COVID-19 and social distancing are talks of the town at the moment (even Arnie’s talking about it). A big component of social distancing involves letting employees and contractors work from home. However, realistically, a work from home policy is not feasible for some industries, like construction, where you need to be on a jobsite to do your work. So this begs the question, if you’re a construction company (or similar) what should you be doing to prepare for this “new world?” I've scoured the internet for information on this topic and this article is a summary of my findings, which I hope you find helpful.
On 16 March 2020, McKinsey released a report on the economic impact of COVID-19. Though there is uncertainty over how long it will take for the economy to recover (estimates range from 6 to 12 months), the following things are certain:
Consumer spending is going to decrease
Supply chains are going to be constrained
Costs are going to rise
Health & safety is going to be top of mind for employees
As if the labour shortage wasn’t already a big enough problem, you can bet that COVID-19 is adding fuel to the fire (sick days, reduced travel, etc).
I want you to take a second and imagine if one of your employees on a jobsite is diagnosed with COVID-19. Would you be reacting or responding in the situation? Construction is synonymous with community. Whether it’s shooting the shit at lunch, a supply run to Home Depot, or beers over the weekend, we do things as a group. Your plan for dealing with the situation you imagined will have a huge impact on your reputation and possibly, your business’ survival.
So what can you do to prepare? First off, it’s not all doom and gloom. This isn’t our first pandemic, and if the 2008 crisis taught us anything, it’s that companies who chose to be proactive and act early had the highest probability of survival. So if you own a construction company (small or big), here are few things you can do:
(1) Reach out to your customers and let them know that the priority for your company is their health & safety and the health & safety of your employees and subcontractors. Let them know you are monitoring information from Health Authorities. If you can, avoid the “force majeure” in your contracts. Ask customers what they are worried about and if there’s anything you can do to help. Project delays are inevitable. What you can change are project cancellations. Finding new customers is going to be hard, so work with your existing customers to figure out how you can prevent a cancellation.
(2) Protect and be transparent with your employees. Have weekly team huddles (digitally via phone or try a service like Zoom, which is currently giving away its service for free to schools), letting your team know what you are doing to address COVID-19 and ask for suggestions on what you can be doing better. Try to be as open and honest with them as you can. Trust goes a long way during times like this. If physical meetings are required, keep the number of attendees limited (see local health officials for recommendations on maximum gathering size) and provide a wide physical space for the meeting. Enough room for workstations/seats to be 6 feet apart is generally accepted.
(3) Put together a task force to create a credible source of information for your workforce on the latest COVID-19 news and best practices. Information like where the nearest healthcare provider to the jobsite is located, procedures to follow if you're feeling ill, or what to do if you suspect that a jobsite has been compromised. The key here is to create a safe and prepared workplace.
(4) Stagger work schedules and shifts. Timings of lunch and other breaks can also be staggered. The objective is to avoid congregation.
(6) Identify high risk factors for transmission (e.g. shared tools), sanitize common areas more often, provide hygiene and personal protective supplies in key areas, and encourage hand washing.
(7) Prior to implementing any of the above measures (tips 2 - 6) clearly communicate and explain them to your employees and subcontractors.
(8) Keep cash in the bank and be modest with your supplies. Have enough cash flow to survive the next 8 months and be very mindful of wasting materials on the jobsite. If you have a choice between purchasing from a large or small supplier, choose the small supplier. Just like most of us, SMEs need all the help they can get in this downturn.
(9) Give back and ask for help. I come from a family of small business owners. Growing up, I watched my parents start 12 businesses (3 in construction). They failed at some and succeeded at others, and where they did succeed it was because somewhere along the way someone offered them a helping hand. We’re not alone in this, so reach out to your neighbor and ask if there is any way you can help. Don’t be afraid to ask your neighbor for help. Share your successes and challenges with the community.
These are all the tips I have for now. Outside of the above tips, it’s really important to remember to follow what the Health Authorities are telling you for your area and to remember that things will get better, the economy will recover.