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Growing in a Virtual World

Lisa Sten, CEO of Harrell Remodeling, finds new ways to scale up as the pandemic continues to disrupt old ways of doing business.

May 24, 2021
interview on zoom

Where do I even start in terms of describing what the last 18 months have been like?

Our leads at Harrell Remodeling are up 30 percent in the first quarter of the year, compared to 2020. And the people who are calling us are definitely more interested and definitely more serious about moving forward than before.

These leads are also for bigger-sized projects. It’s more than just a kitchen. It’s more than just a bathroom. Instead, it’s the kitchen and the left side of the house or the kitchen and an accessory dwelling unit. We’ve got 36 projects in design development right now.

Working Online

Of course this is all happening online. Getting a permit has become much more complicated. Local building permit offices are not getting things out as fast as when you could walk in and actually talk to a person. We have one employee who is a designer/code specialist, and her full-time job is handling this. She deals with all the cities on these permitting issues, and she updates us on a regular basis about how long it’s taking to get jobs through permitting.

But homeowners have been willing to wait as long as they are on the schedule. It’s like hanging up on the phone tree at the DMV. You’ll just have to get back in the queue and start again from the beginning. You might as well stay in and work with it.

Zoom Hiring

All those projects have required us to add staff. We had to let three people go in 2020 when the pandemic started, but we’ve hired 12 people in the past 12 months, adding five of those new employees since January 2021 alone. Those hires have included a carpenter, an estimator, two designers, and a human resources generalist. We’re now a team of 42 people.

In the past, we would have done a screening interview with a candidate on the phone, an in-person interview, and then a group interview with people from different departments. But now all the interviews are happening on Zoom. I never met one of our designers face-to-face until she showed up on her very first day. The same happened with our human resources generalist. But you just have to trust the process.

We are having a hard time finding good carpenters. Designer candidates are also in demand. We’re thinking about doing a job fair for carpenters, and we’ve been networking with our local trade schools.

Remote Work or Return to the Office?

We haven’t made any declarations about when people will go back to the office. We’re still figuring it out. We’re a very culture-driven, collaborative company, and it only works so well on Zoom. We’re just not a tech company where people sit and write code.

As far as working from home, it’s complicated. Should the ability to work remotely be based on the person or the job description? The answer is really a combination of the two.

About the Author

About the Author

Lisa Sten is the CEO of Harrell Remodeling, a design-build firm in Palo Alto, Calif.

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