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How COVID Has Changed Working in Condos
This Pandemic May Forever Change How We Conduct Business. Some of These Changes May Be for the Best
By Mark Marmer | Other articles by Mark Marmer
On March 17 2020 Ontario declared a state of emergency, ordering the closure of bars, restaurants, theatres, libraries, and banning public events with more than 50 people.
Some essential services were allowed to continue, including property management and construction services with some limitations.
This had an almost immediate effect on the operations at Signature Electric. Condominium managers and boards were scrambling to figure out how to protect their residents. One of the immediate actions that were taken was to halt all non-essential work in the buildings. That meant that, in many cases, jobs that were underway or scheduled were stopped or postponed indefinitely.
The effect on our staff was almost immediate. We were really only responding to calls that were oemergencies or where the customer was an essential service such as our car dealers.
Managers and boards figured out what needed to be done. Plexiglass barriers appeared, sign in sheets were at the desks, hand sanitizer was everywhere. At Signature Electric, all our staff had masks, face shields (to comply with the requirements at some sites) and hand sanitizer. In about a month we were back to business as usual.
In fact, at one building, we even completed the replacement of fuse panels to breaker panels in 188 individual suites with no issue.
While the access issues were more or less resolved, some things had changed and the boards and managers were addressing new concerns.
If we could reduce the spread of germs, if we could limit the number of items that each of the residents needed to touch. This resulted in a big demand for Wave to Open (touch free) door operators. In fact, at the start of the pandemic, these were very tough to find as there had not been a high demand due to the extra cost associated with these operators. Now. we were replacing existing units and nearly all of the new door operator installations requested the inclusion of Wave to Open operators.
Work From Home
Rarely does a month go by that we don't have to shut down the power in a building for one reason or another. In the past this was simply a matter of posting notices and shutting down after 9 am with the power back on by 4 pm.
This timing eliminated the need for overtime costs and made the planning fairly easy, as during the day parts were available in a pinch. It would seem that those days are over. With people working from home the residents were quite happy to pay the extra cost to shift this work to overnight.
The bright side of this new work from home arrangement was the traffic. It suddenly got much easier to get around the city which helped us with our efficiency. Cities constantly struggled with how to best manage the traffic and pollution related to travel. Who could have imagined that the solution was as simple as just having a large number of the workers operate from at home.
When I speak with business owners I ask if they could imagine telling the whole office that we were going to try and experiment with everyone working at home for a few months and see how it worked out. This likely would have caused a near riot. In the meantime many workers are perfectly happy to save the travel time and are being fully productive at home. It's hard to say how all of this will pan out.
In my opinion this may have been the most significant change for all of us involved in the condominium industry. Typically, when we provided a complex quotation to a site, such as infrastructure for Electric Vehicles or a lighting retrofit, it was very common practice to have the contractor(s) appear at a board meeting to review the quote and answer questions.
In fact, it almost never occurred to anyone to suggest a Zoom or Google Meet. I strongly suspect that this would have been seen as some kind of snub. Imagine that you could not spare the time to come and review a large proposal in person.
This arrangement has almost completely changed. We are all very happy to meet virtually. At Signature Electric, all of our offices are equipped with cameras and lights for these meetings. The backgrounds have been adjusted with logos and artwork to add interest. Our upper boardroom has a very large screen that can accommodate multiple people around the table for meetings.
This alone has saved an enormous amount of time. A typical day tends to include at least 3 of these meetings with either suppliers or customers.
Early in the pandemic I was meeting (in person) with a property manager to review some work to be done. She was nearly giddy to tell me how thrilled she was to finish an evening board meeting, turn off her camera and find herself in her living room. In the past this would have involved her staying late at the site and then heading home after dark.
When I was asked to write this article I suspect that the editor was looking for a story about how difficult it has been for us to navigate with the restrictions. In fact, as best we can tell, we all adapted. How lucky we are to be in the construction industry and for many of our customers to be in property management. Many other industries by no fault of their own have been devastated.
I look forward to a time when we can remove our masks and return to smiles (that we can see) and handshakes. In the meantime, this pandemic will likely change forever how we conduct business. Perhaps some of these changes may be for the best.
Wishing you all good health and a safe summer together with friends and loved ones.