Covid19, Success Story

“Everything is digital”: 10 Insights for Managing a Contracting Team During COVID-19

April 3rd, 2020
8 Min Read

A volunteer fireman who is active in his Greater Detroit community, Josh Bigelow is the founder of Great Dane Heating & Air Conditioning. Like many small business owners, Bigelow is striving to stay focused during the economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He’s controlling the office space, maintaining safety in the field for employees and customers and making extra effort to keep his team prepared for any and all demands created by these ongoing challenges.

Here are 10 things Bigelow says are crucial to that effort:

1. Communicate clearly to employees and customers.

Bigelow is making sure employees and customers know what to expect, and what the company is doing, including a private chat for employees on Facebook.  

HVAC is considered an essential service, but Bigelow says he’s getting some criticism from customers who can’t believe Great Dane is open. “But at the same time,” he says, “I know that those customers would change their opinion very, very quickly if the heat went out in their house this week.

“Right now, it’s essential just for the IAQ (Indoor Air Quality). People don’t realize that. We need people to be changing their filters right now every other week just to make sure we’re getting contaminants out of the air.”

2. Control your office space.

Bigelow says some employees didn’t feel comfortable coming to work, and he told others not to come in because they have at-risk family members or spouses who are elderly or are going through chemotherapy or other procedures.

“I’m not willing to take those chances right now,” Bigelow says. “We’ve locked the building down. There are no vendors in our office. Our service technicians are all working remotely so that we’re not having extensive traffic through the building.” 

He adds that the staff has “been sanitizing the heck out of the building. We installed RGF air purifiers. And we’re doing our part to keep our germs to ourselves, practicing extreme social distancing in some cases.”

Great Dane’s office is closed to the public. 

“The public can still call,” Bigelow says. “We’ll make arrangements to get people whatever parts they need. We’re delivering filters to homes right now, leaving them on the porch. ServiceTitan is wonderful for that.”

3. Do everything possible to increase safety in the field.

Bigelow’s 15-year history as a firefighter gives him a great perspective on safety. 

“I won’t send anybody into a situation if I don’t have them dressed in proper safety equipment, so I’m certainly not going to do it (with our techs).”

One example: Dealing with an airborne virus, he says that instead of the N95 masks, his team uses 3M respirators — half facepiece respirators that have N95 inserts.

“I think they’re a lot better than the medical masks, to be honest with you,” Bigelow says. “They provide better protection and we can use them for a longer period of time.”

Great Dane staff were already using book covers and had nitrile gloves and safety glasses on all trucks, so safety was already a part of life. 

“We just had to reissue the respirator masks, with the training protocols as far as how to clean the mask, and how to sanitize trucks and equipment at the end of every day,” Bigelow says.

4. Find the basics, including hand sanitizer. 

Everybody is looking for a supply of hand sanitizer. In Detroit, many distilleries have stopped making booze and are now making hand sanitizer. “I’ve reached out to a few of them,” Bigelow says. “By next week, we will be able to have bulk hand sanitizer available to where we can actually allow customers to come to us and fill up a container.”

It’s a value-added service that makes sense. “I want my customers and people that know me to hear from me, and to see what we are doing to ensure safety,” he says. “My intention is to continue to provide service for customers until the point that we can no longer do it safely.”

5. Can we talk about toilet paper?

No, toilet paper hoarding is not an issue (yet) in Detroit like it has been in other parts of the country. But if it becomes an issue, Bigelow says he’s prepared.

“I’m communicating with ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America) groups around the country,” he says. “We’re sharing experiences with each other and some of them have not been affected yet.”

His advice: Go to the store and get the personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as a decent supply of TP.

“I’m not hoarding toilet paper but I’ve got enough that I can at least give some to all my employees through the next three weeks in the event that they can’t get it, Bigelow says.

He’s just trying to take care of his employees’ families.

“I’ve got 40 families that are counting on me,” he says. “I don’t know that I make the right decision every day, but I’m going to do my best to keep them safe.”

6. Keep an explanation of why you’re ‘essential’ handy

Bigelow says the service his company performs is essential in a time of need.

“That is my true belief,” he says. 

What if you’re quarantined at home and the water heater goes out and you can’t do laundry? What if somebody is sick and you can’t clean bedding or the dirty clothes of a loved one? What if the weather gets cold and the heat is not working?

“We’re doing what we can to stay available,” Bigelow says. “We work with a couple of utility partners here in the state of Michigan to provide service on home repair programs. They have a list of essential services for the county that we serve, and they’ve put us on the list.”

7. Do the (safe) work that is in demand right now.

What kind of work is in demand at the moment?

“Right now, we’re doing equipment replacement,” Bigelow says. “We are doing water heaters. We are doing furnace and air replacements, provided it can be done safely. We’re changing the air conditioners before the weather hits. We are offering service for no heat and no hot water. We’re not doing humidifier calls, or fireplace calls. We’re only going into a home if there’s a direct need.”

8. Do what you must to stay in business.

Bigelow says the company is at 40 percent capacity, with reduced office hours.

“At the end of the day I want to be able to at least have enough to get us through this period,” he says. “I trust that somehow, whether it’s the government, the city, the county—somebody is going to find a way to help us stay alive.”

In the meantime, he says he intends to give employees a regular paycheck. Not a shortened paycheck, and more than what people would get through a government service.

“Even if they’re working, or not working, I’m still committed to making sure that they have full benefits,” Bigelow says. “I have not laid off any employees. I’ve asked some to stay home but they are all still employed. I'm keeping everybody fully employed.”

9. Advise employees about financial options.

Bigelow says the company is giving every employee step-by-step instruction on registering for unemployment benefits and any other program that might become necessary. 

“I want them to have everything set so in the event that news comes out that no one can leave their house, period, my employees can just click a button and be ready,” he says. “We want them to know about every resource available for assistance.”

10. Take advantage of ServiceTitan.

ServiceTitan has really been an asset during these trying times, Bigelow says.

“It really is helping my dispatch team so that I’m not having meetings every five minutes,” he says. “The other part of it that’s nice is the notification that your technician is on the way. We’re able to put a message on the bottom with a picture of the technician stating that your technician is equipped with personal protective equipment.”

Bigelow says the digital nature of ServiceTitan is critical — and the recent Product Pack updates make "touchless" experiences far safer for both employees and customers alike.

ServiceTitan also eliminates the need for paper documents. 

“Everything is digital, so we don't have to have paperwork coming back and forth,” Bigelow says. “I don’t have to have people in my office wearing gloves to touch papers, which, I know it sounds silly — but right now that is huge.”

Resources for the trades

For the latest information on how the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting the trades, check out our Coronavirus blog, our Facebook group for customers and our Facebook group for the industry

If you have story ideas or questions, you can email us. We’d love to tell your story about how you’re helping in your community or dealing with these uncertain times, or just help answer your questions.

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