The unknowns surrounding the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic can be unnerving. At Aqua Science, a water treatment company serving the Phoenix area, that uncertainty doesn’t include whether the service technicians can afford to quarantine if necessary. Field success manager Sheryl Bons has helped make sure of that.
But her duties have expanded, even as she works from home, to include more HR duties. That includes implementing protocols to make the company’s technicians feel supported and protected in this moment of uncertainty.
That includes updates in:
Personal protective equipment, and
Sick pay and leave policies.
The changes also address customer concerns about having technicians in their house.
That is especially true of the leave policies: Any technician who was sick, whether or not it was COVID-19, would make a customer doubly uncomfortable.
“People are frightened right now,” Bons says.
Assuring that technicians aren’t worried about the financial consequences of becoming infected is key. There is no need for them to risk being in contact with customers when they shouldn’t just to keep their personal finances in order.
“We knew that our PTO policy just didn't really accommodate the technicians financially for staying home,” she said. “Normally, if they had a small cold or something along those lines, they would definitely still work through that. Right now they simply can't.”
Aqua Science added two things:
An additional week of sick pay, allowing employees to save their regular PTO for vacations and other needs.
Two weeks of quarantine pay, which they call “COVID Pay Assistance,” for symptomatic employees.
“If I have to tell a technician, based on his symptoms, to stay on a 14-day quarantine, he's actually paid from that specific bucket of pay,” Bons said.
That, Aqua Science hopes, is enough to keep their 27 technicians from taking chances that risk infecting a customer—potentially harming the company’s reputation.
“We're mitigating any potential exposure with our customers,” Bons says, “and of course keeping our guys safe too.”
In uncertain times, that’s important for everyone.
Dip in business? Not for Aqua Science
Aqua Science, which has served the Phoenix metro area for more than 30 years, has multiple verticals. Two that are popular this time of the year, when temperatures in the Arizona desert are beginning to rise, are patio misting and water treatment.
Despite some cancellations from customers delaying maintenance until they feel safer, Bons says she has not seen much dip in business.
Bons anticipated a large uptick in reverse osmosis installations, which can reduce the risk of viruses, bacteria and other contaminants in tap water, but demand stayed consistent from January, before concern about the pandemic spread, through March.
The increase in patio misting service, Bons says, has been similar to previous years, which makes sense with the Phoenix heat. The systems, composed of stainless steel mist lines, can cool temperatures on patios by as much as 30 degrees.
“A lot of customers, they’re at home all day, so they want their patio misting on,” Bons says. “Customers are grateful that we’re still functioning.”
Her technicians are grateful for that steady outside work, too, because it keeps them safer.
“They're really comfortable going out and servicing that kind of stuff because they don't have to go inside homes,” Bons says.
Keeping home services technicians safe with PPE and more
Arizona is under a stay at home order but isn’t at the moment a hot spot like Michigan, New York or Louisiana. Still, Bons is making sure her technicians have the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need, without taking anything away from first responders.
To get enough supplies, Aqua Science has ordered online, created bleach solutions for spray bottles in mass to replace scarce Lysol wipes, and bought hand sanitizer in bulk.
Technicians are limited to two at a time in the warehouse, with the rest staying in their vehicles until those two have cleared.
“We pre-pull inventory, put it outside in buckets, and then (the warehouse workers) have to clean those staging areas for each technician that rotates out,” Bons says. “Our warehouse staff are really coming through for us on that.”
With two warehouses and technicians coming in only once or twice a week, employee exposure has been limited. And when it comes to safety in the field, Bons listens to her techs.
“Our bottom line right now with this culture is that if our technicians are uncomfortable doing something, it is their call, period,” she says. “We are not going to question it. So if that means that we are only going to do outdoor work if it gets worse, then so be it.”
Risk can be minimized, but what if a home services tech gets infected?
Aqua Science has access to a remote service to talk through health scenarios and get health guidance. But even with taking every precaution, risk of infection, either on the job or otherwise, can’t be eliminated.
“Honestly, none of our guys want to be part of the problem,” Bons says. “Because we have enough financial backing for them, it’s basically the honor system at this point. They have to come forward and let us know if there's a problem.
“And I've had a handful of guys in that bucket already.”
Aqua Science quarantines technicians, if necessary, based on a set protocol, to keep the techs and customers safe.
Anybody displaying two of the three most prominent symptoms for COVID-19 (fever, cough, shortness of breath), go on a 14-day quarantine, with COVID Pay Assistance, as a precaution.
Direct exposure to or significant contact with someone who has tested positive or has symptoms is also a reason for quarantine.
A fever alone takes a technician out of the field for 72 hours, and they must be asymptomatic before returning.
“That can be frustrating for some of them because they feel they have the flu or a cold,” Bons says, “but at the same time, since we just don't know enough about COVID, it is just safer.”
The upgraded sick-time policy eases the financial burden, at minimum.
“They're all processing this fear differently, and that's something that all of our managers are having to adjust to and figure out good strategies for,” Bons says.
Bons is doing her best to address those fears by presenting options and reiterating the financial backing. She says her techs understand the situation, as unsettling as it can be.
“They have the option to work, and they want to work,” she says. “A lot of us just want to maintain normalcy for the most part, and I think that brings a certain level of calm in itself.”
ServiceTitan features make no-contact service easier for the trades
ServiceTitan has helped Aqua Science deal with the uncertainty, too. Bons, in her “normal” role, pushed hard to get the most out of the all-in-one software solution for water treatment companies and others in home services. The pandemic made that focus even more urgent.
“We tend to turn on all the features we can get out of ServiceTitan, and I’ve been very vocal about that with my success manager,” she says. “But I do see that we're using certain things more now that we're trying to do that no-contact service.”
The biggest Coronavirus-related moves? Using the online estimate, authorization and payment features so that technicians don’t have to break social distancing guidelines. Aqua Science CSRs are also switching to getting cards on file from customers, to ease payments.
Aqua Science also updated the automatic reminder notifications to include steps the company is taking to keep customers safe, and including a link to Aqua Science’s protocols on the website.
“We definitely are using those features in a more live fashion than we were previously,” Bons says.
Another advantage in the fight against Coronavirus? Arizona’s sprawl.
“We're really not all over top of each other,” she says. “The social distancing thing is pretty easy to accomplish here.”
Still, Bons says she does not trust the infection level because of challenges with testing. That puts better access to Coronavirus medical diagnostics for her technicians on Bons’ wish list.
“The biggest hurdle I have right now is the inability to be able to send my technicians to get testing,” Bons says. “I wish that I had that in my arsenal.
“The unknown is perhaps the worst thing that we're dealing with.”
At Aqua Science, at least, that doesn’t include technicians not knowing if they can afford to be quarantined. Bons’ company has made sure of that.
Resources for the trades
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