Vice President, Operations; Vice President, Contracts, Project One, a Cumming Company, Denver, CO
“It’s a tough question: how do you maintain morale and culture when everyone is working from home? Our answer has been to communicate twice as much and be really intentional about staying connected digitally.”
Have your daily tasks and/or role changed as a result of the impacts of COVID-19?
We have always been trusted advisors for our clients… that remains the same and we believe our role is even more important now as owners try to understand the impacts to their projects because of COVID-19. Our clients want to understand what’s going on, and what risks they’re being exposed to. They look to us as experts to help mitigate those risks. We are customizing our recommendations to the current situation and our clients’ circumstances, just as we always do. The specifics of our analysis might be new, but the general practice of it remains the same.
How have project schedules been impacted? What are some of your solutions to help alleviate schedule issues?
Contractors are putting owners on notice that there will be delays and impacts, but those impacts haven’t really happened yet, and they are not specific. While the onus is on the contractor to say specifically how a delay has impacted the critical path, we’ve been working to stay ahead of this and document everything so we’re not having these debates after the fact. The claims process is death by a million cuts, so we’re helping our clients understand and enforce the protocols and processes that are designed to protect against that.
How is morale? Any insight into how to maintain team member morale during a time like this?
Overall, things are positive. We do virtual happy hour every Friday with our entire team! Can you tell we’re looking forward to it? We’ve always thought about impacts to culture and morale — we track these things and quantify them on a regular basis, and even created a Culture Club a while back because maintaining a strong, positive work culture is so important to us. It’s a tough question: how do you maintain morale and culture when everyone is working from home? We’ve asked our leadership team and staff to communicate twice as much as they normally would, and to be really intentional about staying connected. We’ve implemented virtual collaborative software across the board, and are holding consistent virtual staff and team meetings where we touch base, share positive stories, and stay focused on our shared values and goals.
We do miss each other, though. We miss our office and we miss the in-person human connection. We always ask people why they stay with the company, and the most frequent response is that they stay because of our people. So we’ve been working really hard to make up for that.
Have project risk factors changed in type or magnitude? If so, how are those factors being mitigated?
The biggest gap is the interpretation of how to handle the ramifications of someone being diagnosed with COVID. We have federal, state, and county orders that we have to follow, but at the end of the day, from the contractual perspective, people don’t know what to do if there is a diagnosis, especially with the current delays in testing. There is a lot of liability that lives out there.
Have you seen a difference between how your healthcare clients and clients in other sectors are impacted by this situation?
We had one client who took all of their capital construction staff and refocused them to serve people and ensure healthcare. We have other clients who have more resources, such as a dedicated construction group, and their projects are still going forward, although with precautionary measures in place to protect the health and safety of their workers and teams. We have another client that is keeping construction going but setting up tent facilities, so overall, there is a lot variability on how clients are reacting at the moment and it changes every day.
Do you see the industry’s approach to construction changing over the long term in response to some of the lessons we’ve learned during this crisis?
I do think we’ve seen technology leveraged in a way it hasn’t been before, and our hope is that this continues. Our team has always been focused on continuous improvement, but times like these have caused us to adopt new technologies like Microsoft Teams and Trello, which have been very effective for us while we’re all working remotely. These tools would probably have not been implemented so fast without such an immediate need, so this type of forced innovation has been positive, and we hope that that’s the case across the construction industry.