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Aaron's Travels

COVID in the Dirt World


Written by: Aaron Witt

The purpose of this blog post is to share what our partners (heavy construction, demolition, site development, and heavy equipment businesses) around the US are doing in response to the current COVID-19 situation.

While we typically keep information from our partnership within the partnership, I thought it’s important to share information on this subject since we’re all in this together. Hopefully, the following helps you/your business, and if you have anything to add to the conversation, please let me know. I’m planning on sending updates every few days from here on to share thoughts and ideas from industry leaders.

Fortunately, despite shelter in place orders in many cities and states from both coasts and everywhere in between, the government has mostly deemed infrastructure essential. All but one of our partners are currently operational from WA to ME and everywhere in between.

What our partners have reported over the past two weeks:

Some contractors have already seen large projects put on hold or canceled, and most are anticipating a decline in work in the coming months.

Face to face communication — often by Zoom or teleconference — is more effective than text/email. A business had an employee show up to work the other day while feeling ill despite many messages to the entire company instructing everyone to stay home if sick. The individual showed up for fear of the financial pressure of not working even though the business said they’d support them in the event of illness. While it turned out not to be COVID-19, they still shut the entire company down to reiterate how important it is for everyone to do their part in this situation and that the business is there to support everyone at the same time. Communication is everything.

One business did a Facebook Q&A while everyone was rained out, and they had fun with it while addressing many employee concerns. They said it lightened the mood and kept everyone’s nerves at ease.

Another business launched its first internal podcast episode, and most of their hundreds of employees listened. They considered it a huge success and improvement for internal communication.

Many developers have frozen development projects in markets across the US until they can assess the markets better.

Most companies are working 100% remotely for office staff while they’ve implemented measures for the field, such as the following:

  • All employees who travel for work are now in single occupancy hotel rooms.
  • Hotel rooms are now rented out weekly, so there’s no risk of another person staying in the same room over the weekend.
  • All job sites have disinfecting supplies for tools and equipment.
  • Tools are no longer shared.
  • All in-person meetings are either canceled or over video/conference call.
  • All business travel is on hold.
  • All personal travel is strongly discouraged. If they have any symptoms of illness, they can’t return to work for at least two weeks.
  • No handshakes.
  • Carpooling is restricted.
  • All safety meetings and work are conducted with social distancing measures in effect.

As for PTO — Some companies are allowing employees to borrow against future PTO if they must self-quarantine, become ill, or must cover childcare. Others are granting greater PTO for this emergency (such as an additional 80 hours) to relieve the fear of immediate financial pressure if anyone at their company becomes ill.

Some DOT’s are still working while others are shut down. Some are giving contractors the option for a voluntary shutdown in exchange for time extensions. If work is not shut down, contractors are discussing video-based inspections to buy off on work without inspectors physically present.

In the event of a total shutdown — Some companies are prepared first to use PTO, then could potentially prepay employees and recoup the money with heavier work schedules later in the year. However, we have yet to see a total shutdown for construction activities anywhere.

To leave this letter on a high note, while this is an uncertain time, many business owners I’ve spoken to are looking at this event as an opportunity to strengthen their culture, teams, communication, and overall businesses. In times of crisis, we see who’s who, and it’s inspiring to see so many people on the right side. As one company we spoke with today said, “never let a crisis go to waste.”

While everyone’s concerned about their people’s health and wellbeing as well as the state of the economy, it’s exciting to see everyone coming together during this tough time and remaining optimistic.

Thank you for reading, and if you have anything to contribute, please leave a comment!

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