As the U.S. continues to ease lockdowns following this spring’s initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, many in-office construction workers are just now starting to return to work—so long as they follow a multitude of safety precautions, including mask wearing and physical distancing.
But Matt Dole, construction design manager for Lighthouse Electric Co., has been back in the Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, company’s office since late May. While Dole, like most of his colleagues, spent the initial panic over COVID-19 working remotely for several weeks, he was one of a select few who returned to in-office work early so he could onboard two new employees.
“As soon as it was allowable, and we could maintain the proper spacing, we wanted to start onboarding these people,” Dole said. “Unfortunately, while there are a bunch of regular workflows that I’m comfortable doing from home, onboarding new hires is a big challenge, and I didn’t see the ability to go through everything that we needed to go through efficiently in the normal time that I’m allowed for onboarding without being in the office.”
Onboarding during a pandemic
Regardless of industry, anyone who’s onboarded a new hire knows that close, in-person contact is a common aspect of the process. Oftentimes there are many workflows or other tasks that require one person working on a computer while another looks over their shoulder giving them instructions.
So, when Dole initiated the onboarding process for two new Lighthouse hires during a pandemic, he had to come up with new ways to accomplish those same tasks while staying at least six feet apart, wearing a mask and, sometimes, a face shield.
“Since our workflow is so digital it’s all on the computer screen,” Dole said. “We spend so much time pointing at people’s screens and showing them where to click. I actually had a remote monitor set up, so we had a 55-65 inch TV set up on a stand on wheels with a remote-play option, kind of like an Apple TV where I can project my screen onto that TV.”
This way Dole can sit at his desk a few feet away and project his screen onto the 65-inch TV while showing the new hire a workflow or process. “I can walk them through a process that I’m trying to show them without being directly over their shoulder, breathing down their neck so to speak.”
Bringing everybody back
Dole said Lighthouse has provided the approximately 30% of employees who had returned to the office with him in late May neck gaiters that can be pulled up as face coverings. As of June 1, Pennsylvania gave businesses permission to allow all or most of their employees to return to office environments that have proper safety regulations in place.
Dole said during his May 20 interview that Lighthouse’s plan was to have all employees back in the office by June 1, in accordance with the state’s guidelines. But he later confirmed that the company decided to ultimately keep many employees working from home to maintain proper physical distancing to align with CDC recommendations.
Those who have returned to Lighthouse’s office, however, are returning to an environment much different from the one they left back in March.
“They’ve actually been expanding the office, creating new areas that are a little more isolated than how we were before—which was a very open, condensed office space, with everybody closely together,” Dole said. “Now they’re expanding, and some of the rooms that were used for large conference areas they’ve turned into workspaces where they can keep everybody with a six-foot distance.”