Despite global uncertainty, there are steps you can take to evaluate your solar operations and prepare your business, teams, and practices as best you can.
The Importance of Systems, Processes and Tools Relating to Workforce Resilience
Over the past 5 years at Scoop, we have focused on building a mobile, cloud-based software that equips in-the-field solar teams to efficiently execute defined workflows in a way that is connected, in real time back to the team in the office. Today, with the global health crisis reaching pandemic stages, we are spending a lot of time thinking about how organizations and teams will need to become more resilient when facing challenges like physical workforce disconnection, displacement or long-term illness/caretaking.
How the Crisis is Likely to Affect Your Solar Operations
Normally with the whole team at the office, it is easy to verbally communicate on new sales opportunities, proposals, designs, documents and projects. This casual form of coordination stops working when some or many team members are not at the office, leading to confusion, loss of direction and momentum.
Emails, shared drives and messaging apps can ultimately help streamline your solar operations but the challenge with these tools is two-fold: a) the time it takes to establish context and b) the information scatter / loss of big picture that ensues.
The Silver Lining
As unpleasant, concerning and disruptive the current situation is, it presents an opportunity to re-examine work processes, data collection and access, document management, team communication and problem-solving methods.
All with an eye to increase efficiency and resilience.
The recurring cost of establishing and re-establishing context
Think back to when you needed to email or text a colleague about an issue related to one of your projects. You probably had to dedicate half of your message to explaining which client, which aspect of the installation, the history and other details before getting to explaining the actual present issue. Often if the problem is complex enough you might have had to spend time finding and attaching, then explaining additional details referencing pictures, drawings and documents.
Although inefficient, this can work in the early days of most solar companies. With a small team, it is possible for everyone to maintain a mental map of context, status and progress. However, as solar companies grow, the tools introduced along the way require establishing and re-establishing context in an increasingly complex and disconnected system.
Information scatter & exponential complexity
Situations can quickly get very complicated, especially when multiple team members and often outside contractors are involved and when follow-up tasks need to be organized and tracked through to resolution including any additional issues or questions that may crop up along the way. What happens when a new person needs to be looped in on the evolving discussions? Some communication, documents, and pictures may have been cc’d but perhaps not all? How do you manage if there hasn’t been 100% compliance to the tools and workflows that have naturally evolved with the company’s growth. Some people have one version of the document, while others another version or none at all.
The fact is, these solar operations complexities are also present under normal conditions when everyone is at the office but, whereas before a casual conversation or a meeting 2 or 3 times a day could have helped things remain manageable, in the absence of this personal contact, things can spiral out of control very quickly.
The silver lining: as unpleasant, concerning and disruptive the current situation is with the looming pandemic, it presents an opportunity for some, and a forcing function for others, to re-examine work processes, data collection and access, document management, team communication and problem-solving methods. All with an eye to increase efficiency and resilience.
While no one can exactly predict where the current crisis will end and the full impact, two points are for certain a) Given the interconnected nature of today’s world this won’t be the last disruption and b) Given the outsized (64%+) proportion that “soft costs” (inefficiencies & overhead) occupy in the overall cost of a PV system, re-thinking your processes and increasing efficiency will help your business be more competitive and resilient regardless of whether we are in a crisis or not or whether we are in a bull or bear market.
Two Points are for Certain
Given the interconnected nature of today’s world this won’t be the last disruption.
Given the outsized (64%+) proportion that “soft costs” (inefficiencies & overhead) occupy in the overall cost of a PV system, re-thinking your processes and increasing efficiency will help your business be more competitive and resilient regardless of whether we are in a crisis or not or whether we are in a bull or bear market.
Questions to Ask as you Evaluate your Solar Operations Systems and Processes
- How many online and offline tools are required for your team to execute their tasks from kickoff through completion?
- If your team had to work remotely, which of your team members could easily do so and which would face challenges? What would be the nature of these challenges?
- Are all your project data accessible via the cloud? Are there data items, documents etc. that reside on local computers or in-house servers that may not be easily or securely accessible from the outside?
- If you made a list of all the software applications that your team needs to use, how many of these are cloud-based vs. desktop applications?
- How often are you observing long email threads acting as a solution to include an expanding set of stakeholders and make attempts at solving a problem?
- Do you currently have any tools that have succumbed to the law of entropy – the decline into disorder – and now would be considered to have legacy components?
- What level of compliance does your organization see for your most important standard operating procedures?
- What percentage of your team’s time is invested in the high value activities such as executing the work and solving problems versus managing the systems and processes?
Top Strategies to Prepare for Potential Disruption
1.Wherever possible, adapt workplace policies to reduce social contact:
- Flex hours including staggered start times
- Tele-working arrangements for those that do not need to be at the office
2. Be more lenient with sick leave policy to support employees who may be self-isolating.
3. Prepare for increases in employees being away when loved ones are ill or due to school closures by cross-training related roles to take up the slack.
4. Provide access to a centralized repository of information about sales opportunities (e.g., a CRM solution) and projects or sites (Operations Management solution); these systems not only provide information but also preserve the context of said information and any related communication.
5. Implement workflow automation within the above systems to reduce the need for manual / personal coordination and hand-off.
6. Ensure your operations management system is designed for and easily accessible not just by the folks at the office but also for the on-site crews. Remember this is where a great deal of information about sales opportunities and projects progress is initiated and if the system is not easy to access in the field, the rest of the team become ‘starved’ of reliable data. Having systems that provide true native mobile app functionality is an essential consideration. In a remote working situation, essentially the definition of a field worker expands to include those previously working at the office – thereby making mobile usability of tools even more crucial.