Field service safety podcast

19 min read

Implementing safety strategies for end-clients and technicians

Speakers:

Time Gallegos, Chief Operating Officer of CrossCom

Tim Gallegos, Chief Operating Officer, CrossCom

Richard Wedmann, VP of Sales for Field Nation

Dick Wedmann, VP of Sales, Field Nation

Safety has become top of mind for many IT service companies as the world was faced with a common foe. The spaces where we work, shop, and play have changed drastically, and the work that services these spaces has also changed. Leading IT service companies realize the importance of remaining diligent in regards to safety — putting aside their COVID-fatigue and preparing for potential surges and business impacts. 

Listen to our on-demand field service safety podcast featuring insights from CrossCom and Field Nation. You’ll learn how service leaders like CrossCom are implementing and improving their safety strategies by:

  • Helping facilitate public health strategies by implementing safety protocols
  • Maintaining open lines of communication with internal teams and subcontractors
  • Pivoting to meet their end clients changing safety protocols
  • Training technicians to safely go back to work

 

Full transcript

Dick Wedmann:

Hello everyone. Thank you for listening to today’s Field Nation On-site Safety Webinar with CrossCom. I’m Dick Wedmann and I lead the sales organization here at Field Nation. Today, I’m fortunate to be joined by Tim Gallegos, Chief Operating Officer at CrossCom. Tim, it’s great to have you here for this discussion.

 

Tim Gallegos:

Thank you. Thanks for inviting me. Happy to be here.

 

Dick Wedmann:

Great. Tim, I’m looking forward to discussing with you how you’ve handled safety in the wake of all the challenges that have been brought on by the pandemic and sharing how CrossCom will be handling safety moving forward. But to kick things off, Tim, I’d love for you to introduce yourself, give us a little background on CrossCom and your role at the company.

 

Tim Gallegos:

Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. Yeah. So my name is Tim Gallegos, Chief Operating Officer of CrossCom, as you mentioned. I’ve been with the company about a year. Came to the company from Getronics, Pomeroy, and prior to that, Tolt Service Group. I have about 20-22 years in the industry, really focused on retail more than anything, services and project installation work in the IT space. CrossCom is a 35-year-young company that originally was founded to support telephony, PBX systems, key systems, those types of things, and about 10 years ago decided they needed to evolve away from that, obviously, because those were technologies that were going away. And as a result, have stood up in the last 10 years a pretty strong retail service and project portfolio. So that’s really where the focus is for the company at this point.

 

Dick Wedmann:

Great. Thanks for that background, Tim. It’s always great to have experts and your 22 years of expertise will definitely lend to a great, great webcast here. So let’s focus the beginning of our discussion, first of all, on the overall impact of COVID-19 and the pandemic. Tim, as we know there’s been a ton of changes that have taken place, all surrounding COVID-19. I know we at Field Nation, we’ve seen an impact with many of our customers. If you could, could you maybe walk through how the pandemic has impacted on-site work for CrossCom here in the last few months?

 

Tim Gallegos:
Yeah, absolutely. I guess I’d start out by saying that something like COVID is certainly not something you can plan for. We all spend a considerable amount of time working on contingency plans, building in redundancies, making sure the business can continue to function given any number of circumstances, but this one is absolutely unique. And I think as we’re sitting here in the middle of July, I think it’s pretty interesting to see the initial impact of the pandemic, what looked to be a normalization across the industry and now, again, middle of July, it looks like we’re going to have to leverage some of those contingency plans again as things move forward. What I can say about CrossCom and our portfolio of business in particular is, I think similar to everybody else, we did see a drop in certain activity, more specifically project activities.

Our customers began to contemplate how they would be reacting to the pandemic and really about the middle of March is when we started to see a drop in activity, more specifically on the project side. I’ll talk a little bit about the service side here in a minute, but on the project side is where we saw more acute stoppage of work. And really the way that presented itself to us is if things were considered non-essential in order to keep that light footprint inside our customer’s stores, they essentially said, “Hey, we don’t want you in the store unless you’re doing something that’s absolutely essential.” So we saw a, almost on a moment’s notice or overnight, we saw a significant drop in non-essential activity. And there were other things that did continue on for a period of time that were probably considered more essential for the store operations, but really that’s, I think, the view that we saw in the first few weeks of the pandemic.

“Overnight, we saw a significant drop in non-essential activity.” – Tim Gallegos, CrossCom

On the flip side, I would say that we saw an uptick in certain activities related to the use of technology to help facilitate some public health strategies being put forward by the CDC. Kind of an interesting experience where things that literally weren’t in anybody’s mind in the middle of March, by the middle of April we were installing technologies for our customers that did things like ensured the customers understood what the rules of engagement were, for instance, when a customer was visiting a customer’s location or a retailer’s location.

And I’ll give you an example. In one project in particular, we put in well over a thousand stores in the April to May timeframe, technology that facilitated those public service announcements outside the four walls of the store. And the intent with that technology was to ensure that the customers, as they walked into that retail environment, understood that they needed to maintain their spacing or that they may not be allowed in the store unless a store associate allowed them in the store, given capacity restrictions and those types of things. And like I said, what was really impressive about that kind of project is even a month prior to that, it wasn’t even contemplated. There was no need for that technology because nobody was really trying to meter the number of people going into a store or manage the behaviors that the customers were expected to follow while they were in that location.

 

Dick Wedmann:

Wow. That’s incredible, Tim, and it’s really great to see how CrossCom quickly pivoted and was able to meet the needs of the customers through that. We talk a lot about contingency plans and having contingency plans put together, but having a plan that’s pandemic proof, if you will, is something that I didn’t think any of us would ever have to deal with. So kudos to you guys for being able to manage through it so well.

 

Tim Gallegos:

Thank you. Yeah. Thank you. It’s been an interesting few months, that’s for sure.

 

Dick Wedmann:

Obviously probably at the beginning of July, you had seen some of the project work returning. Have you seen some of that being put back on hold now was as cases have risen again?

 

Tim Gallegos:

So certainly we’ve seen pretty much everything that was put on hold has come back in some way, shape or form. There’s seemingly some momentum, right, to try to get these things in. And certainly as things were opening up again in the late May, early June timeframe, I don’t think anybody could really contemplate again, that sitting here in mid-July, we’d be facing the surge that we are in the case count in some locations. But we haven’t yet seen anybody stop what we’ve restarted, which we think is good. Now obviously we’re maybe a little concerned that as time goes on, another few weeks down the line here, we may experience the same kind of draw down that we saw in March and April. But what I can say is it seems like we are back to full engagement. And if anything, we’re actually accelerating projects to try to get those projects in early so that if there is another shutdown, we’re not stuck in the middle of executing those projects like we were in March.

 

Dick Wedmann:

Right. Great. Thanks, Tim. Well, let’s pivot a little bit now and talk specifically about safety. And as it relates to safety, there’s been obviously a lot of new challenges and continuing precautions. What steps have you taken in the last few months to prepare technicians for safely going back into the field and specifically into customer’s locations?

 

Tim Gallegos:

Yeah, absolutely. So we have some unique challenges in this regard. In my 20 year history, I’ve always had a W2 workforce. At CrossCom, we don’t. At CrossCom we use partners. We have a methodology we call a VFT, a Variable Field Tech, of which Field Nation helps augment that. So all of our work is driven through subcontract arrangements. And so with that said, we’ve taken the lead in many ways in regards to getting in front of our network and did this early. Quite honestly in late February, early March, we were engaged with our network to make sure that we had an open channel of communication and understood, certainly with those subcontractors that we use a significant amount of their time with, we’ve maintained that open channel. We asked them to ensure that we’re aware of any work slowdowns or stoppages that they maybe experienced because of infections within their workforce, or because they’ve made a business decision that they don’t want to put their workforce in harms away.

So since that February, March timeframe, we’ve maintained an active list of suppliers who have, I guess the terminology we use internally is they’ve tapped out at some level. We have some who have tapped out 100%, meaning that they’re not looking to engage in any work at all. We have others that have maybe focused on service opportunities versus project opportunities. Maybe they feel like there’s more advantage to doing the service work because it’s more episodic and it’s not quite as routine. So we’ve done our level best to make sure that we understand the health of our network throughout the entire duration of the pandemic. And obviously it’s something that we continue to do today. So with that said, though, because this network is really an extension of CrossCom, we’ve maintained guidelines that we have modified over time.

“We’ve done our level best to make sure that we understand the health of our network throughout the entire duration of the pandemic.” -Tim Gallegos, CrossCom

In those guidelines, early versions of this document would say something to the effect that, let’s follow CDC guidelines. Let’s maintain six feet of distance between yourself and anybody you may encounter inside of a customer location. Those types of things, all the way up through now we have mandated face coverings and all of the things that I think we’re all pretty familiar with in terms of how a contractor on-site should engage, certainly in a public space like a retail store. And I would even go so far as to say in the last few days, we’ve seen a lot of top-of-mind type of retailers mandate that all customers have face coverings and those types of things. And so we’re very in tune to those things, to make sure that we are washing in and washing out, meaning that when our technician shows up, first thing they do is make sure they go wash their hands, sanitize their hands, do the things that they can do to help prevent spread, do their work, sanitize the area that they’re working in and then wash out, right?

 

Tim Gallegos:

I mean, that’s one of the other things that we ask is that whenever it’s time to leave, let’s make sure we’re cleaning up. Let’s make sure we’re washing our hands so that as we’re moving on to the next store we’re not cross-contaminating from one store to another.

 

Dick Wedmann:

Well, that’s great. That’s great to hear, Tim. Yeah, it’s interesting to see. I know a couple of major retailers announced, was it yesterday or the day before, that face coverings are mandatory for all customers coming in the store and it looks like we’re probably headed towards more retailers ultimately making that decision moving forward in all states.

 

Tim Gallegos:

Yeah, I think that’s right. I’m sorry, Dick, I don’t mean to interject there, but I think the other thing I would mention is it’s become such a common practice at this point that early on, it was maybe a little more difficult to get everybody to adopt the practice. But I think at this point it’s a pretty standard thing.

 

Dick Wedmann:

Yeah, I agree. And I think with the resurge in cases, well, I was talking to a colleague and even there’s a state out west now that’s mandatory you have to have a face covering on if you’re out in public and going to be even out in a street. If you’re going to be within six feet of somebody, you have to have face covering. So I think it’s something that we’re all going to have to live with here for the, at least, not too distant future.

 

Tim Gallegos:

Yup. I would agree.

 

Dick Wedmann:

With sites reopening, Tim, and in some cases now potentially reclosing and then obviously many state by state changes are taking place, have you seen any trends in terms of what your customer’s safety’s expectations would be?

Tim Gallegos:

We certainly have. We have several customers who have provided specific guidance to us as to what they would see as appropriate behaviors for our technicians as they go on-site. As I talked about our own internal standards, those have evolved over time. And really the strategy that we tried to employ throughout the pandemic is to leverage the most restrictive standards that our customers are putting forward and try to standardize those so that we’re meeting the most restrictive standard of any customer that we have, and therefore meeting the standards that may be less than that for other customers. But what I will say is that virtually every major customer that we have has put forward some guidance for us. It’s, again, the basic blocking and tackling I think we’ve all as a community nationwide are starting to get our head wrapped around. Sanitizing hands, washing hands, putting on the face coverings, creating distance.

We have customers, for instance, that ask us to put up cones, those types of things to ensure that there’s a six foot radius essentially built around the technician as the technician is working in a certain space. We have customers who have mandated that we sanitize what we touch. So if we have a technician who’s focused on maybe installing a power pole in a low voltage job, if they’re touching the countertops and fixtures and those types of things, they ask that we sanitize those after we’re done so that we have a clean environment for the next person who touches those types of fixtures.

“Every major customer that we have has put forward some guidance for us.” -Tim Gallegos, CrossCom

So a lot of our focus has been on number one, ensuring that we’re aligning to what each individual customer is expecting. And then the second thing we’re doing in parallel to that is making sure that our own standards meet those requirements so that we don’t have a lot of confusion. I think that’s one of the biggest things is, customer to customer there’s different standards. We feel like if we can apply a more stringent standard, we’ll meet all of those requirements, check all of those boxes, so to speak, and not create confusion for the folks who are going on-site on our behalf.

 

Dick Wedmann:

Great. Thanks for that, Tim. So as you think about… Obviously you said you’re using the most restrictive standards, you’re following the CDC guidelines. Have you done any additional training or how have you approached training technicians to ensure that they’re going to fulfill all those obligations when they go on-site?

 

Tim Gallegos:

So we certainly do. I’ve talked in the context of us utilizing the network and I think in any environment, you tend to leverage a certain supplier more than others and those types of things. So we have that open channel, certainly, with those suppliers that we use more often than others. And so with that, we’ve provided the standard. I have a team of people who engage with the contract environment on an everyday basis. They’re constantly meeting with those suppliers, again, to make sure that those suppliers are still in a position to do the work that we need to have done, that they’re letting us know… And I failed to mention that some customers are requiring that if we have a technician who shows up who then exhibit symptoms of COVID, that we report that, right? So we have to have an open channel for that type of thing.

And so our larger suppliers meet with our contracting team on an everyday basis to make sure that we understand what the state of their health is. We’ve provided these standards and this guidance that is universal across every work order that we provide. But then the other thing that happens is, if a specific customer or retail chain wants to see a new behavior, we can quickly inject that new behavior at the work order level. So again, working with universal guidelines, but if a new behavior needs to be introduced, we simply append that information into the work order and then go back and modify the standard. So it’s a constantly evolving thing. It’s a constant review of what our practices are. And then the engagement with our contractors is very direct as it relates to our contracting team and those folks.

 

Dick Wedmann:

Sure. Has your documentation or how you track the work being done, have you seen that changed because of COVID?

 

Tim Gallegos:

Certainly, to a degree. Yeah. One thing that we may have been a little less interested in pre-COVID was the individual technician involved in delivering a work order. Now we make sure that we understand that so that we have that contact tracing information. It’s important to understand where that person has been. And as I said, some customers have essentially mandated that if an individual shows up on our behalf and then they exhibit symptoms, they want to know if there’s additional locations that individual has visited in a certain time period. And so, yeah, we’re tracking new data points like that.

 

Dick Wedmann:

Yeah. I feel like that’s going to be the standard for this perceivable future is further documentation.

 

Tim Gallegos:

Yeah. Agreed.

 

Dick Wedmann:

How has COVID changed the way you think about safety moving forward? Not even just for the remainder of 2020, but really into 2021 and beyond.

 

Tim Gallegos:

It’s obviously top of mind and it’s not your traditional safety thought process, right? I mean, we have people on ladders on an everyday basis. We have the slips, trips, and falls methodology obviously is something that’s always top of mind inside of a retail environment. So we’ve always trained on that and focused on that, but this is different, right? I mean, we’re talking about individuals wearing masks. We’re talking about gloves, sanitization, disinfection, those types of things. So those are all things that I think you made the point, it’s not necessarily in the immediate future only. I think moving forward, there’s going to be a new mindset around ensuring that technicians understand some situational awareness around what their footprint looks like. And that’s an interesting term to use in this regard, but a footprint related to their potential for creating infection, right? So those are all things that, as we continue to move forward, we’re certainly focused on making sure that we have standards that meet our customer’s requirements and that ensure the ongoing safety of our technicians, our customers, and the public in general.

 

Dick Wedmann:

Well, let’s pivot and talk a little bit about scheduling and dispatching, Tim. When it comes to dispatching and scheduling with the evolving progress of sites reopening, things changing, have you adjusted the way you think about dispatching work orders?

 

Tim Gallegos:

We continue to align to where our customers are. We’ve talked a good bit about project work and the fact that our project work has accelerated at this point with the, I think, the specific mindset that we want to try to get through or complete the projects or the scopes that we’re in, because it’s just uncertainty. You don’t know next week, two weeks or a month down the line what any given environment may look like. So our customers are really driving, on one hand, an acceleration. And then, on the other hand, I mentioned that I’ll talk a little bit more about service. What we’ve seen in the service space is that things that are non-essential like traditional preventative maintenance programs and those types of things, those have really slowed down. And I think the intent behind that is to ensure that we maintain as light a footprint inside the stores as we possibly can.

The obvious idea there is the more you’re in a store, the more potential infection could occur, right? So it’s only those essential things that we’re seeing on the service side that we continue to work through. One thing I would mention though, as it relates to scheduling, is time of day has become a factor more so than it would have been maybe in the past. There’s always been a time of day element for technology changeovers that may impact store operations and those types of things. But again, to maintain a lighter footprint, we’re seeing more activity during off-peak retail hours, which I think is a pretty substantial change and it’s probably going to continue on for a good period of time.

“We’re seeing more activity during off-peak retail hours.” – Time Gallegos, CrossCom

Dick Wedmann:

Yeah. We’ve seen that across the network that to limit the amount of exposure or potential exposure, we’re seeing more and more work come after hours, overnight, when stores are closed.

 

Tim Gallegos:

Yeah. And we’re seeing the same. Absolutely.

 

Dick Wedmann:

Has anything else changed about the way you send techs on-site from the pre-pandemic days?

 

Tim Gallegos:

I think we talked about light footprint and I guess the other way that manifests itself is we don’t want to overstaff any jobs. So historically we’ve had specific scopes built in to each work order. So that work order would dictate one, two, three technicians, whatever the case may be. And I think, again, just to try to minimize the footprint, I think we’re seeing a predisposition to try to lighten the scope to the point where we only have one technician showing up, even if it potentially means multiple visits. It’s like we talked about what time of day. If before we would bundle things up in two or three scopes on one large visit, we may now see two or three visits with a much smaller scope, just to make sure that we’re staying with the time of day.

“We don’t want to overstaff any jobs.” – Tim Gallegos, CrossCom

Obviously we continue to monitor the readiness of our partners across all our markets, make sure that we have good redundancy there as technicians do decide to tap out at some level. We’re actively ensuring that we’re building up not only our own network partners, but also additional resources within Field Nation to make sure that we always have talent available.

 

Dick Wedmann:

Great. And Tim, you’ve shared a lot of great information for us. Your 22 years in the industry have definitely been a plus. As we wrap this up, one of the things I like to do at the end is seek advice from experts in the field. And you’ve obviously been in the field a while. You’re an expert. So what advice would you have for other companies listening in as they get technicians back in the field?

 

Tim Gallegos:

Yeah. I appreciate that. So I think it’s really three things. Number one, I would say stay diligent. I think we’re going to have to learn to live with the virus for an unforeseeable amount of time here and not only how it’s going to affect our customers, but also our frontline associates, the general public, right? So our customers are likely to change their operations based on the conditions and we saw that in the last couple of days, as you mentioned. We’ve had a lot of marquee retailers who have now announced the customers can only come on-site if they’re wearing masks. So I think the more diligent we are as service providers, generally, I think we can help lead the charge in that regard. We have to maintain flexibility and diligence around whatever changes our customers are bringing forward, because they’re obviously focused on public health as well.

Second, I would say have a plan. This is a very abnormal time. And I started the webcast by talking about the uniqueness of this environment. And it’s critical, I think, that as we move forward, that even if we feel like we’re on top of the virus for the time being, there’s no guarantee that two or three weeks down the line, you may be impacted in ways that you can’t consider, necessarily, in real time. So it’s probably pretty important that you get in front of it, try to have a plan and try to build as much contingency planning into your environment as you can, including your workforce. I think that’s a critical piece of it. And then I guess the third thing I would say is don’t be afraid to lead the charge on personal protective equipment and driving safety thought processes and those types of things. I think it’s been an interesting environment from that perspective, but I view it as my customers dictate certain things, it makes it much easier for us to do the same.

 

Dick Wedmann:

That’s great advice, Tim. Tim, thank you so much for participating in today’s webcast and providing your advice and your expertise. We certainly appreciate it. We hope everyone out there enjoyed it. And thanks again, Tim.

 

Tim Gallegos:

Yep. Thank you. Thanks for having me.