Spring has arrived and with that comes rejuvenation and an opportunity to look at how best to run a household. I checked in with three wonderful Estate Managers/Chiefs of Staff to see what tools they have in their current tool box to keep staff and properties humming along.
For these Estate Managers, technology makes staff communication fast and convenient. At a minimum, these EMs make sure all staff have a smartphone for the continuous access to email, phone, text, and camera.
- Nadja texts with housekeepers, landscapers, and all kinds of vendors.
- Justin uses G Suite to give all employees an email address to communicate electronically for important matters, and sets up a shared calendar "for important site specific matters and meetings."
- As needed, these EMs give staff accounts on other apps like Google Docs, Dropbox, Docusign, and others.
As with staff management, Estate Managers utilize technology for fast, easy communication with vendors. Nadja noted that "I work with people constantly whose first language is Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Russian, etc. They may have amazing in-person speaking skills but are terrible with emails or texts, or don't understand 'slang' or 'idiomatic' quirks of English, of which there are many. So, I ask people what their preferred communication mode is."
These EMs use, and have tried, a variety of tools for managing vendor contact information.
- Drew said "I've previously used DayLite to manage my vendor contacts but have gone back to Excel because it took too long in DayLite to set up new relationships and keep track of them."
- Justin has also made a switch, from Filemaker to the Contacts app in G Suite. He says "I used Filemaker for one family for many years which was great for long-term historical information. Salesforce is excellent for more advanced vendor management (contract management, scanning documents, etc)."
Nadja uses Word for her House Manuals, while Drew is a strong proponent of EverNote. He says "I use EverNote because the household operations manual is a document that changes daily. EverNote is approachable, and makes it super simple for the entire team to edit, add photos, etc, as needed."
For project tracking, Nadja and Drew both prefer a spreadsheet like Microsoft's Excel or G Suite's Sheets. Drew says "I use Excel after trying several types of PM software (e.g., Asana, DayLite). I like the simplicity of cells and it does everything you need it to do. Also, Excel makes communicating with the Principal very clear; they do not need to learn our software." Drew's "Closing the Loop Document" is a spreadsheet he shares "with my Principals and across my team (everyone contributes). It has a tab for each property, plus a Principal personal tab [containing] their personal projects not related to the home, and organizes each action by priority number."
On the other hand, Justin prefers Wunderlist, which he says "is great for multiple projects and ongoing tasks, and allows assignment of tasks."
Many competing home automation products came up in these conversations, but there wasn't a clear favorite. Nadja uses Control4 and Total Connect on her iPhone/iPad to "lock/unlock doors, set thermostat before principals arrive and reverse when principals leave." She also uses them "to access security cameras at all properties." Justin recommends A/V Crestron, Vantage, and Apple Home.
Both Nadja and Justin recommend learning about new systems from the vendor. Justin says, "If there is a new system being installed, learn it to the best of your ability and create user guides for Principals and/or guests and/or staff." For technology choices in the home, while Nadja's "uber technical" principal has made the decisions, she says "I would meet with the seller, learn the product and customize it for our specific needs, and I would train the staff on how to use it."
With the latest and greatest app/website/phone always just around the corner, it's important to have techniques and make time for staying up to date.
Nadja says "technology shifts so quickly...and we work with people who LOVE technology, so we're always morphing into new and better ways to do things WITHOUT making things more complicated than need be."
Justin advises, "listen and learn." On this note, Nadja says "I am always keeping abreast of new apps (in articles, online, suggestions from colleagues, suggestions on DEMA or other professional sites, etc). [..] I play around with apps to test them out and see if they'll work for my specific needs. Then I make recommendations to staff and/or principals."