I’m writing today from a setting that may be familiar to many readers right now. I’m fortunate to be working from home in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many of you, most regularly scheduled meetings have been postponed and I have had time to dig into the “If I had the time, I would love to” list.
However, some readers may have been so busy these months that they can’t see straight. For those of you who have never worked so hard in your lives on the critical infrastructure fronts, please take a well-deserved vacation when the dust starts to settle. You are having a much different experience than those of us who are sidelined partially or entirely by the pandemic. This column will focus on the next steps for the many citizens who have time on their hands right now.
Some of you have been called to duty to fight in wars. While COVID-19 is far from the reality of WWII or a similar type of conflict, there may be some parallels. Men and women came home from world wars and went to work or school, or built something with their new skills from the frontlines and kicked our economy into a new gear.
While we may not have a “Victory in Europe” day from COVID-19, we will eventually go back to work at full force. To find some solace in the face of the pandemic, I am hopeful my fellow citizens, if in isolation, will reflect on their fit in the working world. You have a unique opportunity to reassess your career path right now. What would you do differently in your career if you could make a change?
In my relatively short time in this industry, I have seen many people change jobs by way of necessity: when a bone breaks, a contract ends or a company goes out of business. This virus crisis is (I hope) more of a career pause than a derailment. This opportunity to step back and reflect may not come up again in your lifetime.
• For contractors waiting for construction to start again: How do you feel? Is that nagging pain in your back finally feeling a little better? If you are enjoying the break from the physical grind but miss the problem-solving aspect of your job, would you consider coming back into the industry in a different role?
Contractors are often an excellent voice of reason in manufacturing companies, at manufacturers’ representative firms and wholesale counters. While the day-to-day would require an adjustment, you might be able to provide a new perspective to a different segment of the supply chain.
I’ve known contractors who hit a wall with the physical toll the job can present. If this happens, you may have to take the next opportunity that comes up to pay the bills. Healthy and well rested could be a great way to jump back into the day-to-day or a strong position from which to transition into design, training or support roles in the industry.
• For owners: What customers and projects do you miss the most? Would you rather work on one specialized type of project more frequently?
You can decide to refocus your goals when you go back to work. It may mean saying no to more opportunities that don’t fit your business goals. You may have begrudgingly been stuck in a rut, working on boring projects because it is consistent money.
If you currently have a specialty, how can you scale your abilities? If you can’t think of a specific project type you prefer, go back through your calendar or photos on your phone to see which ones make you smile. Prioritize those when you are back.
• For salespeople: Were you traveling too much before the quarantines? Are you enjoying a long break from the airport or car for the first time in years?
We will absolutely have a new appreciation for virtual meeting platforms after this period. If you can sell and support products via webinar, you can open up a new life for yourself that doesn’t rely so heavily on being away from home.
• For engineers: Are there technologies or applications you find interesting but have never had the time to stop and research?
The telework lifestyle may give you the uninterrupted time you need to check and double-check how to utilize emerging technologies. High-performance design, carbon-neutral or zero-net-energy projects are sometimes avoided out of uncertainty. Take this time to become the one person in your firm who is most comfortable with challenging, forward-thinking design.
• For PHCP pros across the board: Fire one customer when you go back to work. You have my permission. Pick the one account or customer who is more work than value and politely let them go. Don’t go crazy and burn all your bridges, but sometimes opting out of a sales relationship is a morale boost for you and your team.
I watched a boss of mine fire a customer once. The customer would tie up our entire team for hours, moaning and groaning about our prices. At times, the phones were ringing off the hook, good customers were tapping their feet waiting in line and this customer was posted up, telling us that he could go to a competitor and get a better product for less money.
One day, our manager snapped. He stormed out of his office and told the customer to get out and not come back. We were giving him reasonable prices and exceptional support. He did not appreciate it and was welcome to shop somewhere else, forever. The customer looked legitimately surprised and walked out.
A sublime calm came over the office. The rest of the staff collectively took a deep breath and appreciated our manager defending us from an unreasonable customer. It was a beautiful moment of solidarity with the team. I think the other neglected customers present even appreciated it.
Facilitators of health
In these critical days and months, we have likely lost some of our brothers and sisters in the trades to the pandemic. The infrastructure professionals going door-to-door are most at risk.
Some solace we can take is that an entire country agreed that what PHCP pros do every day is in the same tier of critical care for our nation as medical professionals. Nobody washes their hands and prevents the spread of the virus in a home with a clogged drain or a broken water main. Plumbers will help prevent more diseases than the medical field will be able to cure.
We will come out of this pandemic. We will build houses, hospitals, stadiums and cathedrals again. I don’t know what the landscape will be like when this column is published, but it seems likely we will feel the effect of the pandemic in the construction industry for some time. We will have missed an enormous opportunity if we go back to work with a “business as usual” attitude.
We can come out of this pandemic as smarter, faster, stronger versions of ourselves. Keep your head high and continue with a new fire for your current role, or change career direction. Know that whatever you do in this industry, when push comes to shove, you are the essential workers and facilitators of health that this country can’t do without.