The past year has been a remarkably interesting one for sure. In March 2020, when we were informed of the COVID quarantine, our initial question was, “How is the construction industry supposed to deal with this situation?” We soon found out, to our great relief, that construction was considered an essential service, and that the operation of our business would not be affected. Unless, of course, our clients decided to stop their projects.
The first weekend of the quarantine, one of our clients left a message that, due to his uncertainty about the future, he was stopping his project. Although I was fearful that this client’s decision was a harbinger of similar decisions by other clients, this fear was fortunately not realized. We are very thankful that 2020 was generally a successful year for our business thanks to the courage of our customers and solution partners.
Positive changes to the ways we do business have accelerated since March, 2020. Masks and social distancing are common on construction sites and during property inspections. Many of our clients who worked from company offices are now working from their home offices. Even county and municipal building department staff people are working from home, and the use of on-line plan and permitting submittals has increased significantly.
Building department interactions and transactions have changed noticeably in the past year. Although many departments were moving toward on-line and electronic submittals before 2020, the quarantine accelerated that trend for the productivity of all. Today, most of our plan submittals are electronic. A submittal that used to take us a half day to complete can now be performed in a few minutes from our office.
We are also not printing full-scale plans as much as we used to. City plan check personnel are more responsive to e-mails than they used to be. In the past, our most common question about building departments was “where is the Building and Safety department located?”. Now the most common question is: “Do they accept electronic submittals?”
Some cities are still training their personnel in this new way of permit processing, and some are still working to streamline their system to make them more productive for everyone. One medium-sized city recently told us they were processing 100 building permit applications per day, and their system was unable to keep up with the demand.
In the past, scheduling appointments at properties (much of our work is on residential homes and properties) was a challenge. The quarantine has changed the situation here because someone is at home almost anytime we need to schedule an appointment. We need to be mindful now about the fact that many homes are now schools and office spaces.
We used to receive most of our client payments from checks that were mailed to us. Over the past year, more and more of our clients pay using credit cards, Zelle, direct deposit, and wire transfers. I attribute this to the increasing unreliability of the mail service, and to increasing levels of mailed check fraud.
I had never heard of Zoom before March 2020, and now it is a popular tool for virtual business and personal meetings. I have also had two Zoom depositions taken for expert cases that I am working on in Las Vegas. Instead of traveling four hours for a one-hour deposition, I now give the deposition testimony in my office.
In general, I really do not see why we should go back to the “old way” of always meetings face-to-face, in-person municipal plan and permit filings, conferences and depositions. We will always, however, need to visit customers at their homes, offices and building locations in order to assess problems, discuss solutions and inspect work progress.
We’d be interested to know what you think. Please give us a call, send us an email or ask us about scheduling a Zoom meeting or inspecting a problem (in person). We’re here to help you solve construction problems and prevent issues before they occur.