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How to do Summer Letters in 1/4 the Time

It’s January. Summer is five months away and we are already starting planning for aquatics summer staffing and programming as it snows outside. It seems like just a couple weeks ago we were draining the outdoor pools and getting ready for winter. Unfortunately the next task on my desk is summer letters. You know, the ones where I try and get all my lifeguards and staff to come back from college during break to work for a couple months.

I’ve always known that these are a pain. The whole process of putting together the letters, stuffing the envelopes, finding all the addresses (which may not be correct anymore), and getting all of them out the door in a timely manner. Then guess what, your staff went off to college, so the letter ends up in mom’s mailbox three states over. Woops… Now once everything starts going well, the returning staff have to fill out my lengthy form with all the questions like “tell me all your summer plans” as if an 18 year old millennial has any idea what will happen three days from now.

I start getting all the letters back with messy handwriting and somehow have to get all of these information into some orderly manner so I can actually figure out if I need to hire more staff, who’s going to what pools, and all those puzzles. Guess what folks, it the 21st century and there is an easier way to streamline this entire process and save yourself some real nasty headaches.

Google Forms is a product of the Google Suite online. Best part is: it’s free to use, all you need is a Gmail account. Once you create your own custom form (or “letter”) you can send it directly through the means of communication all of your staff are probably most comfortable with these days. They can fill out the form on their phone or whatever device they have handy and all the information gets instantly dumped into a spreadsheet for you as they fill out the form. That’s right, no data entry, no paper, no stamps, just plain efficiency.

At DigiQuatics, we love efficiency and helping spread the vision to everyone else in the community. If this whole thing sounds too technical or fancy, just email us at team@digiquatics.com to set up a time where we will walk you through setting everything up over the phone. For free. If you want to take on the challenge for yourself, here is a step-by-step guide to setting up your own summer “letters” and saving yourself hours of your precious time which you can spend on bigger and better things than stuffing envelopes.

If you don’t have one already the first place to start is to create a free account with Google. I recommend choosing a generic email for use at your organization and a password that can be shared with your management staff to access all your data. For example, [your-city].aquatics@gmail.com.

Once you created and login to your new Google account, click on the Google Suite Menu in the upper-right corner to access Google Drive. Google Drive is all of your documents in an online format, which includes Docs, Sheets, Slides, and of course Forms.

Next you will want to click the “New” button in the upper-left corner of your Google Drive screen. Under “More” select “Google Forms” to start your new form.

I suggest titling your form something like “Town of Blackrock Aquatics Summer Letter 2017” or something similar for your staff to recognize when they open up the form. Once your form is titled, you can start setting up all of your form “questions.” Each question has a ton of different options, which I can’t go into 100% detail on all of them in this tutorial, but I will show you some of my favorites that are applicable.

Of course, we need to know who filled out the form so I suggest starting with two “short answer” questions for the first name and last name. Pro tip: use two individual questions 1) first name 2) last name so that when the data gets dumped into the sheet you can sort columns based on last name alphabetically for example.

To add another question to your Google Form, just click the “+” button the right side of your current question to add another. Hint: if you want to force the user to enter an answer you can switch the Required toggle to “on” which makes then at least put something in there before they can submit the form. Another great way to make new questions of a similar type to one already made is to use the “copy” button to duplicate your question.

Now, let’s get fancy. Change the form type from “short answer” to “multiple choice.” Here I used an example of Pool Preference #1 for the question with a list of pools at the city. There are several ways to make a question like this, another option is to use a dropdown where they can choose from a list using a dropdown menu of custom options you provide. Pro tip: use the duplicate option here to create Pool Preference #2 and so on, using the same answer options, rather than having to re-enter them.

Another couple items you might want to collect are: first date available to work. For this, we want to keep the format in the spreadsheet nice and clean, rather than having a jumble of July 5, 7/3/17, 5-26, etc. With clean data, you have a lot more capability to do sorting and filtering, which is particularly helpful with a large staff.

Great! Now let’s say you want to have them include their most recent copy of the Lifeguard Certification card. Easy enough, let’s do it!

Now you can easily collect your staff certification cards and upload them to the DigiQuatics Certifications Module so you and your staff will get notifications a couple months in advance of expiration, making it super easy to make sure all your staff are up-to-date on their certifications. Nobody likes having staff that can’t work…

Next you can collect which positions your staff is willing and able to work for you this summer. For example you may want to know how many staff can work as lifeguards, instructors, etc.

Guess what again, you can copy and paste these positions into your DigiQuatics Employee Import Template and easily create all of your staff with their qualified positions for staff scheduling all in one shot! Another headache solved.

By now you should have a good understanding of how to create different types of questions in your summer letter google form. Their interface is fantastic and you really can’t hurt anything, so just play around and see the power of these forms and how they can make your life super easy this Spring.

I’m sure you’re wondering, now how do I get the data? All you have to do is click the “Responses” tab at the top of the form builder and click the green spreadsheet icon to generate a Google Sheet to which the responses will be dumped. It also includes the date and time the employee completed the form, which is helpful too for deadlines.

To send the form to your staff, I recommend sending the unique form link via email to your staff so that they can just click on it and fill it out. This is a lot easier than trying to enter in all your staff email addresses into the recipients field in forms. Another option is to use the built in employee messaging tool in DigiQuatics to send the form to last year’s employees either by email or text. To do this, just click the “Send” button at the top of the form builder and then click the “chain link” icon to get a unique link. I always use the “shorten link” button, just to take up less space.

Once you get the link and blast out your shiny new summer letter to your staff, just watch the responses pour in digitally in a nice, clean format that you can work from. Let them do the data entry, not you. You can always use Google Forms for other parts of your operation but this is definitely one of the biggest ones during the year I would stress over.

Again, if you would like any help setting up your Summer Letter, just shoot us an email at team@digiquatics.com to schedule a phone call with us. We’re always here to help!

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