are a using a router, the magic port number is 3389 (this is the default).

Pay attention – the objective is to make sure that each employee at the remote location knows that you are interested in the operation and want it to be successful. Some simple things you can do are:

Have someone at the remote location take digital photos of all personnel. Do the same with the inside and outside of all vehicles, and store the images in a dated directory at the main office. You can view the images by changing the view on the directory to view thumbnails. When you click on the thumbnail image, you see the full picture of the person or vehicle.

Have each truck cleaned at least once a week - a steam cleaner and 2 hours OT should cover the labor. The point you are making is that the vehicles are important to you and you are concerned. You will be pleasantly surprised on your reduced maintenance costs.

Track and report daily production activities. This can be as simple as recording miles, units serviced, sites serviced, hours, and downtime on a single line per driver, and this should be posted with running averages at least once a week. It is best if you can track actual productivity numbers for your business. Cans, if commercial waste, units serviced, gallons pumped, boxes delivered and, of course, problems like downtime hours, missed services, etc.

You can staff the location with a part-time clerk for AM hours or a lead driver to handle day-to-day administration, but when you or your site coordinator arrives, make sure you bring good news, a clean truck award, safety award, production award, increased sales award, etc., as you want your visits to be associated with good news. Otherwise, you will never hear about any problems.

If you want to try an interesting experiment, go home and say only nice things to your significant other or kids and then touch them on the shoulder. After a week or so, stop and they will likely ask what is wrong. It is the same with remote locations. You may want to skip the touch, though.

The majority of your employees want to make your company a success. You simply need to communicate what that success means!

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