How one company handled the COVID-19 crisis

How one company handled the COVID-19 crisis

Unwanted disruption can be a blight on a company, but it’s how you handle the interruption that shows what the company is made of.

Contracts are signed, tradies are ready to start, the building site is now open and there are deadlines to meet.

Then a once in a century event happens – the COVID-19 pandemic. What happens now? Does the site close down? How long will government restrictions last? How are staff looked after? What about penalty clauses in the contract if deadlines are missed? These and a dozen other questions go through the collective heads of many executive committee members at construction companies.

For engineering construction specialist Total Construction, it was a matter of building on health and safety procedures it already had in place before COVID-19 struck and restrictions were enforced.

Total Construction has been operating since 1994, and after noticing opportunities in the waste-to-energy space, entered the waste market in early 2018. In regard to COVID-19, Jeff Jones, Total Construction CEO, says they were being proactive from the get-go.

“We adopted temperature testing before it was put out there by the government,” he says.

“We were testing every single person who came onsite. We asked people to sign declarations about whether they had travelled overseas. We did all the virtualisation of the office space – less people on site where possible. We had project managers dialling in – all that sort of stuff.”

Total Construction CEO Jeff Jones

Throughout the first few of weeks, Total Construction did have a couple of scares, resulting in a site being shut down, and a hygienic clean of the whole area. However, there have been no reported cases on any of Total Construction’s worksites.

Procedures put in place included the company’s Cod Red process, which is part of its administration online tool.

It elevates that Total Construction has a notification of an incident onsite and controls who communicates to the client and contractors. Because if it not controlled properly, issues will arise, according to Jones.

“We decided early on there would be one source of information and that would be me for the vast majority of it,” he says.

“There are updates for the staff throughout the process about an infected site or possible infected cases. They come to me and I was responsible for communicating to clients and subcontractors.”

One of the key ingredients to making sure operations ran smoothly was how staff reacted to the changes. Without their cooperation and buying into the new “normal”, Jones says it would have been harder to implement the new processes.

As for the business itself, there was the expected downturn in terms of projects going ahead.

Total Construction had almost 40 projects ready to go at the beginning of the year, but when COVID came around, only eight went ahead.

The good news is that another 10 have started since the beginning of May. However, some of the issues were not so much if the client was ready to green light the project, but whether supplies – especially those sourced from overseas – were available.

“We did have some early concerns about some supply items. We were caught short sometimes due to deliveries not arriving,” Jones says.

“We were lucky. We didn’t suffer too much delay from that. We did see a little drop in productivity due to the social distancing. In its early stages, certain trades were finding it hard to get people to turn up to site if there was a concern about health.

“But by making our sites as healthy as we possibly could, we saw a swing around the other way, where we had contractors wanting to turn up to our site because they knew we protected their workforce better than some other contractors. It became an opportunity to have more resources on site.”

With the construction industry, some builds have got underway while others have had to be put on hold, but not for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic itself, but peripheral issues, too.

“It’s been a mixed bag with engineering project builds,” Rob Blythman, Engineering Construction Group General Manager says.

“When they are crucial projects, and when they are vital to their operation, time wise and production wise, they have all gone ahead. Whereas there have been others that have stalled because even though they’re sort of necessary works, they can wait.

“Some are sitting back and waiting for things to change in the general environment, particularly with regard to government stimulus and things of that nature, before they push the go button.”

Looking forward, Jones says he believes COVID-19 might tweak the way some companies now do business.

“It might even change the long-term employment relationship,” he says.

“This is because we’ve talked in the past about how people used to work in one job for their whole life and how there was loyalty both ways. That has probably changed now with the flexible workforce.

“I think this pandemic has re-established the need to retain the muscle within the business.”

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