It used to be that we didn’t have a lot of choice in how and where we worked.

For electrical businesses, this has always meant a mix of onsite work, plus essential functions that are carried out at a company office. Within this mix, there has been the need for people to go back and forth: project managers going from the job site to the office, or electrical estimators having to physically pick up the drawings from which they produce their estimates. Timesheets were filled out manually, and someone at the office had to go through them to enter them into the payroll.

These manual procedures take time and cost money. Anything that requires extended human input is using your FTE budget, while any travel back and forth not only costs money, but is dead time for the business. (It can be taxing on the employee as well!)

We’re reaching a point now where technology is significantly changing how we work. While the installation work on job sites will always be a requirement, there are many other necessary parts of the job which we can streamline.

Cloud software has been playing a huge role in helping electrical teams work more efficiently and save money along the way. Here are some of the ways in which cloud software is enabling remote electrical teamwork:

Get our quick guide on how to choose cloud software here

Project management

Managing projects the traditional way tended to involve many physical folders of information. Later, companies commonly used a combination of Excel spreadsheets, email, and updates made either over the phone or by physical inspection. Many still operate in this way.

The main problem with managing projects the traditional way is that it can be prone to errors or omissions. None of those disparate systems “talk” with one another, so you rely on people accurately updating spreadsheets, calendars and any other tracking tool that you use with information they have pulled from somewhere else.

Sometimes you need to be able to easily collaborate with others, but this is not a simple affair when projects are managed with old-fashioned files. It means that your documentation is kept with someone, or in a filing cabinet, and not easily accessed by others. Need an extra signature on something? You’d have to physically track that person down.

Cloud-based project management software has been a game-changer for the many electrical businesses that have already put it in place. A cloud-based system provides a “single source of truth” through which all updates and communications can be streamed. You can make the project software accessible to anyone who is on or off site, meaning that as long as they have an internet connection, they can collaborate, make updates or give approvals.

You could choose to use general project management software which can be rolled out across all types of businesses, or software that has been specifically created for the construction industry. For example, in the UK we have Siteloop, which has been made with construction or electrical businesses in mind. Many companies also use Dropbox to store and manage files, eliminating the need for a lot of paper, or physical file storage.

Cloud software

Communication

We’re at a point where even email is outdated as a means of communication. Inboxes become crowded and messages get lost amongst the pile. There’s also a danger that crucial information gets “siloed”, where only a few people have access to it and others who really need to know don’t.

Communication is an absolutely crucial aspect of any electrical project, and becomes even more important when people work remotely. Poor communication can slow down project delivery, waste time, or even lead to costly errors.

When you need to communicate with a number of people, some kind of centralised solution, where information can be kept and accessed by anyone at any time, is ideal. This is where cloud-based software solutions come in.

A communication tool like Slack is great because it can be easily used by anyone, from anywhere. People on the job site can use the Slack app on mobile phones or tablets, while there is a desktop option as well. Messages are searchable, which makes it easy to find things later on.

Cloud software is enabling electrical businesses to become more streamlined Click To Tweet

On-site team management

The old ways of time cards or sheets which were physically handed in by employees take up valuable time at both ends. Employees spend time filling them out, while whoever is in charge of payroll is then manually entering their hours ahead of payday. This sort of system is prone to mistakes, or perhaps even fraud if someone is writing down extra hours.

You can save time, money and “busy work” by switching to a time tracking app. For example, TSheets was built with construction firms in mind. The app provides mobile time cards, as well as features such as GPS tracking and reporting.

Supervisors have the option to check in an entire team at once, rather than having everyone clock in individually. The whole thing can be populated via integrations to invoicing or payroll apps, such as Quickbooks, Xero, Sage or Gusto. This means that payroll can be generated automatically.

Safety and compliance

Safety certificates, checklists and other compliance documents are necessary parts of field work and help to ensure that jobs are completed safely and effectively. Of course, in a paper-based environment, these sorts of things can also become burdensome, get lost, or not be as accessible as they need to be.

Cloud-based software is making a difference by enabling safety and compliance tasks to be completed on-site, but immediately available to anyone else who needs to see the information. Apps such as iAuditor are taking over from paper checklists and helping to keep data centralised and accessible.

Financial management

How many times have you found yourself or other team members scrambling to find receipts for account reconciliation? Pieces of paper get lost under seats in work vans, or damaged beyond recognition on the job site. Someone back at the office is waiting on them, but they are nowhere to be found.

New cloud-based solutions can make that information available immediately to whomever needs it. For example, there are apps such as Shoeboxed or other accounting software where you can take a photo of a receipt on your mobile phone, and store it safely on the cloud as soon as you get it.  You don’t even need to physically deliver it to the office. Any online-based receipts can be forwarded immediately to the accounting software and this way, nothing is missing when it comes to reconciling accounts.

Inventory management

Keeping track of tools, equipment and other inventory can be a real nightmare, particularly if you have several jobs going on simultaneously. Many thousands of pounds worth of tools and inventory go missing each year, and it can be a significant cost drain for companies.

Tracking and inventory management has now gone more high-tech, using cloud technologies to enable better monitoring. For example, Bosch has implanted GPS tracking on tools which hooks up with their app, “Track My Tools.” This allows quick and easy tracking of the tools, simply by checking in with the app. Other tool makers such as Milwaukee are also using tracking in this way.

When it comes to resource tracking, cloud-based tools are also helping companies to reduce delays, wastage and extra expense. For example, inventory and materials can be tracked and allocated precisely with real-time updates, while tools that incorporate purchase order solutions mean that extra supplies can be ordered on-the-go from the job site. Previously, each request would always have to come through the office, but both on-site and in-office team members can connect through the cloud software.

Cloud software

Electrical estimating

Cloud software is also enabling remote work for electrical estimators, with tools such as Countfire there to help. Estimators no longer need to keep traveling between the office and the job site if they prefer not to, because the estimating software can be used from anywhere.

There is no longer any need to print out drawings as the electronic file can be uploaded to the software for counting. You could be onsite, noting any changes or special requirements, and inputting this information directly.

How should you choose cloud software? Get our quick guide here

Final thoughts

Overall, cloud-based software is introducing several efficiencies to electrical businesses. You and your team can save on time, money and travel, while also streamlining things such as communication.

Cloud-based software has many advantages, including that it stores data centrally and is easily accessible by those who need it. The software can also facilitate automation of tasks that would previously have taken a lot of time as a manual process.

Electrical contracting has always had some kind of “remote” element, but these types of software are enabling the various tasks to be more streamlined.