Thinking on your feet: Performing essential services during COVID-19

The University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Photo: Holly ChichesterThe University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Photo: Holly Chichester

Work situations surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) are constantly changing, which means landscapers are having to take business operations one day at a time.

With no guarantee of what tomorrow will bring, companies like Lawn Love and grounds crew members for the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, are reevaluating best practices on a daily basis and are constantly trying to look ahead.Tlc Part Two

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Ultimately, Jeremy Yamaguchi, founder and CEO of Lawn Love, says it’s up to the individual landscapers to adhere to the recommendations the company sends out but they have clearly communicated to their landscapers that even though they are working outside, it’s important to still bring hand sanitizer, wear gloves and goggles and have masks available for use while working.

Yamaguchi says they have also reminded their landscapers to not enter the home of a customer, even if they are invited, and to wipe down tools and work areas after work is finished for the day.

Yamaguchi says they’ve told landscapers to try and maintain distance between themselves and other workers if they aren’t working alone on the jobsite, and if an employee seems even remotely sick, give him/her time off from work.

“Our support team is going to be as flexible as they can in coordinating the pros’ schedules,” Yamaguchi says. “We want to not only logistically support the pros that we work with but to the degree that we can, help emotionally as well. One way we do that is by not making their lives harder than they need to be.”

Yamaguchi says Lawn Love is currently facing the same challenges as other landscaping companies, but a major difference is that they are having to deal with all of the challenges at once since their customers are all across the country.

Overall, he says that the number one issue they’re facing is maintaining a coherent plan for how to operate with the numerous unprecedented shutdowns across so many states. He adds that it’s also necessary for them to understand in which states they are literally not allowed and able to operate, where they are legally able to operate and where the grey areas are.

The University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Photo: Holly ChichesterThe University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Photo: Holly Chichester

Throughout all of this, he continues to stress the importance of communicating this new reality to their landscapers, as the status of these orders changes quickly.

While some areas of the country have experienced issues receiving products and supplies, Holly Chichester, landscape and grounds manager for the University of Mary Washington, says the availability of services and goods has been steady so far. She adds that they have put a stop on all orders currently since they don’t have the necessary manpower on hand to complete the projects.

“We have to be solid stewards of university finances and state finances because we don’t know where we are going to end up when all is said and done, and we know that other areas of scholastic operation will take precedence once the university is open again,” Chichester says.

For their team, Chichester says maintaining the safety of the crews and students is paramount, but she also says it’s important to try and keep morale up. With campus events like graduation being canceled, the necessary landscaping jobs to prepare for the event were also canceled, which proved disheartening to both the students and the groundskeepers.

Yamaguchi says Lawn Love continues to brainstorm how they will navigate through this slackened demand during the peak of the growing season, but they continue to plan and adjust for however long it might take to regain normalcy. Regardless of what happens, Yamaguchi says it’s vital in times like these to always try and find a little bit of positivity to cling to.

“Crises have a way of bringing teams together, and I’ve certainly seen that at Lawn Love as well,” Yamaguchi says. “That’s been a happy upside to the otherwise crazy situation that we’re in.”

Necessary services

For the time being, both Chichester and Yamaguchi agree that their teams will only be performing services that are necessary for the health and well-being of the landscapes, as well as the health and safety of those who come in contact with the spaces.

“We’ve chosen to follow DHS guidance here, which does specifically consider necessary landscaping practices essential,” Yamaguchi says. “I understand that if it’s purely cosmetic, it feels a bit superfluous and unnecessary, but in a world where a lot of the work that lawn maintenance professionals do is cutting grass that’s close to the edges of a home, those are services that need to continue.”

When it comes to protecting the investment of people’s property or the buildings on campus, Chichester says the grounds team has a duty to keep rodents, vermin and pests at bay, whether people are visiting the areas or not.

The University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Photo: Holly ChichesterThe University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Photo: Holly Chichester

Chichester adds that performing these preventative pest management practices now instead of holding off until later could keep her crews from having to spend more money down the line to fight infestations.

Chichester says that during this uncertain time, many landscapers have put a hold on unnecessary practices to get the point across to customers, fellow landscapers and government officials that the green industry‘s perspective has shifted to essential services only.

“The aesthetic has been set aside,” Chichester says. “We’re not planting pansies; we’re maintaining the basic services. It’s a matter of each individual taking responsibility for everybody else. We are responsible for each other, and common sense needs to prevail in this situation. And an abundance of respect and sanitation for yourself and others is going to be paramount. If you can stay home and get things done, stay home. But, again, if you need to get out and get work done, do it safely and be smart.”

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