Team Building: Maintaining Culture During COVID-19 - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Team Building: Maintaining Culture During COVID-19

Photo: Turfscapes, Inc

For many lawn and landscape companies as they settled into their new normal with procedures to mitigate the spread of the virus, another concern arose: how do we maintain our culture?

So many businesses had to send office employees home to work remotely while field staff started arriving in shifts or reporting directly to the job site, depriving their team of their normal interactions. While maintaining company culture and communication has definitely been more of a challenge during this time, firms have risen to the challenge.

Here’s how a few businesses have kept their culture strong and what practices they’d like to keep moving forward.

Doing Things Differently

Photo: The Greenery Inc.

Jerry Ashmore, LIC, director of workforce development and safety for The Greenery, Inc., based on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, says their company culture has gotten better during the pandemic as they found ways to adapt to their situation.

Ashmore says there’s been heightened awareness of cleaning and when workers don’t feel well they will stay home. He says in the past if someone had a cold, they’d still come to work and spread it to other people in the truck.

“Out in the field, it’s tough,” Ashmore says. “There’s no doubt about it. It’s been tough. Every day we continue to check temperatures. We encourage handwashing. If somebody’s not feeling good, we encourage them to go home. We’ve reduced the number of people in a truck.”

Some of the changes The Greenery enacted include scheduled cleaning of high-touch areas and more vehicles for the employees who shuttle back and forth from the island.  

The Greenery’s office staff has a rotating schedule where on certain days people are in the office and others are working remotely from home. They also conduct a lot of COVID testing of their staff since they work in age-restricted communities.

Ashmore says they didn’t opt for staggered start times in the morning but instead ensure everyone is socially distanced and wearing masks.

“You still have that camaraderie,” Ashmore says. “Folks are still seeing each other. Just staying in that routine, even though we’re not gathering in big groups, you’re still around your crews and others.”

George Hohman, LIC, president and founder of Turfscape, Inc., based in Twinsburg, Ohio, says that while their culture hasn’t been the same during the pandemic, they’ve just had to do things in different ways.

Normally, they start the day with a morning huddle with their whole team there.

Photo: Turfscapes, Inc

“We felt that that was really important,” Hohman says. “So in the landscaping season last year we had crews leaving our yard in shifts and we would hold two different huddles every morning, so that we could reduce the number of people at the huddle and make sure that everybody was able to social distance.”

A lot of employees were reporting directly to job sites and Hohman says they would come to the shop once a week so they could participate in the huddle as well.

Early on, Turfscape wasn’t sure if they were even able to work. Hohman says once they were considered essential, a lot of pressure came off. He says they made the necessary adjustments to work safely, and that the most important thing is continuing to repeat the message.

“I wanted our client base and all of our employees to know that I don’t care what anybody’s political views are or anything like that we’re going to take this seriously, and we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that we keep everybody safe,” Hohman says.

Methods of Communication

With more people working remotely and staying socially distanced, Ashmore says they had to find new and better ways to communicate with each other. They have utilized Zoom and GoToMeeting and crews often use Microsoft Teams and group texting to stay in contact.

Hohman says they’ve encouraged their managers to use FaceTime if they can’t get out to a site.

Hohman says in the beginning he and his managers were concerned about losing their morning huddle as they get so much return on investment from it. It allows them to eliminate a lot of gossip.

To help get their messages out to everybody, Hohman used a platform called Ving to record videos and send them out to crews. Initially, the video messages were about the challenges of the pandemic and what they were doing to reinforce safety protocols.

“I’m somebody that has the belief that that people need to hear things seven times, or they need to hear it 77 times,” Hohman says. “As leaders and managers, we need to reinforce the behavior that we expect from our teams. We have 120 employees at peak and I don’t think we had any more than three or four cases of COVID at our company and that tells me that what we were doing had a positive impact on things.”

With Ving, they could tell who opened and watched the message and who did not so they knew who to circle back with. Hohman says it was generally the same people who wouldn’t watch the videos that they had to have conversations with.

“We wanted to make sure we didn’t lose that, so I think just adapting and doing the Ving videos to communicate and then doing the social distance huddles, I don’t feel like we skipped a beat,” Hohman says. “We ultimately end up having a very good year. It was a challenge but I think when you have a strong team of leaders they rise to the occasion and they all pull together.”

Company Events and Vaccination Plans

Company gatherings have also been different over the past year, but both companies still found ways to celebrate and express their appreciation to their employees.

Normally, The Greenery will do a large Christmas party for the whole company of 650 people, but this year Christmas parties were held at the individual branches with safety protocols in place. The company has also had various food trucks visit throughout the year, including popsicle and Kona Ice trucks, as a way to thank employees.

Photo: Turfscapes, Inc

Likewise, Turfscape has had food trucks come to their shop so employees could get food at the end of the workday in lieu of their traditional quarterly cookout.

“I think it was really important to let people know we appreciate them and let them know that hey we’re in this thing together,” Hohman says. “We are going to get through it, and this too shall pass.”
As for the vaccine, both companies plan to encourage their employees to get the vaccine once it becomes available.

Ashmore says they’ll probably handle the vaccine the same way they do with flu shots where employees are encouraged to get theirs and they list the locations that workers can go to get their shot.

Hohman says he is planning to see if at some point this summer they could bring someone in to provide vaccines to workers who haven’t been vaccinated yet.

Practices Worth Keeping

After the pandemic subsides, Hohman says they’ll keep the direct reporting to sites as it worked out well for them.

Photo: The Greenery Inc.

“The other thing is I don’t think our trucks have ever been cleaner, which has been great,” Hohman says. “We want to continue to do that because it’s a good thing for our image and it makes a good impression for new employees.”

Ashmore hopes even after the pandemic they’ll maintain the same level of cleanliness as well and they’ll continue to get some work done remotely. He also hopes they’ll be able to maintain the “If you’re sick, stay home” attitude as well among their workers.

“It used to be a badge of honor, ‘I’m sick but I’m here,’” but it’s not a badge of honor anymore,” Ashmore says. “It’s strongly discouraged. If you’re sick, stay home.”

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.