Hey, PHA Family!
It’s that time of year again. You are staring down the barrel of the busy season cannon and this year instead of just surrendering to the inevitable, we’ve been hard at work all year to give you some tips on how to get yourselves ready.
The increase in moves, recertifications, and employee vacation time during the summer months means that the busiest, and sometimes the most stressful time for PHAs takes place in the third quarter. This can put your agency staff in the position of feeling overwhelmed, and even feeling unprepared to handle the heavier workload headed their way. We’ve seen agencies can experience delays in processing, a backlog of escalations, and even some frustration for employees, participants, and landlords alike.
THE GOOD NEWS IS… Your PHA can thrive during this year’s busy season. Taking the initiative to identify gaps, implement some automation, increase staff, and refine your action plan, all will give you a strategic advantage and keep your agency on track.
So… on to the tips! Let’s first look at what you may be dealing with.
More than 40 million people move each year and 80 percent of those moves happen between the months of April and September. June, July, and August are by far the busiest. PHAs also see an increase in employee vacation time and a huge number of recertifications during this same time period.
It’s easy to understand how and why PHAs get overwhelmed. But you don’t have to just muddle through. You can navigate this difficult season with success.
First things first, prepare yourself.
Step 1: Get Prepared.
Go ahead and start preparing now. Now is the perfect time to start getting your agency and your staff ready for the summer rush. But in order for your preparations to be effective, you need to know what is coming.
For starters, you know you will have a high number of recertifications due over the summer months. This will create an excess of paperwork, callbacks, and more… which, in turn, will create even more paperwork, callbacks, etc.
It’s worth noting that this is an annual cycle. One thing you can do is go back through your reports from last summer and track the data. Take a look at the number of moves and annual recerts you had last year, and that should give you a good picture of what you can expect this year.
Then, once this year’s busy season winds down, take a look at the same data for this year. to get an idea of the workload you can expect to come next summer. This ability to predict the operational trends your agency experiences on a yearly basis is a game-changer. It literally gives your agency the ability to know what’s to come and be prepared for it.
Step 2: Ensure appropriate IT support.
This is a big one. More paperwork, more calls, more systems equal more technical issues. Don’t let IT problems create a snowball of issues. This is an area where you can neutralize negative impacts before your busy months even begin. So, if you don’t already have someone, either a contractor or on staff, hire someone to support your IT needs today!
Step 3: Implement a ticketing system to keep incoming calls moving.
This method of handling incoming calls really helps with streamlining and it’s easy to get started for any size agency.
There are several great tools available to just about everyone that are perfect for ticketing and tracking.
One option in particular is SharePoint, which is part of the Microsoft Office 365 suite.
Our favorite at AMA is Podio. Which we use extensively for tracking just about everything we do.
These systems can be highly customized to receive and store information, track activity, and automate processes in whatever way will work best for your agency.
You can even break out an Excel spreadsheet as an option. Although not recommended as a long-term solution, it is likely something you already have access to, know how to use, and it would work just fine to get you started.
If you are unsure of how this works, here are a few easy steps:
- The staff member answering calls determines if the call requires a housing specialist. If so…
- Create a “ticket” using whatever system you have in place that goes to the housing specialist assigned that includes the callers’ contact and identifying information, reason for their call, and the time frame a response is required (typically 48 hours).
- The housing specialist researches the issue outlined in the ticket and determines what is needed to resolve it.
- The housing specialist then contacts the participant to inform them of the resolution.
- Once the issue on the ticket is resolved and the participant is contacted, the ticket is then closed.
Once this system is in place, it takes a lot of pressure off staff and relieves the bottleneck of nonstop calls that need to be transferred and handled on the spot.
Step 4: Have an action plan.
A good action plan will give everyone a snapshot of what is expected of each employee. Create a spreadsheet or a table that includes each step of the process, timeline for that action, and the staff member responsible for it. Be sure to factor in time for required notices or corrections.
And… It’s budget friendly!
Cost is always a concern when we start talking about making changes, but keep in mind you don’t have to go big or expensive to effect positive changes.
You don’t need to invest in the latest and greatest system, just start using the tools you already have in your toolbox.
Step 5: Lead by Example
If your staff feels supported and appreciated by you, the work they do will reflect this. Make sure they know they are appreciated, especially during busy times when everyone is working extra hard.
When you put time and resources into your people, it assigns value to them and the work they do.
Never allow the busy seasons to cause you to lose sight of the importance of the work you are doing. Even in difficult moments, you are impacting families and your community for good and that is always something to be proud of.