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Maintenance Techs On the Job: Is Two Better Than One?

Maintenance Techs
June 2018

Asks one property supervisor: Should management be concerned if two of its maintenance technicians are buddies and work together on the same things all day? Isn’t this counterproductive? Shouldn’t they be working on their own unless it's a job that requires two technicians’ attention?

Following are responses from a variety of apartment industry professionals, including onsite managers and maintenance techs, as well as subject matter experts.

Efficiency

  • An apartment turn or work orders in general can be performed twice as fast if two techs are doing the job.
  • Just because two techs are working on a job doesn’t mean that it’s being done “twice as fast.” And does twice as fast still mean the job is being done well?
  • Why is there always time to do it over, and never time to do it right?
  • It depends on the team and the community. I’ve been with teams where the techs work together and it was extremely effective for morale and productivity. I’ve also been on teams where working together meant “let’s hang out rather than do work.”
  • Sometimes it is better and even necessary to have another set of eyes, extra hands and a second opinion for a project.
  • Having two working on completing the job can be more efficient, because if parts or tools are needed, then one tech can run back to shop to get them while the other tech takes apart the item that needs repair.
  • What work are they buddying-up to do? Garbage disposal replacement? Laundry-machine repair or replacement? Replacing a 3-by-5 foot mirror? Some jobs get done faster with two techs. And, is one guy teaching the other?
  • I work with one other tech on a 250-unit community. We use one golf cart and we roll all day long. This works for us because he’s a little guy and can fit into tight spaces and I’m a big-and-tall guy who can handle the heavy lifting and is able to reach things that he cannot.
  • A tech always works faster when working with his or her supervisor.
  • There’s power in numbers. If two techs are working together, residents are less likely to want to stand there and chat with one.
  • Our maintenance team works on make-readies during a certain part of the day—perhaps until 2 p.m. and then performs the outstanding service requests. This prevents them from bouncing around job-to-job, improves productivity and usually reduces stress.

Situation-Specific Jobs

  • It depends on the work to be done. Fix a toilet or a faucet, repair an appliance, unclog a drain, install a light fixture, some aspects of HVAC service: One guy. Anything requiring troubleshooting such as a dead circuit, a water leak, a complicated HVAC malfunction, having to move a heavy item: Two guys.
  • You’d need two techs for water-heater jobs. Water heaters sit on a 6-foot pedestal and, after drained, they are awkward to carry and weigh about 75 pounds.
  • When fixing a leaking toilet, one tech has to stand below while the other is above sending water down the pipes so they can determine where the leak is coming from.
  • Is one tech training the other? Do they have to lift heavy items such as appliances? Or are they just wasting each other’s time? If it’s two guys working together on a make-ready and they are busting their butts, then what’s the problem? It all comes down to motivation and integrity.

Morale

  • A property manager who complains about two-man maintenance crews will soon be complaining that they cannot find good techs to work for them.
  • It can become frustrating when there are two techs attached at the hip while the third tech is working alone. Therefore, the third tech cannot get the help he needs from the team when it’s needed. This creates a bad work environment; the third tech will hate to come to work.
  • You can work with a second tech as long as work orders are completed within 24 hours and as long as all the work is getting done. One thing about maintenance techs: If you let them do what makes them happy—as long as work is getting done and with no complaints—you will be okay. If you don’t, they will leave. Just remember: Good, experienced techs don’t grow on trees.
  • A maintenance job can be stressful enough. Being micromanaged by someone who doesn’t know how to do the job and who isn’t there doing the job adds to the stress level.
  • Why do members of the office staff—with zero hands-on experience—seem to think they know more about how to do jobs that their maintenance techs do every day?
  • Be careful not to let “cliques” form because it can bring morale down. I once had a lead tech and supervisor who, not only were joined at the hip, but would alter the on-call rotation so that they could go fishing together on weekends.
  • We are all grown adults who have jobs to do. There is not one way to do the job. Why does everything have to turn into a battle onsite? If you look at it as a battle, it always will be.

Training

  • If all of your techs are working alone, how will they receive the necessary training? This industry continues to expect that the maintenance staff they hire are fully trained and able to hit the ground running. The best people to train apartment maintenance techs the apartment techs themselves. This race to the bottom has to stop.
  • Having two techs work together in some cases can pay off for the community overall. If one (and only one) tech works alone to take care of a certain area of the property and that tech becomes sick, injured or leaves the company, the other techs are thrown into their area and aren’t prepared to deal with those duties and don’t know any of the little tricks that can make the job go more smoothly. This makes it take longer to complete a task, and sometimes the tech looks foolish. You also might get a “that’s not my building” attitude from the person newly assigned to the task.

Liability

  • Two techs might prefer to work together because a minor might be present in the apartment. Or, the tech might have wanted to ensure that the resident didn’t make accusations. We pair-up if we have a difficult resident.
  • There are jobs that require two people—not only for greater efficiency but for safety’s sake.

Management Style

  • Maintenance staff should be meeting with the office staff every morning to review what needs to be done that day. They should be assigned tasks, accordingly. Property managers should have the techs complete a maintenance log that outlines their daily work in detail. If you give them a little more structure, it should help to improve efficiency and production.
  • When submitting a work order to the tech, specify how many hours the job should require and how many maintenance techs should work on the order. Put it in writing.
  • Unless the techs fall behind on their work, the property manager should probably stay out of it or he or she will not be respected by the techs. When that happens, the community will need to hire new maintenance staff. Let your maintenance supervisor decide what works best and then he or she can be held accountable if things aren’t getting done.
  • Maintenance staff and office staff need to communicate and work together so everyone knows what is going on. It is not effective for maintenance to work completely independent of office staff.
  • Make it a competition. Consider incentivizing individual work: Whichever tech gets the most done on staff earns a free lunch.
  • My techs are joined at the hip. As a property manager, as long as everything gets done, it’s hard for me to raise this as an issue. I have to pick my battles.
  • Give them a shot to prove a positive difference in the way they want to do the job in comparison with how the onsite manager thinks it should be done. That way, they cannot say you didn’t compromise with them.
  • We have KPIs established around our service teams and the number of service request each individual performs.
  • Here is my question: Does your maintenance staff come into the office a few times a day and see the office staff sitting around shooting the breeze? If that is the case, then a property manager will be called into question if they confront their techs about working as a pair.
  • Management and maintenance staff must work together as a team. The culture should never be management versus maintenance.