Environmental due diligence professionals and report writers are used to multitasking. Reviewing site conditions while looking at a map, logging findings, and taking photographs can be a head spinner, but many of us see it as “just part of the job.”
Of course, the status quo isn’t always the best way to do things. Anything you can do to streamline the process of writing reports while in the field can offset the work that needs to be done in editing, ultimately saving a good chunk of time and money.
Looking for tips on how to simplify data collection and report writing in the field? We’ve got you covered. Speed up site evaluation, save on resourcing costs, and improve data accuracy along the way with these tips from Quire.
#1: Adopt a technology-first mindset
You’re walking a site with a clipboard and pen, a tablet under one arm, and a camera under the other. Suddenly, the worst happens: it starts to rain. Does this sound familiar?
Most environmental professionals have found themselves in a position where balancing all of the items needed to gather accurate data–like lead detection devices, maps, phones and/or tablets–becomes overwhelming. There’s a real efficiency drawback when you have to dig through a backpack to find the next tool or device and then log your findings with a pen and paper. (Not to mention the effect a rainy day can have on your ability to take clear written notes.)
While there may be a bit of a learning curve for some, adopting a technology-first mindset is worth the upfront work and cost. Many once-manual tasks can be replaced with one or more apps on a single mobile device. Not only is this easier, but it’s also key to centralizing data and streamlining the process of collecting it in the field.
Tools like Quire make it easy to consolidate field data collection, label photos, and map latitude and longitude for data locations from a single app—but you can optimize your Word templates and spreadsheets for simpler data collection as well.
#2: Build predictable forms
If you’re writing the same types of reports from one day to the next, you’re used to seeing a lot of similar data time and time again. For example, every time you do a lead-based paint inspection report, you’ll note whether it’s positive or negative. Whenever you do a Phase I ESA, you’ll need to log soil types.
It may not seem time-consuming to write down a sentence or two of your findings on the field so you don’t forget later. However, a few minutes here and a few minutes there can really add up and make an impact in the long term. At the end of the day, that could add up to an hour of your time that could have been spent on more high-value activities. And if you’re working with subcontractors, those hours directly correlate to dollars.
Every moment you save in the field is worth the time spent setting up templates that minimize the effort to enter common information. Dropdown boxes with yes/no answers or multiple-choice options make a huge difference. For the best ongoing time savings, continually re-assess and re-optimize your templates for changing regulations or as new conditions present themselves in the field.
#3: Try text-to-speech
Want to get even more hands-free? Most devices include the option to take advantage of speech-to-text and eliminate the tedious act of writing out data by hand.
Text-to-speech does have its drawbacks. It can get words wrong, but it’s typically easy to parse what was meant (and you might get a chuckle out of it). As long as you are looking at the screen as you record, you can catch significant errors in real-time to avoid confusion later on. And if a second person will be transposing your text, they’ll certainly have a better starting point than with handwritten notes.
#4: Reduce data transposing touchpoints
The efficiency of on-site data collection has a direct impact on the efficiency of the people working with that data to compile or edit a report. It’s not uncommon for editors to notice something off in a report and, upon inspecting further, discover that information was transposed incorrectly at some point in the process.
Ditching the pen-and-paper method of collecting data is the first step in improving data accuracy. Ideally, no one should have to rewrite or transcribe another person’s work. In order to reduce the number of touchpoints the data has to go through, the person in the field should be using the same application for both data collection and report development.
#5: Carry a backup device
Here’s a pro tip: cell phones hate cold weather. We’ve been to sites so cold that it quickly drained the device battery, leaving us without the information and data collection capabilities we depended on.
This isn’t a case for ditching technology. Rather, this is proof that using a digital application makes it easy to always have a backup on hand. As long as you’re armed with your personal mobile device or a similar backup method, you can pick up right where you left off. And with the right tools, you can function offline in the middle of nowhere without worrying about where the data lives.
Efficiency is the key to your firm’s ability to take on more work and prevent routine commoditized reports (like Phase I ESAs) from becoming loss leaders. Keep field teams on task and on budget with Quire–versatile and efficient report-writing software with offline capabilities.