Most people I know joke about road construction crews, particularly when the crew’s working on a city street. Usually there are four or five people standing around watching one or two people who are actually working. As a small-business owner, I just don’t understand this. Every person on my crew has to be productive for as much of the day as possible.
When I visit a jobsite to measure for materials or meet with the contractor, if I notice most of the crew standing around watching someone work, I wonder what’s wrong. It could be that the GC isn’t good at his job, or maybe materials haven’t yet arrived. Or maybe the crew are poorly supervised and just goofing off.
Recently I had the opposite experience at one of my jobs. I had hired a crew to hang the drywall in a 2,000-square-foot ranch house. All of the material had been delivered, but the crew had to cancel. I talked to the carpenter, hoping that his framers could help, but all he could spare was his 17-year-old son. I’ve hung a lot of drywall over the years, but recently I have mostly just been taping. So I find myself with this house to hang and the only help I have is a completely green kid who seems genuinely anxious to do well.
Hanging drywall is typically not a one-person job. The sheets are heavy and awkward to lift and carry. I often use a hydraulic drywall lift, but for this job I was going to have to teach a new helper how to handle the material. I told him that I was going to do all the fastening and make most of the cutouts. On the first few sheets, I showed him how to measure, score, and snap a panel, and after that he cut all the sheets to length. Soon I also asked him to carry pieces under 12 feet long, close to where we would hang them. Within two hours, I was giving him measurements and he would cut and carry while I fastened and cut out electrical boxes and door and window openings. At first I was also applying the drywall adhesive, but before long I’d asked him to start applying it as well.
The two of us hung 5,600 square feet of drywall in less than 20 hours. We were organized and efficient, and nobody had time to stand around. I have been part of some really good three-man crews over the years, and I think the reason we worked well together was because we each knew our role and enjoyed the fast pace and the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day. I don’t think a fourth or fifth person would have increased production much. In fact, I think it would have led to some standing around. The two-man crew on this job came about by accident, but we worked well together for the same reasons.
Depending on the job size, a bigger crew isn’t necessarily better. Productivity isn’t about how many people are working, it’s about moving efficiently and the desire to get things done. That’s why I got into the drywall business in the first place. I like to get things done and I really enjoy working with people who work the same way.