Any time our society experiences a traumatic event, there are bound to be lasting consequences. The Great Depression, for example, caused widespread hunger and poverty in the U.S., and those who lived through it were never the same. In my own family, I saw older relatives save everything they could for fear that there might be a shortage one day. As a kid, I was particularly fascinated by my Aunt Mary’s kitchen drawers, which were full of used aluminum foil, rubber bands, and twisty ties – and you never knew what you’d find in her freezer.
Today’s pandemic will also bring changes to society, as well as the HVACR industry. For contractors, there seem to be five “Cs” that most believe will be with us for the foreseeable future.
Cash. Given the economic uncertainty wrought by the shutdown, many businesses are trying to keep more cash on hand, which could result in less risk-taking and investment. One contractor I spoke to said that he is not planning to invest in any capital expenditures or take on any new debt. As he said to me, “We were already pretty conservative, but now we’re really really conservative.”
HVACR contractors aren’t the only ones conserving cash – everyone else is saving, too, which may not be great news, as consumer spending typically accounts for about 70 percent of the U.S. economy. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis recently announced that the personal savings rate hit a historic high of 33 percent in April, up from 12.6 percent in March, and 23.2 percent in May. While personal consumption expenditures in April declined by 12.6 percent, indicating people were largely refraining from spending, they did jump to 8.2 percent in May. However, for the near term, most financial experts are expecting businesses and consumers to hold onto cash as much as possible.
Cleanliness. Everyone is more focused on keeping people safe and surfaces clean, which means making sure that all technicians have proper personal protective equipment (PPE), including hand sanitizer, gloves, face masks, booties, etc. One contractor said that when his technicians work in supermarkets, they now form a barricade around the area with shopping carts, so they can keep a safe distance from customers. Another contractor told me that he has modified all processes that used to require customer signatures and/or e-signatures so that all work is executed “touch-free.” He said that touchless interactions and businesses processes are becoming the new norm, and the intense focus on safety and sanitation is likely here to stay.
Commuting. Many contractors are finding that there have been no significant glitches with having their employees work from home, begging the question, will there be a need for offices anymore? Even before the pandemic, installers and technicians often took company trucks home and were dispatched to customer sites from there. Now that most leadership and administrative staffs are working from home, this arrangement is becoming much more acceptable. This could lead contractors to significantly downsize (or eliminate) their offices and/or reduce the number of locations, which would allow them to conserve more cash.
Communication. Because so many people are working remotely, the need for better communication has never been more important. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to keep in contact, including conference calls and video chats. Many contractors report touching base with employees far more often than they used to, and employees are becoming more comfortable reaching out to management and colleagues with any problems or concerns. Or to share a funny cat video. For social gatherings and team-building events, Zoom has become the go-to place for virtual happy hours and other company get-togethers.
Concern. While some of these “Cs” will result in positive changes, the big one looming over everyone is concern over whether a second wave of the COVID-19 virus will hit this fall. There is also concern about the next virus that could sweep the globe. None of us can predict the future, however, so there is little sense in worrying over what could happen. All contractors can do is keep moving forward – saving a little more cash, keeping things clean, and communicating frequently with employees. Come to think of it, this was good advice for companies even before the pandemic.