When the pandemic shutdown hit Atlanta in March, ‘business as usual’ was anything but that. Some companies had no choice but to close their doors and hope it was temporary. Others made drastic changes in their operations.
Changes needed to happen quickly for the home repair, renovation and construction businesses, as they had projects underway.
Keeping up essential services
“As essential service workers, we were able to work throughout the pandemic, though in a very different capacity,” said Warner McConaughey, Founder and President of HammerSmith. “We design and build kitchens, bathrooms and additions, so we’re usually working in homes for a month or longer. Because no one wanted us to stop mid-project, we had to adapt quickly to protect the safety of our coworkers, associates and clients.”
One adaptation was the addition of handwash stations. Another was limiting the work sites to one trade a day, when possible. “In the past, we might have had the electricians, plumbers and HVAC associates stacked up together,” McConaughey explained. “We now give them each a day so they can work socially distanced in a safer, cleaner environment.”
Moon Bros., Inc. was also able to continue working, for the most part, according to Tiffany Barcik, Moon Bros. Associate. “On our job sites, we continued construction with the consent and support of our clients,” she said. The company instituted protective measures for clients, including typical construction separations and personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff members.
“We’re working at full capacity now, but the notion of ‘business as usual’ has changed,” Barcik said. Material acquisition has been impeded, resulting in a slower pace for some projects, and the need to plan for longer lead times. “We are adjusting to the new normal of persistent hand cleaning, masks and constant physical separation.”
Zach Reece, COO at Colony Roofers, said the company is 100% back and ready to work. “We’ve been very fortunate to continue operating without interruption through the pandemic lockdown,” he reported. “As an essential service, we’ve done everything in our power to continue serving property owners in the Atlanta area while observing social distancing and health precautions.”
Still, Reece noted, the company is nowhere near ‘business as usual’ from a demand standpoint, “…but we are definitely picking up in comparison to a month ago. I would guess that a second wave would have a far stronger impact on our ability to meet customer demand.” He added that a second wave during the rainy season (November through March) could have a huge impact on his industry.
Focus on safety
Reece said that Colony Roofers makes cleaning and disinfecting a high priority. “We also encourage all our employees to wear masks and use hand sanitizer in the field,” he said. “Customers definitely want to be sure that they’re working with a company that takes health and safety very seriously. We’ve received many questions regarding our practices around masks and social distancing.”
Reece noted that at the start of the pandemic, Colony Roofers also began offering ‘Virtual Quotes’ by using satellite imaging to measure properties and going over quotes via video calls.
Moon Bros. has also become more diligent in maintaining the separation for clients and staff. “In our renovation projects where our clients maintain residence, we install a temporary plastic wall to separate the constructions zones from the rest of the livable house,” Barcik said.
“On one of our projects — a renovation for a doctor at Grady — we have a hand cleaning station that is maintained and utilized constantly,” she said. Also, masks are required for everyone while they’re inside the construction zone. “These measures have worked well and haven’t been difficult to institute there and on other job sites.”
At HammerSmith, design meetings and weekly manager meetings are held remotely through Zoom and other digital means, McConaughey said. Project managers send daily email updates with photos to clients. The company also uses DocuSign and direct deposits in lieu of sharing pens and passing checks.
“Some of our client meetings are still held in clients’ homes, but now with masks and social distancing,” he said.
According to Barcik, the largest adjustment in the office workflow at Moon Bros. has been around the communication with clients. “We haven’t been meeting as much in person and as a result, conference calls and video conferencing have become critical,” she said. “This lack of in-person contact has impacted our design process.”
Normally, the architect meets with the client to get a personal understanding of who they are and what they want. This is done with more than a list from the client, Barcik explained. It’s also “…a culmination of impressions, answers to questions, facial expressions, body language, understanding of personalities and lifestyle.”
The ability to do this remotely is a challenge, she added. “This definitely puts more responsibility on the architect to find and create effective communication skills.”
The post-pandemic home
McConaughey said that the way people see and use their homes has changed dramatically, “…and I think a lot of this paradigm shift is here to stay.”
With people being together at home, they’re noticing their houses more. “Couples are discussing what they want for their homes,” he said, adding that HammerSmith has gotten a lot of calls from people who request dedicated office space.
“The adults need a place where they can shut the door and have silent space for work, Zoom calls, etc.,” he said. “The kids, too, need their own space to study, do their schoolwork and make Zoom calls.”
While the open concept is still popular for the family to get together, there’s more emphasis on the need for quiet places in the house “…for those moments of solitude.”
McConaughey reported that the company has also gotten calls to build or complete carriage houses. “The owners want another dwelling on the property with space to cook, eat and live in,” he said. “It’s a place for friends who come to visit from out of town, or maybe for aging parents, since they’re not going into senior living facilities at this time,” he said. “And if someone gets sick, there’s a place where they can be comfortable while they’re quarantined.”
Barcik also has found that, with the additional time at home, people are viewing their houses differently. They want space to quarantine or separate if needed, exterior spaces for social gatherings that provide safe distances and and quarantine areas and washing stations for incoming groceries. “The pandemic will no doubt significantly change the way we design.”
She said that one of the big requests from Moon Bros. clients right now is pools. “Clients who were able to swim at gyms are no longer doing so,” she said, “and while we have done plenty of pools in the past, we’ve definitely seen an increase in the desire to have one’s own pool.”
While HammerSmith and other construction companies are busy now, McConaughey stressed that there is a concern the demand may be short-lived. “If half of the country isn’t working, this may not last,” he said.