Landis: The Future of Working Remote in the Remodeling Business

by Kyle Clapham

In over 30 years of owning a remodeling firm and having been an employer over the same period of time, I’ve not seen as much transformative change in the way we work as I have seen throughout this COVID-19 pandemic. I guess it has come full circle for me and my brother Ethan. When he and I started Landis Construction, we were working from home. At one point he had four people working out of his basement, and I had 10 people working out of my attic.

One thing is for sure, when you work in the architecture and construction industry, there’s a good bit of field work. There are plenty of site visits and all the travel in between. As a design/build firm, we’ve always had a mix of tradespeople who worked out in the field and design/administrative staff who work primarily in our office. These two different workforces will see very different long-term effects from the COVID-19 era. But there will certainly be more remote working in the remodeling business from here on out.

General Remote-Work Trends

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated conclusively that the technology required to conduct screen sharing and virtual meetings is more than capable of doing the job. Now that the concept has been proven, there has been an increase in many people’s interest in—and ability to—work from home. Between more powerful phones and computers and faster internet connections, a significant part of the population has the tools they need to successfully work from home.

Many of the people who are part of this new remote workforce are also our prospective remodeling clients. As such, our clients will have higher and higher expectations of our ability to manage remodeling jobs remotely. Everyone is becoming better at communicating in virtual meetings. People now have a higher confidence in remote decision-making for increasingly larger buying decisions.

This includes complex design and construction projects, like the ones that previously required many in-person meetings. Already, we are selling projects into the design process after only having met the client in person once. Today, they’ve likely never been to our offices. Nor have they met their designers in person. And, for the most part, it is working.

Remodeling-Business Trends

As with almost every industry, the design/build process has been increasingly digitized over the last decade. The pace of change has only increased in the last two years. Today, it is standard practice for our firm to use a PowerPoint presentation to show clients a preliminary batch of finish options in design. We use Buildertrend and CoConstruct as project-management software. These help us manage the flow of project information internally and externally to the client. We run our meetings now primarily through Microsoft Teams, Zoom or other video-call platforms.

The permitting processes is increasingly moving online and into the “cloud.” This has resulted in greater efficiency and higher degree of accountability on the part of local authorities and architects. Not a single part of the remodeling process has been unaffected by rapid advancements in new software and new technology platforms. This is particularly true on the design and project-management side of remodeling. This has enabled these tasks to be performed remotely.

Employee-Side Trends

Managing employees remotely has never been easier than it is now. Time sheets are electronic and can be accessed from small mobile devices. Geo-location and geo-fencing come built into many project management software platforms. Human-resource information systems are now conducive for remote onboarding. While designers can design remotely and project managers can manage remotely, construction is an in-person activity for the foreseeable future. This is something that may never change.

Remote, In-Person Hybrid

Hybrid remote working will be increasingly the norm of working in the remodeling industry. That is our view. There are benefits that come from in-person work. Building personal relationships with coworkers is easier in person. Imparting a strong company culture is also easier when people work side-by-side. The solution to this is some form of hybrid work schedule that, wherever possible, is customized to the needs of each employee depending on their specific role in a company.

In addition to employees seeking more remote-working capabilities, as time goes by more clients will choose to work with remodeling firms remotely. The way construction is managed will certainly change too, though not as drastically. For workers in the field, they can have a meeting with their project manager and review a set of plans and save a trip to the office.

As we begin to put the pandemic in the rear-view mirror, we must be cognizant of the longer-term transition to hybridized remote working. It will be an ongoing management challenge and will require close attention and careful recalibration. But the result will likely be worth the effort. It very well may lead to a happier, more resilient and diverse workforce. QR

Christopher K. Landis, AIA, owns Landis Construction in Washington, D.C. He brings 30 years of remodeling design, construction and management experience to this series of columns for the magazine. You can reach him at chris@landisconstruction.com.

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