Slow snow days are a perfect time to strategize
Winter in Colorado is no joke, and snow leaves little reason to rejoice — especially among folks looking to make ends meet in the construction industry. Off the slopes, the season’s first flakes can wreak logistical and financial havoc on building projects that can’t progress under harsh winter weather conditions. For industry professionals in the Centennial State and beyond, how to make the off-season productive is a perennial question — one that can (and should) be approached from both the macro and micro perspectives.
Like any project in the construction space, effectively utilizing the off season begins with building a blueprint. Here, a pair of industry professionals weighs in on where to focus your attention while the snow flies to ensure your team is ready to hit the ground running come spring.
Stephen Myers, CEO of Thrive Home Builders, is committed to building healthy, sustainable homes in the Denver metro area and across Colorado’s Front Range. In his scant decade at the helm of the family business (founded by his father in 1992), Myers is quick to point out a universal truth: The concept of an off season doesn’t quite apply to all companies in the same way. While some tasks are unavoidable — like doubling down on marketing and sales strategies; fine-tuning assumptions surrounding estimates and production; and improving how teams function — a one-size-fits-all approach is far from feasible.
“[Throughout the year], the busyness does shift from one part of the company to another,” Myers says, pointing to the sales season which — after peaking in late spring and early summer — dwindles in the latter half of the year, allowing for closing on homes and ensuring customer satisfaction to become a priority. While Myers and his team are laser focused on delivering as close to a perfect product as they can throughout the year (including both energy efficient and net-zero homes, for which Thrive has received numerous national and industry accolades), he devotes the dead of winter to approaching a trio of disparate tasks:
“From promoting each individual building community to planning for overall brand messaging, having a plan in place — for what it is you want to accomplish so you’re not coming up with things on the fly — [requires] a solid calendar detailing how you want to roll those efforts out,” Myers says of the big-picture thinking required in the construction business come January and February.
“It’s a great time to be thinking about documents and plans,” says Myers, who admits maintaining specification libraries — including myriad versions of building plans as well as ancillary documents — can be a real challenge among professionals in the construction industry.
“Cleaning up whatever [platform] it is that you use to communicate with your trades, and other third parties that help in the building of homes, is a great way to start off the New Year,” Myers says, underscoring the importance of industry partners who are not only well-prepared but also poised with the best, most up-to-date information possible.
Another important task? Finances. “Coming up with your budget is the same thing as coming up with your strategy for the year — they go hand-in-hand,” Myers says, calling the former a full complement to the latter. This means thinking about how you and your team plan to gear up for the prime building season is key.
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Depending on the size of your team, consider employing the help of a building consultant. These experts — tasked with overseeing the planning, management and construction of a wide scope of building projects — can be called upon to provide critical expertise aimed at everything from mitigating risks and liability to ensuring operations proceed smoothly on schedule without interruption.
“Since windows of down time can be narrow, it’s important to pick what can be most impactful in a short period of time,” says Daphene Koch of Ascent Consultants, whose team helps companies in the construction industry increase effectiveness—from incentivizing employees and improving processes to streamlining outcomes and boosting profitability — throughout the year.
“When the slow season persists, projects—and employees’ enthusiasm—can lag. The goal is to keep workers excited, engaged, and forward thinking — not looking for other work [during the off season],” Koch says.
Koch regularly advises companies to think about how they can use their down time to build their teams. Something as simple as sharing space, without distractions, allows for implementing professional development programs and creating future plans.
“It’s very important to retain and promote within [companies] in order to keep good people,” Koch says of her top tip for utilizing down time during the off season: providing ongoing opportunities for training.
“It’s huge,” says Koch of a practice that provides employees incentive and a path to achieving next steps, equally invaluable investments in an industry plagued by a dwindling skilled workforce. Whether purchasing online resources or investing in facilitated training, Koch regularly advises clients to earmark training dollars in their annual budget.
“Sitting in a room together and not having to worry about work [allows employees] to actually learn from one another,” says Koch of the lasting impact, one that contributes to a company’s bottom line, especially when it comes to retention.
“[Continuing education], a standard in other industries that does not apply to the construction field, can be very impactful — both on a person’s self worth and their connection to your company,” Koch says of how investing in employees (literally) pays dividends.
Think outside the foundation
Of late, Koch has seen a new trend: An uptick in virtual trainings, boasting staggered start times, to accommodate a wide range of industry professionals — including those whose off season is either standard (occurring in January and February); nearly non-existent (think most of the southern states); as well as those who have ample down time but are geographically isolated (here’s looking at you, Alaska!).
According to Koch, the most savvy industry professionals are using the off season not only to advance their mission but also to cultivate a positive work culture. “[Employers are] creating incentive programs to share profit on a per-project basis; they are providing training programs to help [employees] develop skills; and they’re creating opportunities for [team members] to advance in the company,” which equates to a win-win for workers and leadership alike.
In the end, it makes sense to evaluate expectations and ensure they are achievable while staying in one’s lane. When it comes to sustainability, Myers and his team at Thrive are decades ahead; that said, given the diversity of the construction industry (in Colorado and across the country), each company has its niche.
“Our trade partners do a good job of insulating us from the [challenges surrounding] seasonality and labor,” Myers says, citing a dynamic that’s prone to playing out in the industry but not necessarily under his watch.
No matter the industry, focusing on factors that can be controlled versus those that cannot is an excellent rule of thumb. “Obviously, this time of year especially, weather is a major challenge for anybody [building in Colorado],” says Myers, who continues to devote time to development work come winter in anticipation of going vertical at some point in the New Year. One of the biggest challenges for his team remains figuring out when the land construction side of the business will be complete so building construction can commence. “Very often, I find that my annual plan hinges very heavily on those assumptions,” says Myers, who likens coming up with a sales forecast and actually delivering on the vertical construction side as so different it’s like comparing nails to screws.
“A lot can really hinge on how well one is able to manage and compensate for the impact of weather (and related delays) on the land development side of the business,” Myers says of something that, while not unique to Colorado, is abundantly true considering its winter climate. While he has experienced first-hand the frustration that comes with it being too cold to pave or complete earth work due to the ground being frozen, Myers is quick to accept that these are inevitable (albeit limiting) weather factors. “And, while they can’t really be avoided, they can be planned for and adjusted for,” he says, underscoring that, given a bit of slack in the big-picture plan, a month’s worth of delay on land development need not translate to a month’s worth of delay in starts or closing somewhere on down the line.
Set reasonable expectations
No matter the month, it’s never too late to make the most of your industry’s slow season. “During down time, companies need to think about everything from current workload to where they want to be [in the future],” says Koch, who advises folks to revisit their long-term plans — revising their five- and ten-year goals as needed — in order to create a step-by-step approach that will get them there.
“Expanding the knowledge of teams across sectors not only creates a bigger, better understanding of the business, but it also creates opportunities for employees to collaborate,” Koch says of a magic tool for creating a happy and healthy company culture — something for which to be thankful year round.
“It’s a great time to be thinking about gratitude,” says Myers, citing the many hands that make light work of constructing homes throughout Colorado. He finds there is energy and excitement in these times of transition.
“There’s a natural cadence to the end of the calendar year,” he says, one that begs a million-dollar question: What are you going to accomplish in the year to come?