Knowing the kind of impact man-hours could have on profitability, Michael Pasquarello, degreed landscape architect with Elite Landscaping in Berlin, New Jersey, says the company set out to find ways they could improve their efficiency and, in turn, increase their profitability. What they found were three solutions they felt made them more competitive in the market — all tied to man-hours.

1. Adjusting crew size

One of the first things management looked at closely was crew size. Pasquarello says the company initially always ran a three-man crew —  no matter the job size. But over time it became apparent that three men was one too many. That third man was often sitting idle and on big projects — those lasting two or three months — Pasquarello says an idle man on jobs was really “biting into the bottom line.” Trying out two-man crews, Pasquarello found they were more efficient. Now only once in a while will they add an additional man to the crew — if a large job warrants three laborers.

Michael Pasquarello with Elite Landscaping in Berlin, N.J.

Michael Pasquarello with Elite Landscaping in Berlin, N.J.

2. Changing up the typical “lunch hour”

The second thing management took a look at was the crew’s lunch hour. The protocol was one unpaid hour for lunch to do what they wanted — whether it included running through a drive-through, stopping somewhere to eat or bringing lunch. But Pasquarello says upon closer examination it was obvious that one hour was too much. Crew members admitted they didn’t need a full hour and were finding themselves sitting around. After a full hour off the job, they also found it more difficult to get back into the swing of things. Pasquarello says switching to a half hour lunch made sense — and crews agreed. Employees are given 30 flexible minutes that they can use how they like. Pasquarello says many will use 10 minutes to do a coffee run in the morning and 20 minutes to take a quick lunch. He adds it’s all about “managing their own time,” which crews seem to prefer.

3. Rethinking paid travel time

The final change was a bit more controversial, Pasquarello says. In looking for ways the company could be more efficient with time, they took a closer look at paid hours for travel. While employees used to be paid from clock-in to clock-out, Elite decided to make the switch to only paying for the drive to the job site — but dropped paying for the drive home.

Read more: Should I Pay Travel Time?

“We still pay the driver because he’s performing a job — driving the truck — but we stopped paying the crew members who were just sitting for the ride home,” Pasquarello says. “When you have a large labor force that extra time can equate to thousands of dollars. While there was some initial pushback on this change, doing the math and explaining to the crews what it meant for our bottom line helped them to understand why we don’t pay travel time home.”

Pasquarello admits the company did lose a few crew members over this change but says it was a necessary “growing pain” as the company got larger. While the third change was the hardest to implement, Pasquarello says overall it’s made a big difference.

“It’s helped our bottom line but an added benefit was the impact we’ve seen on the morale of the workforce,” Pasquarello says. “They are on board with our goal of operating as lean and as efficient as possible. As a result, they are eager to come to work every day and help contribute to that effort.”

Our Like a Boss series highlights some common business challenges landscape professionals face and how they conquer them.

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