How Contractors are Navigating COVID-19 (coronavirus)

In the wake of COVID-19 (coronavirus), the past couple weeks have been trying on many levels. Families are trying to understand how to stay safe and adjust to a “new normal” for the foreseeable future. Small business owners are navigating a very different (and in some cases difficult) marketplace. Contractors are no exception, and nobody knows for sure what the coming weeks and months will look like as guidance and rules continue to roll out. The only thing we know for sure is that things will be abnormal for a while.

As small business owners, our first priority is always protecting the safety of our workers and customers. For contractors, there are gray areas around entering customers’ homes or property, especially because people are proceeding according to their varied personal preferences right now.

As a company that works with thousands of contractors, we’ve taken some time to ask what steps, precautions, and best practices are being followed in the industry right now, and have compiled some of the best advice we’ve heard here for you.

It’s important that you follow guidelines for your specific situation – if your city is under a stay-at-home directive, for example, then do so! Many of these are solutions that align with the advice being given by the CDC and the World Health Organization, and some are contractor-specific tips to help navigate the gray areas.

Communicate!

COVID-19 is at the top of everyone’s mind – it’s on the front page of every news website, the top story on every newscast, and the first topic of conversation with friends and families. As a result, it’s important that you address and communicate about it with your customers, especially when it comes to their preferences.

Particularly if you are entering a customer’s home for an ongoing or upcoming project, understanding where their head space is at and getting a feel for their preference is crucial. Not only will this help you best respect their wishes, but also shows you care.

Also, communicating your approach to being sensitive and proactive about coronavirus-related issues in your work will help put customers at ease.

Segregating project sites

Contractors always do our best to respect our customers’ homes, and to be responsive to their preferences. COVID-19 poses additional challenges for us to meet, Despite these difficulties, there are steps that can be taken to add additional safeguards to reassure customers.

If possible, segregate you and your work from the rest of your customers’ homes, even for jobs on which you wouldn’t normally need to do so. This can include physical barriers like plastic sheeting or closed doors, but also includes restricting your movement throughout the house. Activities that require movement throughout customers’ homes – getting water from a basement faucet of using the restroom – should be minimized. As alternatives, use outdoor spigots or make sure portable restrooms are available.

Sanitizing the job site

Job sites can get dirty, but that doesn’t mean they need to be germy as well. In addition to maintaining a segregated project site (see above), disinfect that area at the end of each work day with a product effective against viruses – soap and water work great, as do most cleaning solutions. This includes surfaces, doorknobs, faucet handles, stair railings, and any other surface that workers have come into contact with.

It’s also important to ensure that workers are following CDC recommendations on a personal level, including:

  • Be watchful for symptoms and stay home if you’re not feeling well!
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or inner elbow, then throw away the tissue and wash your hands
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if washing hands isn’t an option

Maintaining social distances

The advice from leading health organizations and professionals is to maintain a distance of six feet between people – otherwise known as social distancing. This is a difficult ask for those in the contracting business, as we’re often in close quarters for extended periods of time.

We have heard some creative solutions that contractors are working into their businesses, including:

Reducing the number of people on a given project site. One company we heard from mentioned that they’re sending fewer tilers to job sites – and only sending one if possible. Another general contractor we talked to says they’re being strict about staggering tradespeople so no two people or groups are on-site on the same day.

Though this may increase the amount of time it takes to finish the job, customers have been appreciative and understanding from what we’ve been told.

Minimizing in-person interactions with customers. It can be challenging to cut personal interactions with your clients. They love to wander onto job sites to check up on progress or to chat with you about decisions, issues, and vision. While it’s never advisable to cut back on communicating with customers, there are workarounds and substitutes that can be put in place for the time being.

Having a call or exchanging texts at the beginning or end of each day (or both!) ensures that the lines of communication are open and that clients feel like they are staying informed. Sending photos or videos throughout the day might satisfy customers who would otherwise feel compelled to come check up in person. Remember: this is just as much for your safety and that of your workers as it is you customers’.

If you can’t make it safe, stay away

If, at the end of the day, a combination of customer preference or the physical realities of a project site make it too difficult to ensure the safety and comfort of your workers and customers, the responsible thing to do is to put the job on hold.

This is not an easy call to make. Nobody likes to disappoint customers, or to put revenue at risk that pays employees and keeps the business healthy. But it’s important to remember that good health is the most important thing of all.  The better we are at following the guidelines health professionals have recommended, the sooner the crisis will pass and the sooner we’ll be able to resume our normal, crazy lives of running between projects.

Be well and stay safe!