Covid-19 Ripple Effects: Turning Crisis into Opportunity

What can we do as construction business owners, post-pandemic, to survive and thrive while the country climbs out of this mess?

We all knew it, we all talked about it, and statistically speaking, it was only a matter of time. We all remember the tech bubble bursting in 1991, the dot-com bust of the early 2000s, and the banking collapse of 2008, but this pandemic is an absolute shocker. The U.S .economy was on a roll, the stock market was at a record high, and unemployment was at its lowest point when COVID-19 hit. For many, the ripple effects will be dire. Lost income leads to an inability to make rent, pay the bills, and put food on the table. That happens up and down the economic food chain, and we are now headed for a cyclical shift into the recession we all expected was coming.  Some companies will get stronger, some weaker, and some will fail.

That said, there may be a different story for our construction industry.

Business challenges are nothing new to entrepreneurs, and failure is more about attitude than results. We measure success with perseverance, creativity, adaptability, early mornings, late nights, and hard work. The question is, what should we be looking for during this inevitable turnaround?

What can we do as construction business owners, post-pandemic, to survive and thrive while the country climbs out of this mess? We can prepare for the ripples and make the most of this opportunity. Here are three benefits to consider in this uncertain time: new work, new organizational arrangements, and new systems.

Take Advantage of Stimulus Programs
The federal government is funding state, county, and city coffers. In past recessions, the government pumped billions into the economy to stimulate growth. This time, they are pumping trillions (with a T) into new projects. There will be new public works, airports, schools and hospitals to build, along with military base projects, and money available to fund them. When cash is cheap — and it has never been this cheap —  people will borrow to build.

Construction companies that build or maintain large public projects should see increased opportunity. Some deep-pocket hotels are using the time to repair, remodel, and upgrade while closed. Those that deal with tenant improvements will also get a burst as the tenant turnover will require new spaces, new designs, and unique layouts. Commercial and industrial buildings formerly housing three tenants will convert into five or six smaller units for the business owner that now has employees working from home.

Evaluate Your Organizational Structure
Take some time to examine your organizational chart; evaluate both your star players and your bench. Who are your A, B, and C players? Anticipate what the company’s future staff needs will be and retain, train and hire accordingly. Your employees are doing the same thing. They are watching the business to see if it’s going to go down, survive or grow. Now is the time to trade up and draft players that can grow with you as the market improves.

Work on Your Business — and Yourself
According to Mark Augusten of California Sheet Metal, the coronavirus crisis is the perfect time to work “on” your business, and not just “in” it. “We are using this time to look at past practices, systems, and people and then ask ‘why?’ We’ve found old, slow iPads being used by the field, disorganized project folders, and other inconsistencies. We’ve even thought, ‘maybe we don’t need so many meetings.’”

Take time to evaluate all aspects of your business. Get your senior management team together and do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis for each department. Use the exercise as team building; connect with your employees, show appreciation for their work, and evaluate where you can improve. Focus on technologies that make you leaner. Consider different marketing platforms like Salesforce and Zoho and build out that customer database that’s been on the project list. Evaluate project management tools like Asana, and data storage tools like Dropbox and Kobox. Examine HRIS, HRM, and benefit admin platforms, create SOPs or training videos to educate your staff. Improve your Excel skills, learn how to set up a video conference, or become an expert on your accounting software.

The ripple effects of COVID-19 will continue well into 2022 and beyond. As the world adapts to the new normal — whatever that turns out to be — business owners need to get ahead of what’s coming. Focus on your best clients while looking for new opportunities and your best employees if looking for new talent. Improve your business systems as you prepare to grow your company.

We all know that history repeats itself, and we will be back to full force at some point in the future. We are resilient, creative, and hard-working. For business owners and workers alike, failure is not an option. Making the most of this time will make you better, faster, and leaner when it’s time to start to grow again. For Augusten, “this is our time to lean out, be smarter, and not just keep doing what we always do.”

John Ovrom
John Ovrom

John Ovrom is the founder and CEO of Exit Consulting Group.