Sun Communities Manages Thousands of Seasonal Workers the Smart Way

Wild Acres is an idyllic RV resort with heated pools and a variety of sports facilities on one of the most beautiful beaches in Maine. But Sun Communities, a real estate investment trust that owns and operates over 350 locations around the U.S. and Canada, including Wild Acres, had a problem.

“A large portion of our employees are transient workers,” says Marc Farrugia, vice president of Human Resources for the company. As many as 4,500 employees join or leave its workforce each year.

The company has been acquiring, operating, and developing manufactured home and RV communities since 1975, and has a very successful track record of strategic acquisitions. Between 2011 and 2016, it acquired assets worth over $2.6 billion including Carefree Communities and its large portfolio of prime coastal sites, increasing its total number of sites by 84 percent.

A Legacy of Complexity

But along with acquisitions came complex, disconnected technologies and the challenges of manually signing thousands of seasonal employees on and off the payroll each year. “Segmented systems require ongoing upkeep and data failures were becoming very problematic,” explains Farrugia whose company also manages 2,700 regular employees.

Sun Communities needed a system that would automate paperwork, be intuitive, and easily accessible  —  especially for its diverse candidate and employee population, who historically found it challenging to apply online  —  and could facilitate and track necessary training.

“My job is to identify and implement the right software to support growth,” says Farrugia. “We had to make the process as easy as possible.”

The company picked SAP SuccessFactors to replace all the legacy HR systems and manage all the HR processes, Farrugia goes on to explain. “We needed to simplify and streamline processes to free up employees to do what they were hired to do, namely, deliver exceptional experiences to our customers.”

What’s Different

In the past it would take three to five days for a new hire to be manually keyed into the system and for their data to be available in the learning management and other downstream systems. Now, with SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central, it’s a matter of hours. The company knows that compliance standards are being met and new employees are starting off on the right foot.

“With fully automated processes, we can get people up to speed quickly” says Farrugia. “Even our maintenance employees use the SAP SuccessFactors app to pull up instructional videos to fix stuff right onsite. And when the season is over, offboarding must be seamless. We want employees to come back the next year. We rely heavily on returning staff.”

Previously employee termination processes were also manual and error prone, especially if no IT staff were available to cut off a former employee’s access to the system. Gaps created when someone left the company and their access rights had not yet been withdrawn, could lead to security breaches that impacted the audit process.

Today, thanks to intelligent services that are part of the SAP solution, access rights are automatically revoked within seconds of termination. Automating the offboarding process saves the company an estimated 2,700 worker hours per year, the equivalent of one and a half employees, but no employees were laid off as a result.

“We’re using that time for more strategic tasks, such as figuring out if we’ll have enough staff in case the weather is great and we decide to extend the season after Labor Day,” he adds.

What’s Next for Sun Communities

Farrugia is not one to sit back just because all the paperwork for new hires is completed before each employee’s first day. This is the hospitality business, after all, and plenty of other areas require his team’s attention.

He now sees himself as an internal sales person whose job is to engage more strategically with the other lines of business within the company. He wants to change the perception that HR is an administrative task and position the team as a business partner. He wants to put more predictive tools in the hands of the users and make sure all data is readily accessible.

“Exporting reports used to be a nightmare,” he recounts. The next big task, he believes, is to create a centralized data repository with realtime visibility into the temporary labor situation.

Farrugia understands the power of having one system that meets all his needs; that’s why he’s looking into potentially implementing SAP Fieldglass, a cloud-based, open external workforce management and services procurement platform.

“Currently our temporary labor needs are managed by external agencies that match applications, jobs and locations, and it’s all done by email. The new tool will help us automate every aspect of procuring and managing flexible labor, not just the on and off boarding process, and that’s certainly something to look forward to!” he says.

This story previously appeared on the SAP Innovation Spotlight on Medium.