Founder and CEO of Fusion Homes, Lee Piccoli, is ensuring the safety of blue collar professionals with Safe Work System
It is hard to decipher the best course of action when no one has experienced the issue at hand. For Lee Piccoli, Founder of Fusion Homes, the best course has been preparing for anything with Safe Work System, the workflow system helping to protect blue collar professionals from exposure to COVID-19 while at work.
Ontario has officially entered stage 2 of reopening. With its sight set on a prompt advancement to Stage 3, businesses owners and Ontarians are working to ensure that those who have commenced operations, do so correctly. One of the many sectors facing exceptional challenges in doing so is the construction industry.
Before the government released guidelines to assist construction sites and developers with managing safe working conditions amidst the pandemic Lee Piccoli, Founder and CEO of Fusion Homes, took the health and safety of his employees into his own hands and devised Safe Work System.
With over two decades of experience, Piccoli launched the system after a forced closure of two weeks, during which he re-wired his company’s entire workflow system. Safe Work System now centres the wellbeing of the employee as a way to prevent exposure to COVID-19.
Accessible to business owners managing similar working conditions, Piccoli says answering the question ‘what is next and how do we do it safely’ was the driving force behind the system’s development.
The system has not only ensures the health of the Fusion Homes team, but has now been implemented in a number of construction sites across the province.
“We’re in an environment with unprecedented uncertainty, competing priorities, and facing extreme time pressure. During this time, it’s really important to get clear on what your priorities are as a business,” says Piccoli, “for us, the safety of our employees was and is always number one, which is why we voluntarily shut down our job sites until we could create a safe work environment.”
We caught up with Piccoli to discuss how his career has informed Safe Work System+, what every business owner should consider first when re-opening and why the health and safety of employees should be considered first during and beyond a pandemic.
Q & A
With 20+ years experience as an entrepreneur, your career has been vast and by many measures quite successful. When first starting as a young professional what was the motivation for you, what hole did you want to fill in the market?
Starting my own business at 24, I did not see my age as a barrier – it uniquely positioned me to bring a fresh perspective to the industry. As a result of some conversations I had with a variety of people who were purchasing new homes at the time, I decided to create Fusion Homes to identify and fill evident gaps in the overall customer experience process. I wanted to provide homebuyers with the highest level of service and set a new standard in the home industry, providing quality homes and experiences while fostering a renewed sense of community. Over the years, our goal to create sustainable, liveable and safe communities has remained unchanged – we strive to defy expectations at every turn.
What went into creating the Safe Work System? What is it and how does it operate to ensure employee safety during the pandemic?
The Safe Work System is a comprehensive, onsite safety plan that implements new safety guidelines amid COVID-19, prioritizing the safety of construction workers who are continuing to work on projects deemed essential. The plan includes strict guidelines on cleanliness and sanitation, social distancing and testing and screening, outlining important health guidelines for people to continue doing their jobs safely while allowing us to provide shelter for our customers.
Before the provincial order, we voluntarily decided to shut down the construction of all projects for two weeks to prioritize the creation of an onsite safety system that would protect our employees. We felt it was important to take precautions, and instead of rushing the process, we took the time to develop a well-thought-out plan over those two weeks. One of the challenges was that there were no guiding principles established by the provincial government, so we needed to find a solution to keep our workers and customers safe during this time. The main criteria was, would we feel comfortable going to work there? Would we feel comfortable sending our kids to work there? Until we felt comfortable sending our children to work there, we wouldn’t send anybody else.
The system is now public for use, how can others implement it? Where can anyone interested get more information on the Fusion Homes website?
As we implemented this program for our Fusion Homes construction sites, other builders approached us and asked if we could share the system with them, so we decided to make the Safe Work System public. We wanted to take active measures to keep our workers safe and we’re dedicated to sharing this amongst the public for wider implementation.
Others who want to implement the system can learn more about it by visiting Fusion Homes’ COVID-19 update on construction safety, which provides a link to the Safe Work System guide here.
As businesses look to reopen and more Canadians begin to return to work, how should safe work systems advance to accommodate this increase in personal interactions? How would you advise other companies preparing themselves?
As the economy begins to re-open, it doesn’t mean that we’re out of the woods yet and things will return to ‘normal’. There is still significant risk with respect to both the virus and the economy, so it’s imperative to temper your enthusiasm when forecasting the future. With this in mind, some key advice I would give businesses at this time is:
- Leave yourself with significant contingency and slack financially.
- Sharpen your value proposition during this time, as patterns of consumption continue to shift and change with consumers becoming more particular about what they’re buying.
- Most importantly, take every precaution possible to protect your employees and your customers and keep them safe.
What do you feel is missing when it comes to ensuring employee safety, not only now but in general?
You have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand their perspective to make sure you’re providing and maintaining a safe work experience for your employees, which is even more true today. In other words, having empathy is crucial to ensuring employee safety, as it allows you to understand the things your team experiences every single day and be mindful of the challenges and risks they face as a result. It’s imperative to be able to empathize with your team, as everyone has different realities and perspectives to consider and account for.
In your career you’ve led by action. Why do you feel this is the best way to lead and how has it proven to be the most effective leadership style for you?
It’s important to understand that it’s your actions that define you, not your words. By taking meaningful action, we’re able to drive change and generate results as a company, providing quality experiences and services for our customers. It’s essential that I lead by example because it defines the way I manage and operate my business, and ultimately how I want my team to perform.
When was a moment in your career that you learned a very hard lesson and how has that helped you to navigate other difficult situations?
There were many challenges I faced when working on the initial Fusion Homes Metalworks project, a mixed-use community in Guelph. Although many had considered development for the parcel of land where Metalworks now stands, the site was left untouched as a result of its challenges – no new condos had ever been built in downtown Guelph – so no established market – a brownfield site with an existing heritage building, within a floodplain and with high bedrock, multiple passionate stakeholders and we had never built a high rise building before this. Even facing these challenges, I knew that the team at Fusion Homes would have the skill and perseverance the site needed to preserve the heritage and maintain the character of the neighbourhood and surrounding area.
The acquisition of this 8-acre site, like everything about this project, was really unique. The remediation of the site was completed by Kilmer Brownfield and Fusion Homes took possession of the site in November of 2013. There was a rigorous stakeholder engagement process, a beautiful exercise in collaboration, which resulted in community wide support – from the City and neighbourhood groups. The process took a lot of trust in order to be so effective, and ultimately, we were all motivated by the same goal – to create something iconic for the City of Guelph in a location that was otherwise sitting idle.
What do you think makes a good entrepreneur?
The most important thing for any entrepreneur is to believe in yourself, because in the beginning, it’s likely that no one else will. When I first started Fusion Homes, I was given constant feedback that my ideas and plans would not work, and that ultimately, I would fail. For a lot of people this makes following their passion difficult, and causes a lot of second-guessing. You also have to be bold and courageous. You cannot be something to everyone. From the start, choose what you believe in and find those who join you, rather than sacrificing yourself to please the masses. Your business has to exemplify your own personal values and vision for the future.
Since your career began, you have grown your entrepreneurial drive into fully functioning successful ventures and still, continue to invest in the community. What key things do you look for in partnerships? And how would you advise an entrepreneur who is looking to grow their business and reach?
No amount of money in the world is worth waking up at 4:00AM thinking about a bad partnership. That’s why it is crucial that you get to know your partners’ values before starting any project. With a partner that is a good value fit, you can focus on solving the problems that matter, instead of making sacrifices to your personal values.
Once you have the right partner, the growth of the company is largely dependent on its people and the ability to constantly adapt. Running a business on a larger scale gets exponentially more complicated, and entrepreneurs tend to get stuck wondering why their company culture and operations no longer work after doubling their number of employees or revenue. It’s much more difficult to manage through five layers than it is two or three, and requires a different skill set that often has to be learned.