John Eastman, owner of Eastman Homeowner Services, knows snow. Located at 8,000 feet in the High Sierra Mountain town of Mammoth Lakes, Eastman’s snow removal crew regularly battles extreme snowfalls – including 445 inches of the stuff during the 2016-2017 winter. Keeping his 15-person snow crew safe and happy is a top priority for Eastman. Here’s how he does it:
1. Assign each operator to a specific location for the season.
Familiarity is your friend. By assigning the same routes to the same operators all season, they can note and memorize any obstacles and hazards before winter arrives, allowing them to clear snow more efficiently and safely. No need to learn new routes.
“Each operator has an individual Bobcat machine and their own section of town,” Eastman says of his crew. “They have between 20 and 40 driveways to plow in a neighborhood so they know where to go.”
2. Make sure operators are getting enough sleep.
“There are companies who will require their drivers to drive for an extended period of time,” Eastman says. “I try to keep them in an 8-hour timeframe or maybe a 12-hour because they need to catch their breath and get some sleep.”
Snow removal can be stressful work – especially when you’re up against a deadline or a snowy forecast. It’s often tempting to work through the night, but a good night’s rest is key to avoiding accidental injuries and damages. Plan to give your crew adequate downtime to recharge after a hard day’s work.
“You work as hard as you can, put out as many fires as you can, from 5 o’clock in the morning until 8 o’clock at night,” Eastman says. “Take a shower. Have dinner. Go to bed. Get six to eight hours sleep and do the same thing the next day. Maybe I didn’t get everything done, but I did the best I could as did my crew.”
3. Allow operators time off and pay a fair wage.
Crew members need time off, too. Consider filling in for a person on your team if he or she needs a vacation day – or just an hour or two for a doctor’s appointment or parent-child school activity. A competitive wage can also boost the morale of your crew and demonstrate their value to your business. Check out sites like Glassdoor and Indeed to see how your wages stack up against those of other snow removal companies.
“Part of having a dependable crew is paying them a fair wage and also treating them with respect,” Eastman says. “They know that I would be willing to do what they’re doing if I had to.”
4. Communicate effectively.
“When we can, I squeeze in a breakfast or lunch with the whole crew to go over the weather report,” Eastman says. “When we had seven of feet of snow, we met the day it started, and we all had breakfast and talked about the upcoming event. It’s like anything else in life, if you communicate things are so much better.”
Eastman gauges stress levels, equipment satisfaction, crew communication and other insights for improvement by requesting and listening to feedback from operators. Open lines of communication also help him clearly set expectations and plans of attack.
5. Prepare for the unexpected.
Having spare parts and equipment on hand in case a mechanical issue arises helps Eastman spare his crew members from taking on extra work.
“The worst thing that can happen is to have a loader or blower go down during a storm, and you can’t fix it immediately,” Eastman says. “That puts added workload on the rest of the drivers. I believe the responsibility for my business is to have redundancy in my equipment, so I have one extra Bobcat loader that isn’t working unless another one breaks down. I also have five additional blower attachments. If one goes down, I just set it off to the side and put on a new blower attachment so I don’t lose much time.”
Your business is only as good as your employees. By keeping your snow crew’s needs top of mind, you’ll help boost their work ethic and loyalty – and measure the productivity in dollars.
Read more about John Eastman’s snow removal business to see how his crew tackles hundreds of inches of snow each year.