How to Navigate COVID-19 with Your Landscape Business

There is no question that coronavirus (COVID-19) is profoundly affecting society and the economy. As the disease runs its course, we continue to discover how it touches virtually every aspect, large and small, of our lives. Happily, we are also discovering the resilience and abiding goodness in people of all ages, income levels, and communities as we all work together to battle this latest health crisis. 

As business owners, we each face our own unique challenges to keeping our businesses up and running as COVID-19 is predicted to remain a threat for months to come, including the lucrative spring and summer months. The solution is to stay positive, be creative, and don’t be afraid to try new things. Most important, don’t hide from your clients or your workers. Keep lines of communication open and update everyone on a regular basis.

Looking for the Rainbow in all situations

Lean into the challenge

I don’t know about you, but right now I just want to stay home and hide. I don’t want to admit I don’t have answers and that I’m learning things in real-time just like everyone else. But that is not the right thing to do. “Social distancing” does not mean keeping yourself away from your workers and your responsibilities. Instead, open up to your people, admit your concerns and even fears, offer suggestions, and ask for them in return.

By asking for suggestions, you’re opening several different avenues for positive action. You’ll gain insight into how your workers are faring – what their fears are, what they think they can (and cannot) do, and what they think that all of you together can do. You’ll also be demonstrating your understanding and support, which will go a long way in this unstable and ever-changing situation.

Fortunately, as landscapers, we’re not constrained by closed environments and we usually have more than enough room to operate without crowd concerns. In fact, we can continue to deliver service to our clients so long as we have employees who are willing and able to work. The downside, of course, is that our workers, just like workers in every other industry, may be affected by school closures and lack of daycare. As business owners, we must be open to more flexible schedules and try to accommodate everyone’s unique situation as much as possible to stay open and generating revenue for payroll.

The tips for working safely with today’s COVID-19 threat are pretty much the same for a landscaping business as any other – sanitize frequently, maintain personal distance, monitor for symptoms – with some variations:

  • Wash hands or use alcohol-based sanitizer frequently
  • Permit only one or two individuals in a truck at a time
  • Clean all equipment and tools thoroughly every day
  • Require gloves for working and handling tools to prevent infection as well as injury
  • Practice social distancing with workers, clients, and vendors
  • Require additional staff to meet at the open-air job site rather than in a closed environment, such as your office
  • Be diligent about personal hygiene -- use public restrooms and never a client’s home bathroom
  • If possible, have office staff work from home
  • If not, try to adjust schedules to reduce the number of office staff at any one time
  • Clean workstations – especially keyboards and telephones – daily or between use by different employees

penn-state-extention-logoFor another point of view, please check out this article titled "Coronavirus Best Management Practices for the Green Industry" from Thomas Ford at the PennState Extension. It includes best management practices or BMPs to employ to keep your business running through this difficult period.

Take advantage of idle labor

When lots of people end up out of work, it increases the potential labor pool for landscape companies. There may be lots of individuals out there who have some landscaping skills but were laid off or doing other jobs who could be great temporary workers. However, be aware that while this may finally be the opportunity to have enough hands for the work you have lined up, hiring a bunch of new workers may upset the company culture and make your long-term employees nervous about their jobs. Remember the old adage: “hire slow and fire fast.”   

Sometimes you just have to make a move

Remember, this too shall pass

For many homeowners, using a landscaping service is a discretionary expense that they choose because they may not have the time, interest, or skill to do the work themselves. But with the current COVID-19 crisis, many homeowners are staying home and may choose to do the mowing, weeding, fertilizing, garden work and other tasks themselves because they now have the time. This may be especially true for those who love to garden but would normally lack the time to do it.

Using a landscaping service is often a discretionary expense chosen because of limited time, interest, or skill. How you choose to handle this situation can have a significant and long-term effect on your client relationships. 

How you choose to handle this situation can have a significant and long-term effect on your client relationships. If you choose to be understanding and supportive of their DIY efforts during this emergency, you have a golden opportunity to solidify your relationship and earn rock-solid client loyalty. For example, someone may now have the time to do their own gardening but lack the skills to do it well. This is the perfect time to empower them, maybe share a few tips to help them do the things they’re interested in, while you offer to take on the tasks they cannot or do not want to do. At some point, they’ll go back to work, get busy again, and be more than happy to add tasks back onto your plate – and maybe even more -- because they trust you even more and want to reward you for your help and loyalty. They will have also learned firsthand how difficult the work can be and be thrilled to turn it all back over to you.

Here's one last resource shared with us by our HR Coemployment Partner, Insperity: COVID-19 Pandemic: How to prepare your business.

Whatever your situation, remember that this, too, shall pass. The virus will run its course and the economy and society will recover. And when they do, the landscape will be here, waiting. 

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