McCarthy Building Co.'s Southern California division works with owners on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, including healthcare facilities, educational centers for research and learning, laboratories and water and energy companies.
Because of the essential nature of its projects, it was crucial for McCarthy’s operations in the region to engage quickly with various trade partners and clients to develop project-specific plans that followed all Centers for Disease Control guidelines and requirements along with direction from state, county and city orders.
Here, Construction Dive talks with Mike Myers, president of McCarthy's Southern California Region, about building critical facilities during the pandemic.
How has the coronavirus affected your firm?
Luckily, most of our projects in Southern California were deemed essential and have continued operations, but this required our project teams to re-evaluate their plans holistically and come up with new go-forward strategies to ensure we were prepared for any potential issues that arose from COVID-19. To anticipate these possible changes, McCarthy developed a national group within our company dedicated to providing business support services, along with safety and sourcing support for our trade partners.
We have implemented significant changes in routine sanitation activities, including enhanced PPE, modifying manlift and elevator density, establishing shift work and staggered start times to lessen the overall activity on the jobsites, as well as using more mechanical means in lieu of manpower when the work traditionally would require people to be in close proximity.
In addition, the pandemic has caused a rapid feeling of significant uncertainty across the industry. As a result, construction companies have faced several challenges in supporting trade partners' business operations amid COVID-19. From the change in cashflow to credit markets financing projects, many owners are revisiting their overall program and ultimate pro forma for their projects.
My advice for general contractors managing projects amid COVID-19 would be to conduct a thorough analysis of their trade partners’ financial situation to support their risk profile moving forward, while continuing to monitor as the situation evolves.
For our projects in Southern California, we had to be mindful of the critical nature of our partners’ cashflow, their overall health and safety input and oversight as they modify their process and procedures to comply with new regulations.
What measures have you put in place to get back to work?
As the COVID-19 situation rapidly evolves, it’s imperative that construction companies, especially those with larger projects, are keeping their workforce educated and informed of the continuous changes in guidelines and standards. To ensure all employees and partners were complying with the latest COVID-19 news and regulations, McCarthy’s Southern California region established numerous communication methods to connect with our project teams and provide updates in real time.
Some of these communication tools include our BrightIdeas innovation platform, which was implemented nationally within the company to share best practices and ideas across all regions and project teams. We built a bilingual website dedicated to craft labor communication to provide routine updates and quick access to various support services. We also have developed various forms of signage related to COVID-19 for our jobsites, along with thank you touch points for all workforce on the project sites.
Like many companies, we dramatically increased our use of BlueJeans, Zoom and Microsoft Teams on office and project levels to establish a collaborative environment, especially for employees who have shifted to working remotely. We utilized our intranet as well as our Yammer outlet for important companywide communications.
As time has progressed during COVID-19, we have also tried to stay connected with our jobsites by offering positive encouragement to our healthcare clients and their staff by providing snack boxes and meals for their various shift workers, banners to thank them for their continued work to keep our communities safe and by providing continuous updates about how the region and the company was managing through this pandemic.
In addition, each McCarthy region established a leadership task force that incorporates all aspects of our business and is dedicated to supporting our project teams in addressing each situation in that geographic region. In Southern California, this group meets daily and has helped our teams develop a routine process and consistency, as well as carrying forward best practices as new situations arise.
How will you maintain social distancing as your work ramps back up?
As an essential business in Southern California, we felt reopening our brick-and-mortar office locations allowed us to be better equipped to support our jobsites. We executed a phased approach to strategically and safely have our employees return to our Southern California offices. Some of these measures include implementing additional sanitizing procedures and adhering to proper social distancing requirements.
Innovations in the way we build will also help keep workers safe. Certainly, prefabrication and modularization have been evolving the industry in several ways. I believe the use of these methods will be accelerated as we find they make it easier to control some of the health and safety restrictions we are working under in a manufacturing setting. Prefabrication and modularization will easily incorporate various technologies which will minimize the impact of some of the health and safety requirements in the future.
I also foresee a dramatic shift from traditional operations with virtual interfacing becoming easier and more prevalent in our everyday business activities than ever before. Traditional methods of communicating, collaborating and overall relationship building with clients, trade partners and designers will transition to more virtual engagements. We are realizing this virtual communication can be effective and efficient, but we will need to establish trust as we move forward.
What are your biggest concerns as construction begins to reboot?
While every industry will need to adapt as a result of COVID-19, I predict there will be some natural consolidation in the construction industry due to these rapid changes, and several companies will struggle due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. Due to the nature of the work, the design and trader partner communities have already begun feeling the impacts of projects being abruptly halted on some projects and market sectors, while being required to continue others.
The entire jobsite network from designer to contractor is working hand in hand to mitigate impact to current and future client projects. Our leadership task force also helps to proactively evaluate the potential risks, support the subcontractors and avoid disruptions to our projects. This includes a potential disruption in the supply chain as domestic and international manufacturing is impacted.