We asked Pest Management Professional’s columnists and editorial advisory board members to share advice for owners and technicians who are working during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Here are some of their responses — including a few extra that didn’t make it into our April 2020 print edition. Please share your advice in the comments below or send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
PMP’s Regular Contributors
Judy Black, BCE: Stay updated on the current situation and be prepared to be agile in your responses. What might be safe for your employees and clients could be too risky by the next day.
Greg Baumann: Staying informed is the best advice for pest management professionals and homeowners. This is not just the flu, this is deadly. If you offer disinfection services, make sure the product is on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) List N. Make sure you have the correct certification, and if you are unsure, contact your state regulatory agency.
Dan Gordon, CPA: The need for a sound financial strategy has never been greater. Rewriting budgets at this point with a few different “what if” scenarios is prudent. We are here to help. In general, we don’t think it’s time to hold on to original plans for the year. It’s clear that the coronavirus will change most every company’s plans. It’s no time to be a cowboy – that time will come later. Work on liquidity and cost control; companies that focus on these two things will fare better. Those that don’t will be in a world of hurt.
Read more from Dan Gordon: How to keep your pest control company solvent during the coronavirus pandemic
Dennis Jenkins: We are creating space in the way we operate in the office and in the way we operate in the field.
In the office, we have commandeered the offices of field managers and quality control personnel because they usually are only here one day per week. We have used these offices to allow office agents to work alone behind a door instead of shoulder to shoulder. In some cases, we also have allowed people to work from home. When we take our next step to upgrade our phone system, we will be able to allow all agents in the office to work from home. In the field, we have transitioned to outside-only services. If a customer needs attention inside the structure and there is any concern about contact, we ask them to allow us to come back at another time or to send another technician as we have some field technicians who are in the high-risk group and some who are not. If inside service is required, we will only send a low-risk person.
We have acquired nitrile gloves and stocked up on respirator cartridges so when we do enter a structure, we are taking precautions. We also supply all field staff with instant soap and water in a can. If we go inside, we limit it to pressing issues and do not linger. If we are in need of getting a signature on our phone, we have the customer pull a plastic baggie from a box, then our agent places the phone in the bag and the customer then signs the screen through the bag. The field agent then removes the phone without touching the bag. This seemed like a sensible way to make sure we don’t touch the same surfaces, but then we realized most customers are OK with not signing at all.
We also are cleaning all surfaces in the office on a daily basis and using disinfectant sanitizer to decontaminate. We are investigating the logistics of offering this service to customers, but are not at a point of confidence in our treatment and equipment to do so.
This is how we are working for now. Phase II will be that everyone will work from home, except when necessary to get supplies. Luckily, pest control has been deemed an essential service, and for the most part we will get our services completed. This is something to keep an accurate measurement of as we go forward. Thus far, we anticipate only dropping 2 percent in our service completion rates.
Pete Schopen: Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker imposed a stay-at-home order that limits all activities within the state. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Department of Homeland Security, exterminators provide essential services and thus are exempt from the Governor’s Executive Order. But in the event our drivers still get pulled over by local law enforcement, Schopen Pest Solutions has put packets in each driver’s truck explaining who is defined as essential operators.
Internally, our techs are not allowed inside our office staff’s work space. We’ve gone paperless (any essential forms are being emailed to clients). Any employee who comes down with flu-like symptoms will be asked to go home for a proper period of time, and our techs are wearing gloves and masks. We still are providing interior treatments, but are encouraging our clients to let us do exterior only.
PMP’s Editorial Advisory Board
Stuart Aust: First and foremost, if you are going to continue to provide service, make sure service technicians are wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE), and have sanitizer and soap and water to constantly wash their hands. Do not require clients to sign service tickets or handheld devices. Also, keep service and office staff away from each other.
Because of the slowdown of work, a PMP I know laid off all his technicians immediately so they could file for unemployment, whereas another asked his technicians whether anyone would volunteer to be laid off. Meanwhile, other owners are trying to service as many accounts as possible.
Some pest management professional’s are pushing some of their service work forward. For example, if they have exterior work scheduled for April, they are providing that service now to keep their technicians busy. Hopefully, when the coronavirus pandemic clears, it will be less work to have to do when the service work floodgates open.
Let your employees utilize any vacation, personal or sick time now so when we do get back to work full time, all hands can be on deck to capture the full revenue. Also, let your employees borrow from their future vacation, personal, or sick time to really show them how dedicated you are as their boss.
Now is the time for company leaders to stand up and be strong with your staff. Owners have the responsibility to lead well, which comes in many different forms. Listen to your employees and hear their fears. Encourage them that we’re in this together and we will get through this. Assist them financially in any way that you can. Be flexible during these changing times.
Michael Broder: The best answer for a situation like this is compassion. Show your customers and your employees how much you care. It will come back to you. We will get through this, but I think it will be a longer road than most expect.
Doug Foster: Visualize what you want your company to stand for and look like after this is all over, and take action toward that. My primary focus is on my employees, including their families, and their safety. Secondly, I want my clients, those who are under my care, to be protected and feel safe.
Paul Hardy: Remind customers that we provide an essential service. Spring is here: Flowers and trees are blooming, and insects are leaving their winter harborage. We have seen several species of cockroaches outside, termites are swarming, carpenter bees are active, and ants are trailing looking for food. Pest control services have a direct connection to the health and safety of our customers. Plus, more than 60 percent of our work can be performed without going inside the structure.
Frank Meek, BCE: Take your information from the authorities. I get my news directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and National Institutes of Health (NIH). If you do not fully understand the information or directives, ask the source for clarification. Speak to peers whom you trust and respect. Once you have information and directives, follow them; don’t think your way is better. We are in this together as an industry. As an industry, we will be there to continue protecting people from pests and the problems they cause. As this situation continues to change, our clients are making changes in the way they do business. We have to get creative, be flexible and change our approach to keep providing the necessary service we offer. We are still responsible for keeping pests out of the food supply, out of businesses and out of peoples’ homes.
Dr. Faith Oi: For the near term, limit your services to public health pests only and outside only. Call ahead. Tell your customers about service modifications. If you have to go inside, let your customers know that social distancing of 6 feet is required, not merely an option. Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential.
Kurt Scherzinger: Stay strong: We are an industry that protects the health and properties of businesses and homes. We are needed now more than ever to protect the sanctuaries in which many of our customers are locked down. Also, protect yourself and take additional measures to avoid people who are ill, but don’t stop when this pandemic is over.
Dr. Stephen Vantassel: Order company pens. This way when the client signs the contract, the client keeps the pen and his or her germs.
Read more COVID-19 coverage here: MyPMP.net/COVID-19