How has your industry been impacted regarding COVID-19?
In construction lending in general, when the first set of lockdowns occurred back in March, it brought everything to a standstill. Every new construction project in the process stopped. The cities went home, which meant all the permits were not issued. The people to go out and do inspections were not at work. No one could get a new project done and barely could get a projected completed. We saw a dramatic decrease in new loan volume.
Our inspection network continued to work through the pandemic. The real challenge for us was making sure that our vendor network and our employees were safe and healthy. We went out and bought and CFSI facemasks. We’ve sent them to our inspection networks so they can wear them even today as they go inspect properties. Our employees and staff are finally back in the office as well
The business did not start to come back for us until June 1st. In April and May, lenders had stopped lending 100%. Part of that had to do with the PPE lending from the government. A lot of our banking clients were required to get PPE out, so they had stopped the construction lending. It really touched all our business. We had scared employees, and we’ve had employees that had to teach their kids. We had to find a way to become very flexible and understanding of people working from home. The efficiency changes that occur with people not being supervised was a challenge for us. We found a way to get through it. People are starting to lend again, and people are starting to feel better about having a vaccine in the coming months.
What keeps you motivated during this time at home?
I normally work from home all the time, but for me, I had to make sure that my office staff felt safe when they came back to the office. I had to motivate them to want to come back to the office and having them feel safe and secure in doing that. We make sure we had enough hand sanitizer, enough cleaning. We have people that clean at night and the first person that come in the morning will clean all the doorknobs and offices. We have another person that cleans at noontime. We have masks and PPE for all the people in the office. The office was set up to have big dividing walls six feet apart. People with kids probably want to get out of the house after three or four months. People are glad to be able to be in the office and have conversations with each other again.
Suggestions for good ways others can cope during this time.
For me, I get out and exercise every morning. It clears my head and gets my heart rate going. Obviously, wearing a mask and washing your hands is important. Keep yourself healthy and active and eat right.
It is a real mental challenge that we are all going through right now. We are used to being free to hang out with friends, coworkers, and extended families. This pandemic has really changed the fabric of society today, and people are having a real hard time with this. However, people are also doing great with using Facetime and Zoom, and that helps take the edge off, but it is a mental challenge for us.
What does your typical day look like now versus prior to social isolation?
I am always up early, working out, having coffee, checking emails. The main thing that has changed for me is I am normally on the road. Now, I am not traveling at all. But before COVID-19, I would be traveling to attend conferences, seeing clients, and spending time at the CFSI office as well. I was on the road every week. All of our large banks have very strict COVID-19 protocols, so we are not seeing our clients in their offices anymore.
How does working remotely change how businesses can support their customers?
That is certainly what we are learning right now. It is a crazy time for people who have to work at home and it’s very difficult for people to balance getting a job done and managing their family time. We have had to learn to have empathy and understanding for people in those particular situations. We have given our employees some time and have let them deal with things the way they have needed to.
What advice would you give to fellow businesses who may be struggling during COVID-19?
You’ve got to focus on your customer, and you’ve got to focus on your employees. Actively listen. Tighten your belt and conserve cash. Don’t spend money on stuff you shouldn’t. You’ve got to be able to think on your feet to keep your business going and find a solution.
What are some things outside of finding work that you are doing now to stay busy?
That’s the crazy thing about being an entrepreneur, when things are going well you are so busy trying to make sure it doesn’t go away. You work. When a business goes down, you just keep working to try to figure out how to replace whatever has left. When there is really not a lot to do, you have to keep your mind occupied with something. For me, normally my free time would be spent traveling. Now, it is very difficult to relax. Working out and reading are about the only things to do.
You work out and try to get rid of the COVID-19 which they should have told you was the 19 pounds you gained. I’m glad it wasn’t COVID-45, because 45 pounds would be much harder to lose. Don’t buy any more ice cream and cookies at the grocery store. Just buy fruits and vegetables.
Do you think a work and life balance is important and how difficult is it in these circumstances?
Your work/life balance is super important. You are stressed with family in your personal space while you’re trying to work, but you have to find a way to make things work and handle it day-to-day. A lot of people don’t have a dedicated area to work in their home, but you still have to find your groove to get things done. Be as organized as you can. Follow a schedule that includes taking breaks.
What are some of the lessons you have already learned from having to work remotely and tips you can give to the readers?
Spend more money on your internet connection. If this goes on, we have to have the ability to work from home with the least amount of stress. Businesses should focus on the specific technology requirements for your employees to have at home. People will need laptops, docking stations, maybe an extra monitor, and something to help them transport these items at a moment’s notice. If anyone in our office finds out they have been exposed, they need to leave the office right away. We send people home immediately. We can’t risk anybody passing along COVID until there is a vaccine.
What is one piece of advice that is getting you through these current times?
We need to keep being hopeful and resilient. We have to hope for the best. We have a lot of smart people trying to find a vaccine. Americans have been through a lot of tough things before, and we will get through this as well.