How HVAC Contractors Are Balancing Employee and Financial Health In The Era Of COVID-19 As most states across the U.S. see a rise in COVID-19 cases, industries grapple with how to maintain business while keeping employees and customers safe. As essential workers in the building and construction trade, HVAC contractors are reevaluating the way they Read more
How HVAC Contractors Are Balancing Employee and Financial Health In The Era Of COVID-19
As most states across the U.S. see a rise in COVID-19 cases, industries grapple with how to maintain business while keeping employees and customers safe. As essential workers in the building and construction trade, HVAC contractors are reevaluating the way they have worked for decades.
Although every state has its own challenges, guidelines and requirements, there are some standard directives from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), such as social distancing. However, much is left up in the air due to the many unknowns of COVID-19. This leaves HVAC contractors to determine, as a collective, what best practices the industry should implement. From the east coast to the west coast, leading commercial HVAC contractors are sharing thoughts and ideas on how their businesses are successfully riding the waves and staying afloat throughout the pandemic.
As cities closed down, many HVAC contractors discovered it was harder to get permits approved or have new permits issued. Because projects were put on hold or halted altogether, some contractors were faced with condensing their office staff and crews.
Forward-thinking contractors like Mike Sicard, owner of Willamette HVAC in Hillsboro, Oregon, laid off employees early on so they could be ahead of the rush for unemployment benefits. He cut his team of 30 employees in half and focused on training those remaining to perform multiple jobs. His service manager now performs accounting duties, including payroll, while the dispatcher now also works on invoicing. Being one of the first areas in the country to be impacted by COVID-19, Sicard tried to keep his employees’ best interests at heart, while also keeping his business running smoothly.
Not every company has downsized employees, though. On the other side of the country, Jerry Goddu, project manager for Hickory Mechanical in Hickory, North Carolina, has kept his 20 employees busy and says he could hire a few more. They were able to keep staff on the payroll while limiting employee risk and exposure by decreasing how many hours employees work.
“We went to a four-day work week” said Goddu. “We learned that one day less exposure reduces the chances of encountering illness by 20%.” By focusing on safeguarding employees’ health, contractors keep teams in place and save money in lost labor and health insurance.
The Changing Outlook of Available Work
Commercial work for HVAC contractors has remained fairly steady, with a focus on service work. Sicard says his business used to have a 50/50 split between construction and service work. Since COVID-19 began it’s about 75% service work, with a vast majority of that work coming from maintenance contracts.
With a significant number of buildings across the country closed due to states’ work-from-home orders and social distancing regulations, a building owner or facilities manager will give commercial HVAC contractors access to the building. Sicard notes that it’s good that businesses are keeping up with preventative maintenance, because in some cases owners and managers are unaware of the HVAC unit needing repair since the building is unoccupied. More costly repairs are caught earlier thanks to upkeep on routine maintenance contracts.
Keeping Workers Safe
Before HVAC contractors send their technicians to a jobsite, they are considering their employees’ health and wellbeing. Some teams have high-risk employees—Goddu has several employees over the age of 65—and some live with high-risk individuals. It’s important to set guidelines for safe work practices to ensure everyone is protected.
Going beyond sanitizing trucks (wiping down door handles and cab interiors) and making sure all employees have access to their own sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment (PPE), Goddu also sat down with his employees and shared videos with them on how COVID-19 spreads. Hickory Mechanical enforces the important information from the videos with signage reminding workers to social distance by staying 6 feet apart at all times and implement good hygiene practices. His team has responded well to the information and realizes they must take these extra steps to ensure everyone’s safety.
“We had major layoffs in industries in Hickory, North Carolina, so some of these folks are the only ones working and providing an income for their families,” Goddu said. “They realize how important it is to stay healthy.”
Setting Customers’ Expectations
Keeping employees informed and well-equipped with PPE is just part of the new normal for commercial HVAC contractors. These businesses must also educate customers in their best practices, as well how customers can help ensure the wellbeing of the technician visiting their site. “Set expectations and be very clear with your customers,” says Sicard. “Don’t hesitate to establish very specific instructions for your technician’s access and needs.”
Willamette HVAC’s dispatcher asks customers a set of screening questions when calling to confirm the technician’s arrival time—asking pertinent queries such as has anyone in the home been ill or has the home been under quarantine. They also request that customers practice social distancing with the technician, ask about the location of the HVAC system and remind customers to clear away any items that may be around the system—technicians prefer not to touch items unnecessarily during the appointment. As a courtesy to customers and to protect their health, Willamette HVAC’s technicians also wear booties and masks when servicing or installing parts of the system that are located inside buildings.
Sicard believes he’s learned an important business lesson that will transcend the pandemic. When a crisis arises, he now knows—and recommends to others—the importance of having a response plan in place and implementing it swiftly. “Be proactive instead of reactive and conduct crucial conversations with employees,” he says.
That means being prepared to act quickly as regulations and conditions change in your state or region. As experts now say, there is no normal in the new normal. All industries are in uncharted waters when it comes to COVID-19, but the more honest contractors are, the easier it is to manage everyone’s expectations.
Lisa Zierfuss has served as product manager for a variety of tapes at Shurtape Technologies, LLC, an industry-leading manufacturer and marketer of adhesive tape. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from University of Wisconsin-Madison and has earned several product manager certifications from the Pragmatic Institute.
Bob Baker isn’t shy about telling potential clients that if they are looking for the least expensive plumbing option in town, they should look elsewhere. But if they are looking for a company that will provide quality work and stand behind the work they do, then they’ve come to the right place. Baker is the Read more
Bob Baker isn’t shy about telling potential clients that if they are looking for the least expensive plumbing option in town, they should look elsewhere. But if they are looking for a company that will provide quality work and stand behind the work they do, then they’ve come to the right place.
Baker is the third-generation owner of Baker Plumbing, Heating and Gasfitting, founded in 1956 in Calgary, Alberta. The company was originally started by his grandfather, Ralph Baker, before being taken over by his father, Gerry Baker; Bob’s led the company since 1996.
When it comes to drain cleaning, the company’s work is primarily commercial and includes hotels, warehouses, restaurants and small businesses in industrial parks. All businesses that demand quick response times and fast blockage resolution.
“When they call, they need you there five minutes ago and want to know you can provide a solution as quickly as possible,” said Baker. “I risk losing the contract if I don’t have a machine that can accomplish the work quickly.”
That’s where RIDGID tools come in.
“Honestly, there isn’t anyone who makes a better tool,” said Baker, who owns a variety of RIDGID tools including drain cleaning, locating, pipe inspection and pressing.
Baker was introduced to the K-5208 when he was working to clear a restaurant’s drain line. After about 10 hours of trying to clear the line, the cable of his drum machine broke. Not being able to get a replacement immediately, his RIDGID sales rep suggested he try the K-5208. He was skeptical but gave it a shot and has been sold since.
“With the K-5208 guys can be in and out of a job in 30 minutes,” he said, describing how the machine paid for itself on the first day and has helped to increase job revenue on average by 30 percent.
With the FlexShaft Machine, Baker purchased it specifically for urinal drain cleaning (his least favorite job) to hopefully extend the time between service calls, a benefit to not only him and his team, but also a money saver for his clients, who sometimes call him back monthly to reclean a line.
While it’s too soon to tell how long that extended timeframe will be, Baker has already seen other benefits to the FlexShaft Machine. He’s been able to eliminate the chemicals he typically had to add to the line after using an auger to help keep the line clear. He still uses the auger first, but then goes back through the line with the FlexShaft Machine to really scour the line and “sparkle it up.” With this method, he no longer needs the chemicals, flushing the line with water only, making it a more environmentally friendly and cost-effective solution.
Another benefit is being able to run a camera right behind the FlexShaft Machine to see the work they are doing as they do it, eliminating the step of cleaning the line and then going back into the drain line with a camera.
A believer in the value of inspection cameras and locating since he bought his first RIDGID camera in 2004, Baker compares its role to that of a surgeon preparing for surgery. “When a doctor needs to perform surgery, they do everything they can to know what they can expect when they begin the procedure to minimize risk and accurately address the situation,” he said. “Same with locating and inspection; they help minimize risk and ensure accuracy in eliminating blockages.”
Whatever the job, Baker has seen value in his RIDGID tools for helping him deliver on his company’s promise of providing quality work.
“They (RIDGID tools) helped us do our job and do it better,” Baker said. “We love our tools.”
Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S., affecting more than 50 million Americans annually. And with each passing year, the situation gets worse. In the first half 2020 alone, a number of states including Georgia and New York have seen pollen counts near record highs and Washington, DC experienced a Read more
Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S., affecting more than 50 million Americans annually. And with each passing year, the situation gets worse. In the first half 2020 alone, a number of states including Georgia and New York have seen pollen counts near record highs and Washington, DC experienced a spike even earlier than usual this spring.
There are a number of products on the market that can help mitigate allergy symptoms and create a more comfortable indoor environment. While each individual should explore the range of solutions available to them, installing HVAC equipment designed to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) can be one route to reduce allergens in the home. HVAC installations like ductless mini-split systems, air purification technologies and proper ventilation units can help lessen allergy triggers. With these solutions, homeowners can lower the concentration of pollen in the indoor environment to promote a healthier, more comfortable space.
Ductless Mini-Split Systems
A ductless mini-split system is comprised of two main components that work together but are installed in separate places. An outdoor condenser unit is connected to a single or multiple indoor units via small refrigerant pipes. Installation by a licensed contractor is simple, requiring no ductwork and only a small exterior wall penetration to connect the refrigerant lines and electricity. Since there is no ductwork, dust and allergens that are often found in the ductwork of common ducted HVAC systems is avoided.
Ductless mini-split systems also tend to be more energy efficient while providing more flexibility to homeowners who can select different units based on their home’s individual needs. For example, if the goal of a homeowner is to reduce allergens within his or her home, he/she may choose a system that has air purification technology built-in. With this setup, the ductless air purification system constitutes one part of a total home solution. Other products like floor air purifiers offer their own unique benefits and should be considered by homeowners on a case by case basis.
Air Purification Technologies
There are many different kinds of air purification technologies on the market ranging from filters to those that utilize ultraviolet light. One patented variety of air purification technology uses nano-sized electrostatic atomized water particles rich in OH radicals that can reduce the concentration of certain pollutants and odors in the home, while adding moisture to occupants’ skin.
Depending on the model in use, these technologies have been shown to inhibit a number of airborne and adhered pollutants including select bacteria and viruses, mold, allergens, pollen and hazardous substances. Harmful substances in fine particle matter (PM2.5) and pollen that are thought to cause asthma, bronchitis and other health issues tend to cling to your clothing and hair when you come in from outside. Having an air purification system can reduce the negative effects of such pollutants in your home by neutralizing these substances when you come inside, preventing the pollutants from impacting the IAQ within your home.
For those with pets or babies, IAQ is even more important to protect. Keeping air and surfaces like carpets minimized of allergens such as mites and pet dander can be a challenge. With the right air purification system, homeowners can create an environment that’s cleaner for children and more comfortable to live in with pets.
Ventilation is another important component when it comes to mitigating allergens within the home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are three types of ventilation strategies: natural ventilation that occurs as air moves in and out of small holes in the home, spot ventilation that removes pollution and moisture at the source (i.e. in the kitchen with a range hood or the bathroom with a vent fan) and whole-house ventilation which uses fans and ducts to supply fresh air to the full house.
If a homeowner chooses to install a whole-house ventilation system, the right fresh air strategy is crucial. A fresh air strategy that allows for customized airflow, can operate as a stand-alone solution and can be integrated with a larger, balanced ventilation solution is a smart choice for any homeowner looking to bolster IAQ during allergy season. To provide additional peace of mind, some fan models increase speed automatically to ensure optimal output when faced with static pressure. This ensures fresh air is continually circulated throughout the home, effectively reducing the presence of allergens and other irritants.
Ensuring Year-Round IAQ Benefits
Because comfort consists of more than just having the right temperature in a room, it’s important to consider how health and cleanliness can impact IAQ. During allergy season and beyond, IAQ plays an integral role in creating a comfortable living space where occupants aren’t presented with pollen, pet dander and other allergens that can cause irritation. While there are many products on the market that can help improve IAQ, for those particularly sensitive to pollutants and irritants, those with babies or pets or those just looking for a way to stay healthier at home, investing in the right ductless mini-split systems, air purification technologies and proper ventilation can be great place to start.
Victor Flynn is a senior product manager at Panasonic Appliances Air-Conditioning North America. With over 30 years of experience, Victor has focused on developing and managing commercial and residential building products, optimizing product sell-through and improving end-user satisfaction by coordinating product development with engineering teams, developing training programs and collaborating with sales representatives and distributors.
Similar to the way the rest of the world was impacted, employers and employees of the propane industry in Canada found that the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a tremendous disruption to normal working patters. As the numbers of new infections continue to decline in most regions across the country, there are still longer-term safety Read more
Similar to the way the rest of the world was impacted, employers and employees of the propane industry in Canada found that the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a tremendous disruption to normal working patters. As the numbers of new infections continue to decline in most regions across the country, there are still longer-term safety concerns – many of which also include social distancing policies – that will likely alter the way propane workers operate in the foreseeable future. Technological solutions can help overcome some of the most challenging aspects of resuming and maintaining normal operations.
For many employers, addressing the question of how to bring propane workers back to the job in a safe and healthy manner presents a tremendous challenge. Contactless and remote solutions may be ideal for propane work, as these platforms provide a way to still effectively get the propane to end users despite any challenges that may be encountered while also preventing unnecessary physical contact.
Contactless technologies have the unique capacity for propane workers out in the field – even those who are not fully trained yet and those who are not familiar with the details involved and the safety issues that can arise when transporting and filling propane tanks. They can use the platform to connect with experts in the home office to clarify any questions that may arise in the normal course of doing their duties. In addition to the safety benefits offered by reducing physical contact, you can also make sure that any employees can get immediate access to safety experts who can walk them through any hazardous situations that may be encountered when filling and transporting pressurized propane, such as a leak or threat of combustion. And while it may be tempting to think that the same functionality can be achieved through a standard video call, contactless technology offers so much more.
In addition to functionality that supports HD-quality video calls, these technologies feature a unique drawing tool that works directly on the live video feed to make clear notes on the live screen, to put a circle around the targeted area or to sketch an arrow to pinpoint the precise areas of concern. Taken together, these features empower employees in the field and those in the office to work closely together without physical proximity, but still in a way that ensures problems are identified and resolved quickly. Workers get correct answers immediately in a way that addresses the uncertainty that may arise from a standard video feed. This uncertainty poses a huge problem when safety concerns arise or may arise if one step in a process is completed incorrectly or ignored. Anyone working with propane on a regular basis understands that a safe situation can quickly change – and it’s worth having immediate contact and clear guidance on how to best remedy any safety threat that may emerge.
For example, contactless technologies can clarify any questions that arise while on the job site in real-time, ensuring that processes are followed correctly, and questions are answered quickly. During the transport and filling of propane tanks, questions often arise about the differences in tanks and how to correctly align any valves or hoses to ensure that the tank is filled properly. Additionally, workers may have questions when they encounter older tanks and fittings that may not be in great condition. When questions like this arise, the field workers can show his supervisor a live video stream of the area in question and then use a digital drawing tool on the actual video to circle or point to the exact connectors, hoses, valves, etc. needing to be addressed so they together ensure the propane is delivered safely. This type of immediate and clear communication can ensure that workplace conditions remain safe for employees, without losing productivity by waiting for clarification.
However, before jumping in and implementing any new communication platform, companies should proceed cautiously given security concerns – which became paramount during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many companies made quick changes to enable a remote workforce, but unfortunately, this led to many hacks and data breaches. Without proper security protocols in place, there is always the danger that a video meeting could be hacked, which can lead to a devastating data breach for contractors and construction companies working on highly sensitive projects.
While the promise of contactless solutions is great, it’s still vital to ensure that these platforms are deployed in a secure environment. Companies should take precautions to ensure they are only working with trusted and reputable industry experts that can identify potential security concerns and ensure they are addressed fully. This is the best way to protect your company from a costly and reputation-damaging data breach.
Shifting to new working environments will be a challenge for companies in the propane industry. The best way to ensure your continued success is by identifying tools and resources that can be implemented in a way that promotes remote working and social distancing policies. Contactless technology also has the added benefit of enhancing workplace safety, which is crucial in an industry that has the potential to be dangerous.
Contactless solutions will likely play a big role in the transformation of these industries, to both meet the immediate safety concerns that arose from COVID-19 and to address long-term safety goals of the industry. They can be highly effective at both ensuring work still gets done on pace with project timelines and that it gets done with expert oversight and the safety guidance necessary. Now is the time to prepare for the future and begin to explore ways that contactless solutions can address the unique needs of your company in its new working environment.
Larry Dorie, CEO and Co-Founder of RHUB Communications, creators of one of the most secure on-premise web conferencing and remote support tools for enterprise organizations.
While many service leaders believe that providing service is the core of their business, it isn’t what ultimately drives their business’s success. Senior service leaders quickly realize it is the ability to win more sales and improve profitability, or their overall financial position, that will ultimately decide the fate of their organization. Aligning a service Read more
While many service leaders believe that providing service is the core of their business, it isn’t what ultimately drives their business’s success. Senior service leaders quickly realize it is the ability to win more sales and improve profitability, or their overall financial position, that will ultimately decide the fate of their organization. Aligning a service organization behind these “non-service” objectives can be challenging, but service leaders who’ve successfully grown their businesses have mastered this complex balancing act.
From the operational efficiencies that can be gained in scheduling, dispatching, service operations, and payment processing, to marketing and lead generation, business analytics and customer communications, every aspect of a field service business can be seen through the lens of creating a better service business that also delivers greater financial return. What, then, is the unusual approach these successful leaders are taking, and how is it driving their success?
Digital transformation – is it worth your time?
Admittedly the talk of “digital transformation” is getting a bit wearisome. At its core it is about using technology to create seamless efficiency across an entire organization, and this message resonates with service personnel. They get it. But the best digital leaders understand it should be thought of as much more if it is going to be worth it. It is the vehicle that allows people to connect with the business, both internally and externally. From appointment scheduling to payment processing, throughout the entire service lifecycle, employees must connect to each other and to customers. And most of these interactions must occur without human intervention so that only the potential problems are highlighted for personal attention. At the same time, digital transformation seen this way also allows business owners to more easily keep track of their teams, manage profitability, communicate effectively, intervene and make more informed business decisions. Just as easily, it expands to include winning new customers, generating online reviews, increasing digital presence, and managing leads.
To successfully transform, a company needs the right technology platform in place. And this technology allows field technicians and back office workers to work more efficiently within their processes, ultimately saving time and money, and creating a better experience for their customers. Service leaders can focus on gaining these operational improvements, but deep down they know that what they are really working on is enabling this much larger transformation in how people communicate.
Open lines of communication
Even before COVID-19 created the need for more distant interactions, the move towards timely and on-point, yet fully-automated customer interactions was underway. Driven by technology, the right field service solution opens the lines of communication not only between employee-to-employee or the technician to the back-office, but most importantly between a company and its customers. Especially with remote work, employees and customers need to stay updated on important information, and be able to easily contact one another.
For example, live notifications when employees arrive on location can help limit customer and field technician interaction in the wake of COVID-19. This improves the experience for customers, because today’s consumers prefer real-time updates from their service partners, while also making the technician’s job easier (and more in alignment with post-COVID expectations). Customers can also receive updates when a job is finished or get notified if there is a change in status, as well as leave reviews and be added to email communications during the time when they are not receiving a service. Opening the lines of communication from the company to field technicians to customers creates an exceptional customer experience, full of trust and transparency, and it also helps increase operational efficiency for the company. In the duality of this message, service leaders find a way to both gain employee support, while also moving their company forward with less fear of change.
The ability to maintain open communication also allows field technicians to easily access the right tools and information they need in order to better do their jobs while onsite. This could include job details, locations, contact information, and even notes on past related jobs, which can also help with cross sell and upsell opportunities. It also includes communication-oriented steps within customer interactions that include activities such as taking payment. Software solutions that have highly integrated payment capabilities create a win-win for both the organization and the customer by offering customers what they prefer (whether it be through credit card, card on file, eCheck, Google Pay, Apple Pay, etc.), while reducing the load on technicians, and speeding the movement of cash through the organization – something every executive cares about.
A better experience does have a hard ROI
According to a recent WorkWave survey of over 150 service companies, online reviews, word of mouth, and referrals from existing customers are the top three ways that these companies are winning new customers. And you can be sure that a customer that will not refer someone else to you, won’t return to you when they have their next service need. All of this relies on a customer having a good experience.
Errors made in the field cost companies far more than they understand. A lost invoice could result in the company never being paid, and never knowing it. And it can result in a frustrated technician that might carry that frustration into the next customer interaction. The right software solution can help reduce both human error in the field, and alert management when potential problem situations like this occur. Perhaps just as important, it makes the technician’s job easier. Technicians running rural routes in the midwest don’t want to carry around customer checks (and potentially lose them) any more than companies want to wait an extra week or two to deposit these checks into their business account. These seemingly small errors and inefficiencies can be prevented, and again, reinforce that the customer, the employees and the company can all win together.
An individual error might ruin the experience for one customer, but when added up they make or break a company – and as socialized as the importance of a good customer experience is these days, employees aren’t going to see it as potentially company-killing. Customers want a partner who keeps them updated not just on their services, but who also keeps them updated about the fact that they are updated. They want a company that runs efficiently and reliably, so that they feel they can trust them. At the heart of doing this effectively lies the right technology, but savvy service leaders know that they have to position technology as something that doesn’t just highlight errors, but helps prevent those errors by making individual employee jobs easier. The end result will be customers that are more likely to call back for another service, enter long-term contracts or make that all important referral.
The hidden ROI in employee satisfaction
One of the few times a client (an owner) completely surprised me in recent years, was when he said that the best thing he ever did to increase employee satisfaction and reduce technician turnover was to implement route optimization. We try to sell route optimization into every customer, not just because we sell software, but because it produces a greater overall ROI than almost any software component we sell.
Owners and executives love huge efficiency boosts, employees usually don’t. He explained that his technicians like providing service, and they hate driving, getting stuck in traffic, and criss-crossing back and forth across their territory day after day. Their frustration goes up and when they get a call to jump ship and go to a competitor they take it. Route optimization reduced this frustration for his employees. Behind the scenes it allowed them to do more of what they love, fixing and installing things, and less of what they didn’t – wasting time.
In today’s technician starved landscape, it isn’t only the customer experience that matters. Great leaders know the employee experience matters too. Tremendous focus has been applied to giving technicians the proper tools and technologies in order to be successful while they are onsite with customers. But the right technology can increase efficiency, while also building employee confidence and satisfaction, which is essential for retention and even recruiting. Simply put, a happier technician is also more likely to provide a better experience and go the extra mile for your customer – win, win, win.
Today, every service operation relies on a field service platform to drive their success. But it is the successful adoption of this technology that will help a company move beyond just thinking of operational efficiency as the key to its success – that technician effectiveness when on-site can yield more than just a better first time fix rate. The key to success at this next level is changing the way service leaders have long thought about service as the main driver of their company’s performance.
Today’s best service leaders understand that the right technology can prevent failure, provide critical information, prepare employees to answer questions, deliver services, and provide accurate, up-to-date information to customers. But it can also control, influence and monitor performance in a way that helps make each employee’s job easier, identifying top performance areas where you can help other employees to learn and improve. All of this can add up to employees who feel their company is investing in them and their abilities by providing tools necessary for the job and increasing efficiency, which has higher job satisfaction. And these great leaders also know that all of these things will add up to the bigger wins that the company needs to truly succeed.
About David F. Giannetto
David F. Giannetto serves as Chief Executive Officer of WorkWave, where he leads all aspects of Sales, Marketing, Customer Service and Success, Product Design and Engineering, Development and Technical Operations. David’s extensive experience across software-as-a-service (SaaS), cloud, service, performance management and emerging technology allows him to further align the WorkWave functions that touch customer needs in a strategic way. David is also a respected thought leader, published author, keynote speaker and frequent writer for national magazines. He authored two books, Big Social Mobile, How Digital Initiatives Can Reshape the Enterprise and Drive Business Results, and was co-author of The Performance Power Grid, The Proven Method to Create and Sustain Superior Organizational Performance. He was also a former columnist with UBusiness Review, Strictly Marketing Magazine and the American Management Association.