How to stop people forgetting to sign out keys

One of the biggest concerns I hear when talking to estate agency owners and lettings managers is that they have a constant battle with staff who forget to sign out keys. Very rightly, most people realise that knowing where your keys are ultimately comes down to how well you can get everyone in your team and your extended team to follow your processes.

Whilst it’s very easy to say “I’ll never get my negs to do it properly” and just accept this as a fact of life, in reality, signing keys in and out correctly is just an organisational habit that you can encourage within your company. Here are a few things you can try, if you find that people are constantly forgetting to sign out keys.


Locking up keys is costly, inefficient and usually unnecessary

Some assume that the best way to ensure people always sign out keys is to lock them into the cabinet, and that short of this nothing will work. In fact, physically locking keys down can have its own problems, such as the impracticalities of the space needed, and cost. Most people in the estate agency, lettings and property management sectors don’t opt to go down this route.

Instead, here are some practical steps you can take today:

It starts with looking up the key

Making sure a key is properly signed out begins with the look-up process. When someone needs a key, they first need to identify the one they need. If the key is easy to identify immediately on the keyboard anyone can just walk in and take it off the hook without following the sign-out process.

An example of how Keyzapp helps with this, is with the option to randomise the key-hook numbers. If a person has to look up where the key is in the cabinet, they are halfway through the sign-out process already. Keyzapp’s search function is super-fast, allowing them to identify and click to sign-out their key in seconds.

It seems counter-intuitive to make finding a key more difficult, however giving out key information in the wrong place can actually cause more trouble than it’s worth.


Put one person in charge

In most agencies, keys are reliably signed-out when they are given to contractors (whether they are signed in or not is another matter entirely, and I’ll save that for another blog post). That’s because the contractor needs to go through a member of staff in order to collect the keys.

With staff, there is usually a greater degree of trust, and people often allow a “self-service” approach. Whilst this is often the quickest way to do things, it can reduce accountability and open the door to inconsistency.

Where just one or two people are in charge of issuing keys, the process is more reliably followed. Those with the responsibility feel an ownership of the process, and will usually take care to ensure things are done right. They also know that if something goes wrong, that they are accountable to the rest of the team.

If you are going to put one person in charge then it’s very important to support them. Those in charge of keys often feel frustrated, because they have to invest significant time to lookup, issue and chase keys. It’s important to recognise this job as important, and provide them with everything they need so they can do it efficiently.

Rotate the person in charge

If you want to highlight the challenges of key management to everyone in the whole team, you might try allocating the responsibility to different people on different weeks. Once people understand better the consequences when things go wrong, they will be more inclined to to remember to follow the correct processes when they need to.

The story of Keyzapp in a nutshell

When a friend in the property industry approached us and explained that he had problems with tracking keys, we were pretty certain we could help. He explained that he was looking for simple software that used barcodes to quickly identify keys, and yet he was surprised to discover the software was not available.

Our first stop was traditional barcodes. Yes, they could be printed on keyfobs, and yes they would allow quick identification of keys. But, was there a better solution? We knew that web-based software that required nothing more than a web browser and internet connection would offer the busy staff in a lettings or estate office the best possible solution, but we couldn’t do this if we were using traditional barcodes.

Our next stop was 3D barcodes, or QR codes. These slightly odd grids of black squares are popping up all over the place on posters and flyers, and they can contain much more information than traditional 2D barcodes. Importantly, they can contain a web address, so we could use them for web-based software. The advantage of QR codes is also their downfall – they can be scanned by any mobile phone with a camera, but this means they take a little bit longer to scan as the mobile phone is moved around until the QR code comes into focus. Waving keyfobs in front of cameras would be possible, but still a little frustrating. The alternative of buying a dedicated scanner, like the ones on supermarket tills, was an expensive alternative.

Then came our Eureka moment – there was a new technology kid on the block, called NFC or Near Field Communication. Not a very cool name admittedly, but still a very clever technology. Small objects like credit cards or keyfobs could send information simply by holding them close to a reader. The information could be a web address. More and more devices were being built with NFC readers, from mobile phones and tablets to readers that could be plugged into a desktop or laptop. This was exactly what we needed – a quick and simple way to identify a keyring, simply by holding the keyfob over a reader. Or, as we liked to explain it, tracking keys by ‘zapping’ keys.

So, then all we had to do was build the Keyzapp software and work out a way to produce keyfobs with NFC…