Planning and Preparedness – Don’t Let Your Busy Season Bury You

Don't Let Busy Season Bury Your PHA

Summer is the busiest time of the year for many PHAs.  PHA staff can often find themselves unprepared or even ill equipped to handle the summer surge in workload. The increase in moves, recertifications, employee vacation time, and COVID-related struggles, ultimately leads to delays in processing, a backlog of escalations, and a cycle of frustration for employees, participants, and landlords.  

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to ensure your PHA is prepared to thrive during their busy season. Taking the initiative to identify current gaps, implement systems of automation, increase staff, and develop an action plan will keep your agency on track.  

First, let’s take a look at what you’re dealing with.  

 

The Details 

On average, more than 40 million people move each year and an astonishing 80% of those moves happen between April and September with June, July, and August being the busiest months. PHAs facing this influx are also dealing with employees on vacation and a huge number of recertifications. All of this in the middle of COVID recovery.   

That is a lot to deal with all at once so it’s not a mystery why PHAs can find themselves overwhelmed. But don’t be discouraged!  Let’s take a look at some steps you can take now to safeguard your team from burn out once the pace picks up.  

 

What You Can Do 

As a PHA director or manager, you are well-seasoned.  You know exactly what’s coming because you have been there, lived to fight another day and tell the stories.  

So, what can you do? 

 

Get Prepared 

Step #1, start preparing now before the full brunt of the summer rush takes effect. What can you anticipate and how can you prepare for them?  

For starters, you know you will have a high number of recertifications due over the summer months. If you don’t make a plan now for how to handle the boost of activity, your team will find themselves poorly equipped and it will create an excess of paperwork, call backs, and frustrated participants.  

There are a few ways you can strengthen your agency in these areas to be ready.

  

Start with your staff 

This is multifaceted. This can range from simply ensuring you are fully staffed, to increasing staff where needed, even in the form of seasonal employees. Make staff retention a high priority so you know you’ll have a strong and ready workforce. Be sure everyone is adequately trained and prepared to work at full capacity. Plus, pay close attention to anyone who may need additional training and be ready to make changes in your staff or provide the support necessary for the role to function properly.

 

Implement a ticketing system to isolate issues and keep incoming calls moving  

This can be a game changer and it’s easy to get started for any size agency. If you are unsure of how this works, here are a few easy steps: 

  1. Determine if the reason for the call requires a housing specialist. If so…
  2. Create a “ticket” that goes to the housing specialist that includes the callers’ contact and identifying information, reason for their call, and the timeframe a response is required.
  3. The housing specialist researches the issue and determines what is needed to resolve it.
  4. The housing specialist then contacts the participant to inform them of the resolution.  

Each PHA would need to determine the best format to create the tickets and the specific timeframes for callbacks, but once this system is in place, it takes a lot of pressure off of staff and relieves the bottleneck of nonstop calls needing to be transferred and handled on the spot.

 

Ensure you have 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 effect that puts you into a downward spiral. Whether you hire a contractor or hire someone to keep on staff, this is an area where you can neutralize negative impacts before your busy months even begin. If you don’t have someone, get someone to manage your IT today!

 

Change from a case management approach to a functional approach 

If you currently have a case management model, making this change has the potential to completely transform your agency for the better.  

Instead of having one housing specialist handle everything for the participants they are assigned to, you would instead assign your staff to handle different functions. For example, one housing specialist may be responsible for interim recertification requests, while another focuses on moves.  

You can’t anticipate when someone will put in a request to move, but you should know how many recertifications you will need to process every month. This would allow you to dedicate additional staff to the areas you need most during busy seasons in order to stave off the inevitable slowdown that occurs. By separating out the activities by function, your team becomes more specialized in those areas, which will ultimately lead to an increase in productivity and performance.

 

Be budget friendly

Cost is always a concern when we start talking about making changes, but you don’t have to go big or expensive to make positive changes.  

What low or no cost options are available that you aren’t taking advantage of? Are you using the systems you currently have to their full potential? 

For example, if you are on a Microsoft platform, there are many applications your organization can leverage to manage workloads, share information, manage documentation, and communicate with your teams. Your ticketing system can be run through Microsoft Forms. Additionally, internal communications between functional groups can be managed in Microsoft Teams.  

You don’t need to invest in the latest and greatest system, just start using the tools you already have in your toolbox. 

  

Have an action plan. 

Develop an action plan that gives everyone a clear snapshot of what the team is facing. A good action plan will include the number of processes (annual recertifications, RTAs, etc.) expected of each employee. Be sure to factor in time for required notices or corrections that may be needed. Here is a great example of what your action plan might look like and include: 

Action Description  Party Responsible  Date to Begin  Due Date  Resources Required  Potential Obstacles  Outcome 
Pull Recerts from system             
Assign Recerts to Staff             
Send Recert Notice with Application             

 

Lead by Example 

Lastly, make sure you are leading by example. If your staff feels supported and appreciated by you, the work they do will reflect this. Treat them well and make sure they know they are appreciated, especially during busy times when everyone is working extra hard.  

A few practical ways you can do this: 

  • Set up a monthly lunch or breakfast. This could be provided by the agency. Even in a remote environment, your agency could schedule a delivery at a particular time to all staff and have a Zoom lunch.  
  • Encourage your team to take breaks when needed.  
  • Have regular staff meetings to ensure you are communicating effectively. 
  • Allow your staff to let their personalities shine. This could be done through team spirit activities or water cooler times in Teams.  

When you put time and resources into your people, it assigns value to them and the work they do.

 

Don’t forget… 

“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?”  – Henry David Thoreau 

Ultimately, don’t allow the hard moments of business 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 something to be proud of.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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