Pandemic Pivots

Pandemic Pivots

The coronavirus outbreak has changed the way we’ve all done things, both at work and at home. Here at VPCS, we’re fortunate to be part of an industry deemed essential per California’s directives. Because of that, we’ve been allowed to continue working virtually uninterrupted on all of our projects since the pandemic began.

Still, things are far from “business as usual.” All of us in the construction world have had to alter nearly every aspect of what we do in response to COVID-19. Safety, which has always been mission-critical in the field, is now also driving how we manage our projects from a distance.

A few examples of how we’re adapting:

MEETINGS. Like most companies, we’ve been gathering remotely via Zoom, Google Hangouts and a handful of other virtual meeting tools. We’ve quickly gotten up to speed on a variety of these platforms, as different clients prefer different systems and it’s important for us to be proficient on all of them. Those of us who appear regularly on school board and community meeting agendas have had to adjust quickly to presenting effectively and efficiently via virtual environments. Interestingly, we’ve observed an uptick in attendance when these types of meetings occur remotely. Our hope is that the convenience of logging in to take part in community-oriented meetings from home will encourage greater participation and engagement in the long-term.

PERSONNEL. Our employees have been working from home since April except when they’re needed on job sites. (See our April blog, “Notes from the Home Front,” for insights from our people about transitioning to this mode.) Because we are part of the state’s Essential Workforce, we are thrilled to report that we haven’t had to lay off a single employee. In fact, we’ve added a handful of new hires to our roster in the past few months. We screened and interviewed those candidates remotely and their onboarding paperwork has all been exchanged electronically.

BIDDING. Social distancing practices have led to a re-invention of how we manage the construction bidding process. Previously, contractors all joined us in a crowded conference room where we would open all bids together. These days, that’s not an option. Instead, we’ve implemented a new process in which contractors are invited to a specified location – usually a large parking lot – where they stay in their cars until they’re asked one by one to approach a table where they drop off their bids with us. Once we’ve collected all the packets, we conduct a virtual bid-opening via Zoom. We credit our own Eric Van Pelt for pioneering this system, and we encourage our industry colleagues to mimic it, as it’s very effective.

SITE TOURS. We always look forward to leading construction sites tours for members of the citizen oversight committees in the school districts we serve. However, the pandemic has made these in-person walk-throughs extremely challenging. Instead, we’re now inviting guests to attend virtual site tours that we create with the help of drones and then narrate along the way. These enhanced tours actually offer a more comprehensive look at the projects, as the drones provide a glimpse of things from every angle.

PAPERWORK. When it comes to securing the necessary signatures on project documents, the pandemic has simply speeded up the industry’s earlier gradual embrace of e-signing – a technology that already existed but has become much more widely used in recent months. We expect that digital signatures will become the norm for our industry going forward, given the convenience and security of this method. The same will be true, we predict, for digital filing and file sharing.

Everyone is ready for the world to gain control over COVID-19 so we can return to more familiar professional and personal routines. At VPCS, we look forward to returning to job sites and trailers where we can interact directly and in person with our clients and colleagues. Still, it’s interesting to watch how the pandemic has forced us to update certain long-standing processes. By having no choice but to adapt, we’ve improved. It’s just one way we’re building on a new normal.