Member Two Cents: As a Specialty Trade Subcontractor, How Has Your Company Dealt With “Back to the Office?”

There are a number of surveys that have cited productivity improvements with employees whose positions allowed for remote work. Employees in administrative and operational positions, in many cases, were able to maintain or even improve productivity, while finding reduced stress levels and improved work-life balance, despite often working more hours at home. The success of this remote work led to many subcontractors incorporating some ability to work from home in their company policies going forward. Many employees valued some level of remote work to be an option. In a competitive hiring market, some flexibility in this area has become an expectation of prospective employees who are often coming from a much wider geographical area than in pre-COVID days. We asked some of our Specialty Trade CFPs about their remote work policies and, to the extent employees have been required to return to the office, how that was received and the impact it’s had.

Matt Monzo, CFO, The Tri-M Group, LLC

The Tri-M Group, LLC in Kennett Square, PA is a building automation, high voltage, energy testing and electrical contractor. The Tri-M Group automates, energizes, tests, and unifies all the buildings power, networking, security, HVAC controls, lighting, and electricity, including high voltage. This includes a service department for emergency calls. The commercial and industrial customers are primarily in the Mid-Atlantic region but Tri-M assist utility companies during storm events from Maine to Florida. Tri-M was founded in 1964 and currently employs about 470 employees.

The Tri-M Group, LLC went to a hybrid work model once the organization found it safe to return employees to the office. Initially, the hybrid model was looked at as a measure to have employees separated within the office to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Employees were strategically assigned days to report to the office and days to work from home. Over time, the organization found that employees were able to not only be productive working from home, but usually more productive. The organization surveyed the office employees. Project managers explained that many of their onsite job meetings had now gone virtual. The project managers were saving several hours per week that was normally dedicated to drive time. This made them more productive. Office employees stated that by not having to drive 30-60 minutes per day, this allowed them to spend more time on their daily duties. They also said that because they weren’t worried about leaving the office at a specific time that they actually worked more hours per day when working from home. One employee told us that working from home is a “game changer” for him. He explained that he has three young children, and the flexibility has allowed him to walk his son to the bus stop and be there when he gets home. This work-life balance has been very rewarding to him. This type of message echoed through the survey results. The organization decided to make the hybrid work model permanent.”

Joe Gravenstine, Controller, National Glass & Metal Co., Inc.

National Glass & Metal is an architectural metal and glass contractor based in Horsham, Pa that fabricates and installs curtainwall, windows, doors, and interior glazing work for commercial projects in Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, as well as storefronts for high-end retailers throughout the United States and Canada. This second-generation company celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2021 and currently has about 100 employees.

We are an architectural glass and metal contractor. As with many construction companies, our project managers have always been working in a hybrid environment. That is, they spend a significant amount of time on job sites and therefore out of the office. The major thing that’s changed for them is the technology used to communicate. We now use Go-To Meeting and Microsoft Teams extensively. This has given our project teams a lot more flexibility in how they manage their projects, how they interact with our clients, and how they work with the office team.

Our office staff now works on a hybrid schedule — three days in the office and two days remote. At the beginning of the conversion to the new schedule, the company discussed the situation with the employees and the best days to be in or out of the office for each person was decided. Generally, everyone keeps to the schedule picked.

Overall, the employees seem to like the hybrid arrangement. But of course, no arrangement is perfect. Some negative things noted are stress from having two distinct morning routines, commuting becoming a burden, and the lines between work and home life getting blurry. Some positive things noted are the decrease in commuting time (and fuel cost), scheduling flexibility and for projects requiring uninterrupted focus, working from home can help.

Shawn Erickson, CFO, CCIFP, C.J. Erickson Plumbing Co.

C.J. Erickson Plumbing Co. is a full service, self-performing plumbing and site utility union contractor that specializes in service, commercial and industrial plumbing projects. Based outside of Chicago, the family-owned business was started in 1906 and currently employees approximately 90 employees.

COVID-19 helped us realign and really ignite our remote set up and processes so that we could work efficiently and effectively. In fact, COVID-19 forced us to review our current processes, many of which were greatly improved by the situation at hand. As far as supporting remote work, the timing of implementing Microsoft Teams and hiring a full time IT person in 2018 couldn’t have been better!

Prior to COVID-19, working remotely was not something we did. Generally speaking, we are a small subspecialty contractor, our office staff of 20 works closely with our field and operational employees. Given this, we tend to find ourselves working in the office, both during and post-COVID. With little office turnover, our employees have strong relationships with one another and really enjoy coming together. Working in person, allows them to collaborate, naturally brainstorm and also maintain the separation between home and work. That being said, COVID-19 did push us to remote work and find ways to do so that were both embraced and efficient. There are definitely times now that make sense for someone to work remotely. It’s been really helpful in those situations where for one reason or another, they just can’t physically be in the office but are able to work. In addition, remote work has allowed us to utilize consultants in a way that we couldn’t before.

As far as technology goes, we still have some work to do to decrease the set-up cost and the seamlessness of remote working. The unintended consequence has been the amount we’ve had to spend on both hardware and soft support costs. As an employer, it’s been great to be able to offer remote working when the situation needs it. Our employees are juggling a lot in their lives and that offering takes a little pressure off. For me, I try to find days that I work remotely to allow for “deep work”. I’m excited for the future as we continue to improve “how” we work so that the option of working remotely is easier for most in the office to do. I’ll continue to monitor how our field employees view these changes knowing they cannot work remotely – from home or wherever. We truly are a “family” business, so we are all in this together. I want to make sure everyone does now and continues to feel that way!

Sam Nunez, Financial Systems Manager, CCIFP, Marek Brothers Systems

Marek Brothers Systems is a large drywall & ceiling subcontractor operating in Texas & Georgia. Marek has been in business for more than 80 years and have 1150 employees, including over 300 in the office.

With the COVID-19 pandemic waning and becoming just another flu, we are back full-time to the office. The end. Wait, there’s twist. The pandemic created a remote workforce that could get the work done it needed to do and on time. What about full-time work at the office? That’s what the owners want and say. But we surveyed our employees, and they said that hybrid work schedule is the preferred option. To recruit and retain our people, a temporary concession was made. With that said, we are back to work full-time with a hybrid work schedule. The billing and payroll departments work in the office two days and remote work three days. The staff members are assigned different days so we can have enough people here to justify keeping the lights on. There are other departments that have a shorter deal and they only get one remote day. The office staff must work a rotation with each other so that at least more than half are in the office any given day.

Most people try to take off Monday or Friday. The IT department got the most generous deal and half of them doing remote work only. The managers, salespeople, and project managers are full time only but work remote if necessary for personal reasons (i.e. fever, kids sick, school closed, etc.). Everyone is evaluated by their manager for work performance and anyone not getting the job done loses their remote privileges.

How is remote work for us? For the most part, it’s working out and our employees are getting the work done. Some employees are working longer hours and happy with it. If you asked me five years ago about a hybrid work schedule, I would have laughed and said no way. It amazing how much the world has changed in two years.

And an anonymous offering from a CFO that likely reflects the positions of many Specialty Trade Contractors throughout the country

We have a philosophy of people needing to be in the office. We are flexible for a day here or there because of personal reasons, but if someone wants to excel then you need to be in the office working with people you are working with in this industry. In addition, it’s hard enough to have people manage their subordinates and there is a skill set to manage people remotely, and I can only think of a few people who fit those skills.

This article is brought to you by the Specialty Trade Committee. The committee is currently working on the 2023 National Conference Specialty Trade sessions. If you have a topic you’d like to see covered, please contact the committee at

About the Author

John Bieber

John Bieber is the CFO for National Glass & Metal Co., Inc., which is an architectural metal and glass trade contractor. National Glass fabricates and installs curtainwall, windows, doors and interior glazing work for commercial projects in Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware as well as storefronts for high-end retailers throughout the United States and Canada.

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