At this time of year, our news feeds should be full of March Madness, NBA playoffs, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, and spring festivals. Instead, one topic dominates: coronavirus, or COVID-19. Self-isolating. Remote working. Social distancing…. Uncertainty. Home Artisans of Indiana believes that we build better businesses together; we have seen it in action! At a time when we are all facing pressure, stress, fear, frustration, and unsettling change, this is truer than ever.
Even as we take steps to protect ourselves, our families, our employees, and our customers from potential coronavirus exposure, we should not isolate or withdraw ourselves from others in our design and construction community. There is much we can do to support each other- from a safe and healthy distance!
COVID-19 (a strain of the coronavirus) is a “novel” virus. That is, it has not been seen in humans before. Because of this, and the relatively fast pace at which it has spread, there has been a great deal of fear and uncertainty. We understand, and we know that one way to help each other is to share reliable information.
Here’s what we know: the vast majority (81%) of those who have been infected have experienced mild symptoms. Five percent experienced critical symptoms, and 14% were classified as severe. There is a very high recovery rate, and a very low fatality rate. It is more dangerous for people who have existing health conditions (e.g. weakened immune systems) and the elderly. But keep in mind that most of the people who have contracted COVID-19 worldwide have already recovered.
There is no sugarcoating it: this is a concerning situation. But the fact is that the same precautions we take every cold and flu season are proving effective here: washing your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds and/or using hand sanitizer, sanitizing frequently touched surfaces (e.g. phones, computers, doorknobs), staying home if you feel sick or experience fever, a dry cough, or shortness of breath, and staying clear of your more vulnerable friends, relatives, and community members for a while. Officials are now urging self-isolation and social distancing.
There are travel restrictions in place, and many businesses and schools are closed or operating under circumstances that are, to say the least, unusual. We are seeing unprecedented steps in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19.
That said, many contractors and design professionals say they are trying to take a “business as usual” approach with added health and safety measures in place. They’re watching the news, like we all are, but they are on the job.
Coronavirus: Best Practices for Business
When employees come in for work, remind them of best practices in terms of hygiene and provide sanitizers (especially for people in the field). Other steps you can take:
Postpone or cancel in-person meetings
Encourage employees who have recently traveled to self-quarantine
Revisit your sick leave policy and require employees who experience symptoms or those who must care for children to stay home
Encourage the employees who can work from home to do so – and make sure they have access to great tools for communication and conferencing:
There are also industry-specific tools to consider:
CamtoPlan – augmented reality tape measure for your phone that allows you to measure distances, surfaces and draw your plans in seconds. Clients can send you measurements or you can visit the jobsite without having to meet them.
Magicplan – scan a room, and magicplan captures accurate dimensions of the space. It enables you to draw and export floor plans, take and annotate photos, add photos to your floor plan, generate virtual tours, and more.
BuilderTrend – a great solution to keep your clients up to date on their projects without having face-to-face meetings.
Morpholio Board – An app that lets you get all of your creative ideas down into one, easy, and super-fast place by way of mood boards (collage and get inspired), design boards (present ideas or concepts), white boards (sketch, draw, or write), cork boards (scrapbook your best photos), and memo boards (markup notes or organize).
Now, you can’t hang drywall, wire a house, or install an HVAC system from home – at least not your home! Your tradespeople will still be out in the field. Let’s help each other out:
Equip your people with sanitizer so they can practice good hygiene even when running water is not available. Remind them that masks are only effective at keeping germs in: they will not protect against illness. Masks should only be worn for job-related hazards (e.g. sanding, staining). If they are sick, send them home!
Coordinate with other tradespeople/subcontractors to streamline schedules and try to accommodate for missing/sick workers. Reach into the HAOI community for assistance.
Expect delays. An estimated 30% of our building supplies come from China; for some companies, it is as high as 80%. As of now, we are not seeing extensive delays or price increases, but this could change. Trade is continuing, but ocean-faring cargo is slower as China deals with the outbreak. If you can, look for domestic suppliers to fill any gaps. Speak to your insurance agent to see if you have sufficient trade disruption coverage if you rely on international suppliers.
There may also be delays as subs and tradespeople isolate or take care of family members (e.g. children who are not in school). Be patient with each other.
Be realistic with customers/clients. Likely no one expects you to go full steam ahead with projects as this time. But make a concerted effort to communicate with your clients and keep them updated as to their schedules. (Again, BuilderTrend is a great way to do this).
Many clients may be jittery or nervous about spending money on projects. It is best to prepare for the possibility that you may have some cancellations coming up.
Take a look at existing contracts. Are you on the hook for delays or cost overruns? Do your contracts have clauses that cover “extenuating circumstances”? Now is a good time to schedule a meeting (remotely!) with your business attorney.
Continue collaborating. HAOI is a community of diverse, skilled home improvement professionals. We teach each other, share ideas, share resources, refer clients/customers, and lean on each other for expertise and advice. Keep doing this, even if remotely. While “novel,” this situation will not last forever. We need to be ready to get back to 100% as soon as we can, and that includes forming partnerships, building relationships, and continuing to develop as professionals.
Health and Safety First – But What About Our Businesses?
Will we take a hit? There’s no way around it: COVID-19 will impact the design and construction industry. Look into resources that can help, such as the US Small Business Administration. The SBA has information and links to connect you with local resources, SBA loan resources, and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. SBA is providing low-interest disaster assistance loans for up to $2 million for small businesses that have been affected by COVID-19.
Also be aware that the situation is evolving rapidly, and there is more news every day. For example, the House just passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. If passed by the Senate, this will change FMLA obligations and will include tax breaks to help small businesses cover the costs. Stay up to date with news from reputable sources (i.e. not conspiracy theorists on Facebook which only add fuel to the fire!).
We’ve been through tough times before, folks. And we came out stronger. We have no doubt that the design and construction industry will do it again. We build better businesses together, and we weather uncertainty and storms the same way.