COVID-19 has changed many landscape and lawn care businesses’ routines. Some new operating methods are so successful, they may stick – even after the virus is gone.
Staggered start times
Rossen Landscape, based in Great Falls, Virginia, has implemented staggered start times with crews leaving at 6:30, 7, 7:30 and 7:45 in the morning. There are no more than two crews in the yard at any given time.
“We’re getting out much faster than we usually get out because there’s no traffic jam in the yard,” says Jeff Rossen, founder of Rossen Landscape. Rossen says the downside to staggered start times is the fact that they no longer have their morning huddle where the team stretches, and he delivers a message for the day. When the virus is no longer an issue, he says they might stagger start times for four days a week, and huddle once a week so they can get their messages across to the crews in-person.
Bauer & Gudeman, Inc. based in Bloomington, Illinois, and DeSantis Landscapes, based in Portland, Oregon, have also been staggering start times.
“Many of our employees have stated that they appreciate staggering start times because it makes them feel safer,” says Will Gudeman, account manager with Bauer & Gudeman, Inc.
However, Gudeman says they will eventually eliminate staggered start times.
“Definitely staggered start times have helped to practice social distancing in our branch yards,” says Dean DeSantis, owner of DeSantis Landscapes. “Start and end times are the busiest in the yard so doing 4 separate start times at each yard, in addition to everyone but the driver direct reporting to job sites, has significantly reduced the number of people congregating there at any one time.”
Reporting Directly to Job Sites
DeSantis says they implemented a one person per vehicle policy in mid-March and all staff members other than the driver of the company truck are required to drive their personal vehicles to job sites.
“We reimburse employees for mileage on their personal vehicle, but that cost has been offset by a reduction in travel time expenses,” DeSantis says. “There have certainly been challenges with those employees without a driver’s license or their own personal vehicle. We’ve had a handful of these folks who we had to do a temporary layoff with because of this policy.” Rossen says their design/build employees currently have the option of reporting directly to the job site but are not required to.
“Our crew members are really enjoying showing up to their jobsite first thing in the morning instead of coming to our main shop,” Gudeman says. “We didn’t know what to expect with that but it’s working.”
Gudeman adds that from now on they will eliminate drive time by having their staff show up directly to the job site.
DeSantis says his staff has become more accustomed to working remotely, but there’s no doubt they are missing the social aspect of the workplace.
“We are fortunate to have a group of folks who really enjoy working together and I sense a bit of sadness and loneliness that we can’t be with one another,” DeSantis says. “It’s been really satisfying to see these folks reaching out to one another through phone check ins, group text chats and virtual happy hours to stay connected and have fun together.”
Rossen says that having their workers remote has helped streamline matters and they now know which employees are capable from working from home and are able to be responsible with their new level of freedom. “We’ve certainly recognized that for some people a work arrangement could definitely work, even if it was just a couple of days a week,” Rossen says.
One thing Rossen says has been a hit with the team is hosting every Friday afternoon the Rossen Landscape water cooler where they share everything from stories of past successes to pictures from recent vacations.
“We’re team building where we otherwise wouldn’t have been every week and just trying to keep the team connected,” Rossen says.
Rossen says that their online meetings through Microsoft Teams has surprised him the most with its effectiveness.
“My supervisors are having meetings sitting in the truck and not coming back to the office, and not having to drive back out to the site,” Rossen says. “We’re saving an hour on any meeting day from the guys coming back from the field. They’re just doing the calls from the field.”
Rossen says the company had Microsoft Teams prior to the pandemic but now they are really utilizing it.
Gudeman says they have been using LMN’s capabilities to its fullest as well during this time. He says they’ve also had several Zoom calls with HOA clients so all the board members can be present without having to gather together in-person.
Due to the virus, DeSantis says they’ve started using Aspire’s Site Audit tool in full force to show property and facility managers what is happening on their sites.
“It embeds photos and text into a report that can be shared with the crew and/or client to show areas that are looking great, issues that need to be addressed or enhancement possibilities,” DeSantis says. “We established a requirement for each of our account managers to complete a set number of site audits based on the account or portfolio value. We have received great feedback and appreciation from our clients for sending these and as a bonus, it has led to a number of new enhancement sales as well.”
DeSantis says he has also taken to recording videos to share with his team. He will upload them to a private channel on YouTube and then send a link out via text to every employee.
“I really like it,” DeSantis says. “I’ll definitely keep doing that moving forward. With around 100 employees it was already difficult to get consistent messaging out to everyone and this has proven to be a great way to do that.”
Other practices here to stay
Rossen says crew members have liked wearing neck gaiters when applying mulch or mowing and he says he expects they’ll keep wearing them for tasks like that even after masks are no longer required in public.
“We are focusing on keeping the same employee in the same truck or using the same equipment during the workday to limit the number of people touching everything,” Gudeman says.
DeSantis says he’s been sending email updates to their entire maintenance client list, which he didn’t do frequently in the past.
“I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from these and this more regular communication from me is clearly valued,” he says. “I plan to implement a practice of sending out a quarterly update to all of our clients from here on out.”