When we have visitors to the farm, whether it’s kids, vendors or other farmers, sometimes they surprise me. After I show them around the yard, the multiple John Deere tractors and huge grain and fertilizer storage bins, they seem to comment the most on one simple thing – the whiteboard in our main office.
When we first came up with the idea, to paint an entire wall with whiteboard paint, some thought it was the dumbest idea we’d had yet, and others thought it would be brilliant. What we didn’t realize was just how much we would come to rely on this whiteboard wall. We use it every single day whether it’s for brainstorming ideas, mapping out tasks or tracking grain and fertilizer inventory.
I think there’s a lesson here. Sometimes in our high-tech world, the most useful tools are low-tech and relatively low expense.
Let’s look at a few others:
This free app, similar to What’s App, is an easy-to-use push-to-talk communication tool that works like a walkie-talkie. You can send audio and text messages to single people or groups. Voxer is our lifeline on the farm, with employees spread out across 37,000 acres, and talking something out is often easier than texting, calling or emailing. Team members don’t check into the office every morning, they check in to Voxer instead and they like it because it keeps their work texts separated from personal texts. It’s a relatively low-tech tool that improves our communication and makes each one of us more efficient. You don’t need to pay for the Pro version – we don’t and it works just fine.
These are kits that we make up for team members who are working long hours while seeding. We include small but useful, items they may need while on the job so they don’t have to stop what they’re doing and run back to the office for supplies. Some of the items we include are cleansing wipes, cell phone chargers, utility knives, headlamps for the night shift, and cleaning supplies to keep the cabs clean.
A well-fed crew is a happy crew; I figured that one out a long time ago. Our team does an amazing job of preparing delicious home-cooked meals for the crew during seeding and harvest. One year we decided to buy insulated food warmers so we could deliver the meals and they would stay hot for several hours. This made such a huge difference I can’t even tell you how many positive responses we received from the crew. Again, $60 at Canadian Tire for a food warmer that has paid for itself over and over again.
Branded Merchandise and Clothing Allowance
If your farm isn’t investing some marketing dollars into branded merchandise, I think you’re missing a great opportunity. Branded merch like t-shirts, hats, and vests are what some might call old-fashioned marketing tactics, but they work. I find it helps both internally and externally. People start to recognize your logo and your farm name helping to build awareness in the community, while team members are proud (or at least they should be!) to wear it around town. I’ve had several team members tell me they love it when people come up to them and say, “Hey, you work at HGV?” It’s a conversation starter and an opportunity for them to talk about their job and why they enjoy working there. I don’t go far without my HGV hat, for obvious reasons. We provide each employee with a clothing allowance to use for branded safety gear and boots.
A couple of times a year we host team-building events and we always extend the invite to families, which I think everyone appreciates. It’s awesome to see all the kids getting along, while the adults spend time catching up. We don’t do anything fancy – golf in the summer, hockey in the winter, bowling, etc. One year we took the team to Regina for a Roughriders game, but most of the time we stay in Moosomin, which is easier, and more people can attend that way. Once every couple of years we’ll hire a local photographer to take team pictures and headshots for the website and social media since everyone is together in one place, which doesn’t happen very often.
A few years ago we purchased a motorcoach bus and gave it a bit of a facelift. We use this for transporting staff for team events and, recently, we’ve extended its use to local school and community groups if our team members’ children are participants. Only my team members are permitted to drive for insurance purposes. Last year we took kids to the local ski hill and team members will often use it to take their kids’ teams to games and tournaments. It has been a surprisingly unique return on investment as well as a conversation starter.
Don’t get me wrong, we love our high-tech tools on the farm too, but let’s not overlook the simple things. Often, they are cheaper, more accessible and more reliable and have a much greater impact on team morale and efficiency.
I’d be interested to hear what low-tech tools you find most useful on the farm…drop me a line.