Digital Dialogue

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Technology lets remodeling companies communicate effectively in-house and on site.

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The workplace has come a long way thanks to technology — or perhaps in spite of it. Cell phones, e-mail, and software help people stay connected, with immediacy, but is it all it’s cracked up to be?

With regard to office use, technology also keeps many people tethered to their desks, lest they miss an e-mail. Super-fast connections often come at the expense of clarity, whether it be because of a dropped call or a misunderstood message.

For professional remodelers, technology offers plenty of benefits, such as enhanced design capabilities, accounting accuracy, and speedier communication between office and field. But with time sheets, plans, forms, and change orders flitting through cyberspace, remodelers may be sacrificing personal communication, particularly with clients, in favor of faster, more profitable results. Here are four companies that have maximized use of technology without minimizing the quality of the customer experience.

Rendering: courtesy Vision Remodeling

Picture This

When Vision Remodeling, in Little Canada, Minn., moved into its new building in 2006, owner Todd Polifka took advantage of technology from the start. The company has used Chief Architect design software since it began in 2004, and opportunities with the new facility allowed it to take the 3-D rendering capabilities to a new level.

“When we started talking about being more aggressive in growing our business, we decided to create a place where clients could come in for a presentation and really experience the project we were working on for them,” Polifka says.

The result is a high-tech conference room that literalizes the Vision Remodeling name. When a design is finished, clients join Todd and the designer in the conference room where the digital plans are presented on flat-screen monitors for a virtual walkthrough. Wireless capabilities let the designer make adjustments on the spot. Clients get the full experience of how their soon-to-be remodeled home will look.

“Taking this approach has turned our projects from gray to black-and-white,” Polifka says. “Homeowners want to understand what they’re getting for their dollar. If you go on about a bearing wall and a glulam LVL, they’ll say, ‘You lost me — show me what it looks like.’”

For Vision Remodeling, in Little Canada, Minn., the flat-screen TV in the companyís conference room looks unassuming

but makes a big impact when itís used for client presentations. A wireless keyboard and mouse on the conference table

make it easy to navigate design plans on screen.
Michael Zaccardi, Michael Zaccardi Photography For Vision Remodeling, in Little Canada, Minn., the flat-screen TV in the companyís conference room looks unassuming but makes a big impact when itís used for client presentations. A wireless keyboard and mouse on the conference table make it easy to navigate design plans on screen.

The more interactive presentation format allows Polifka to do just that, and he says that clients leave design meetings feeling confident in the direction their project is going. “At this point in the process, the client has chosen Vision as the company they’ll do the design with,” he says. “Of the design retainers we get, we’re converting in excess of 90% of those to build contracts.”

The conference room isn’t the only place that flat screens are incorporated. Even the front-desk area has a monitor where slide shows of past projects scroll for visitors. Overall, Polifka says the company spent more than $10,000 to outfit its townhouse office with high-tech tools, but that the investment is worth it.

“As the ticket price of a project increases, and as technology is being used more widely, people are definitely expecting a certain level of digital presentation and project coordination,” Polifka says.

Time in the Field

The team at Landis Construction also takes advantage of design software, and has plans for a presentation room in their Washington, D.C., offices. Right now though, the company is focused on technology that keeps crews connected and accounted for.

“We want to stay in touch with our crews as much as possible, so we set up our server to allow us to push e-mails to our project managers’ and some lead carpenters’ cell phones,” says co-owner Chris Landis. “We’ve also started using software called Xora that lets our field crews manage their time sheets on their phones.” In addition to time management, the software has Global Positioning System (GPS) capabilities, so the company can track crew members’ whereabouts.

After kicking off this workforce management approach in May 2008, Landis is looking forward to seeing how the software helps the company manage overhead. From the start, more streamlined time-sheet management was evident. “The software goes right into our accounting software,” Landis says, noting that the company used paper time sheets before Xora. “There are so many inherent problems with that kind of setup,” he says. “We’d have to chase people down when we didn’t get their time sheet or it was incomplete, and then physically transfer all of the information into the computer.”

Moreover, the GPS component lets the company see the location of each crew member in real time, and helps confirm workers’ hours. Though Landis says there’s some concern about the “big brother” effect of employee tracking, the benefits outweigh the risks. “We had no way to verify if everyone was on the job when they were supposed to be,” he says. “The new phone-based software puts their time sheet right in front of them, so they can clock in and out, and we can also see their location on the map. We had been seeing our overhead go up, and we’ve chosen these tools to help us get a handle on that.”