If there’s one thing businesses around the world learned in 2020, it’s that having a flexible workforce can no longer be a low priority. COVID-19 has reminded us that we live in a world where circumstances can change literally overnight, and it makes good business sense to be prepared to be flexible with the things we can control.
This means establishing work procedures that are not only good business practice, but that can protect the health and safety of our employees and support public health initiatives. This is true whether we’re dealing with continued consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic or just preparing for more normal times when employees need to be home for any other reason.
To help meet these goals, Bolt Software hosted a multidisciplinary online webinar on building a remote residential construction workforce in early April. Here are the important takeaways.
Building the Remote Structure
The first consideration for building a remote workforce is technological. Minimal hardware is required, which you and your employees likely have at home already: a computer, smart device and Internet access.
When it comes to determining your business’ software needs, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You have a vast number of options, so here’s a quick summary of the applications many companies use for remote working. Since there is plenty of overlap, look for the combination that is easiest to set up for, and most relevant to, your business.
- VoIP service: VoIP stands for “voice over Internet protocol” and is a good way to get your work phones answered from remote locations. As well as audio, VoIP services transmit video, photos, files, and more, and allow remote workers to connect in real time, share files, leave comments, etc. These services are also known for being very affordable. We recommend you visit software review site Capterra.com and search for VoIP, which will pull up more than 100 service options.
- Document storage: Uploading documents to “the cloud” means everyone with the proper security access can get to whatever files they need at any time. Since you pay for only the storage space you need, you never overpay or run out of room. Popular options: Dropbox, Google Drive, Box
- Intercompany productivity: These are the packages that attempt to recreate having everyone in the same building. Employees can instant message, make phone calls, exchange files, have video meetings, etc. They can also use private areas for storing their own notes and documents. Popular options: Slack, GSuite Chat, Microsoft Teams
- Audio and video meetings: For larger meetings or to host regular video meetings, many companies are using applications designed specifically with more features for this use. Offering the option of a video meeting is underutilized in the construction industry; however, people like to see the people they’re working with, so it’s a good way to meet public health needs while differentiating your company from your competitors. Popular options: Zoom, GSuite Meet, GoToMeeting
- Digital signature collection: Construction relies heavily on actual signatures for official and legal approvals. Apps like DocuSign and AdobeSign make it possible for parties to add their official signatures to digital copies of documents in a legally binding and secure manner, and it takes only a few minutes.
- Scheduling & work order management: Prior to 2020, no one considered that business paperwork could actually contribute to a public health problem. However, a recent count by a Dallas construction firm determined that each piece of paper for any project was handled by 9-10 people even before billing (not to mention the paper having to travel between the office and work sites).
Equipping you to use your mobile device for new home construction management is what we do at BOLT, and we’d love for you to tour our best practices blog to learn more about how successful construction companies use BOLT to go paperless. However, for the purposes of this piece, when you’re setting up your construction projects online, you should consider BOLT and Google Calendar.
Finally, don’t overlook your free resources. Software packages you’ve already paid for are likely to have add-on functions such as screensharing or transcription available, so look into those first. If you have questions, visit their sites and also search Google and YouTube for user information and tutorials. If you have questions about any remote work procedure like hosting a video meeting, millions of words have already been written on almost every topic – a quick Internet search will provide plenty of best practices.
Putting the Remote Structure to Work
While remote working is common in some industries, it has never before been so in residential construction. It’s important to set an example with not just a calm and positive presence, but also by providing practical information on how to structure the workday. The goal is not to micromanage your teams, but to teach them how to self-manage their own time. Here are some tips for practicing this kind of intentional management.
- Be the voice of calm in the storm. It’s OK to admit you don’t have all the details – particularly when things change overnight or even hour to hour – but maintaining calm and being flexible are good goals for everyone.
- Establish the importance of personal discipline, and model that behavior yourself. A good rule of thumb is to try, as closely as is reasonable, to use the same schedule that worked for you when you had to go into the office; for example, try to go to bed and get up at roughly the same times. If you listen to music on the way to work, continue that routine while you drink your coffee or take a walk around the neighborhood first thing in the morning.
- Intentionally adjust your work focus. Construction is a series of long-term projects, but for a newly remote staff, it may help to focus on the short-term goals that make up the bigger picture. Set a schedule for meetings and provide clear, simple direction on what needs to get done every week. Focus more on your employees’ results rather than actual minutes spent in front of a computer. As long as deadlines are being hit and responses to inquiries are being made in a timely fashion, your employees will appreciate any flexibility you can give them for dealing with pets interrupting meetings, kids home from school, and other distractions.
- Communicate any expectations you have for team member availability during the day (“Let’s plan to be logged in on Slack every morning at this time”), as well as specifics on where you plan to be more flexible (“If you have an appointment or something with the kids, please give me two hours’ notice, or more if you can.”).
- Take the time to maintain personal connections through the little details, like asking about best shows to binge watch, which favorite restaurant is nailing curbside delivery, or what new hobbies have been picked up. If a pet interrupts a meeting, ask to see it! Show your teams that you know they’re human beings – not just a route to a completed checklist or a revenue number.
How to Do Business
No one can say what the “new normal” is going to be after COVID-19, but in the interim, here are some practical tips for continuing not only new construction projects, but also owner-occupied remodeling jobs and warranty and service needs.
- Follow the public health guidelines given by the government, public health agencies, and your associations (see the next section).
- Set expectations up front with outside contacts like builders and homeowners. When in-person visits can’t be avoided, remind them your employees will be following safety recommendations for personal protective equipment, handwashing, social distancing, etc.; let them tell you what additional requirements they’re comfortable with, such as where your employees will be allowed to go inside the house. Ask, over email and in advance, the questions about whether anyone in the home has recently traveled or been sick.
- Don’t be afraid to roll out your new video options for uses outside your immediate team. Take advantage of the opportunity to establish a human connection while also eliminating some of the misunderstandings that can happen in texts and emails. Get creative with using videos and photos in place of initial meetings, such as viewing problem areas and determining the size and style of fixtures to be ordered.
- For nonessential projects, go ahead and schedule work orders for the future! It gives homeowners something to look forward to and provides all of us with a reminder that our current situation is not going to last forever. It will also help your business projections to have an idea what kind of work is already lined up and ready to go.
Meeting Public Health Challenges
All of us hope to never again be in the global situation that 2020 has presented us with; however, it would be short-sighted not to document the public health best practices that have arisen over the past couple of months.
- Stay in close contact with your local builders association. They should have the latest information on local and state requirements, as well as any best practices that should be followed in your area.
- Follow Construction Industry Safety Coalition guidelines so that local and state governments, as well as public health agencies, don’t feel the need to step in to take specific action toward our industry.
When it comes to daily activities, also remember that the number-one goal is to ensure the health and safety of your employees and their families, as well as your community as a whole. Using the following social distancing measures will help:
- Where available, use online permitting processes.
- Encourage digital rather than personal contacts.
- Set appointments for unavoidable in-person meetings, limit the number of attendees, and practice personal health safety during the meeting.
- Adhere to social distancing guidelines on the job site.
- Clear the job site on inspection day.
- For occupied homes, perform inspections by videolink between the inspector and your worker.
- Supply adequate disinfection supplies and personal protective equipment such as gloves and face masks for your employees who visit job sites.
Finally, as mentioned above, BOLT really can help you take all the nuts and bolts of managing your new home construction projects online. We use computer hardware you already have, integrate with software you already use, and ensure your full job data is available to everyone who needs it, at any time and from anywhere. And it’s easy to learn and quick to use.
Contact us to learn more.