An estimator anticipates the cost to produce a job, and a carpenter tries to complete that job within the estimate. If owners ask carpenters to turn in timecards on a daily basis, the hours associated with doing specific tasks will be more accurate. If a carpenter waits too long to fill out a timecard, he will have to rely on his — often hazy —memory, which will result in inaccurate data for the estimator and the carpenter. This inaccurate data will affect both current and future jobs, making it difficult for the company to meet profit margins.

Carpenters dislike paperwork, so make it easier on them to report their hours and tasks. Try one of the latest phone systems that allow employees to log their work times and work categories via cell phone. Companies that offer this service include Nextel and Verizon. Restoration specialists ARS Services, in Boston, has each lead person send in job-cost codes with actual hours through its Nextel System using Nextel's Xora TimeTrack service. The data is then transferred to ARS' payroll department for more efficient processing.

ARS also uses the GPS feature of Xora TimeTrack, which tracks the location of workers and the time spent at each location, as well as the trips taken to and from that location. Knowing that the owner is tracking this information has made carpenters work more efficiently and cut down on trips to the hardware store. — Les Cunningham is the president of Business Networks. He can be contacted at