It's pouring outside and the weatherman predicts that the rain is going to keep up throughout the day and into the evening. What happens with your crews?

At Fick Bros. Roofing & Exterior Remodeling, in Baltimore, production manager Patrick Fick immediately records a voice mail message so that production employees can call in to get the status of work that day.

All Fick Bros. foremen are required to report to work, but non-supervisory employees can either take the day off or schedule themselves for training. The company has a structure built inside its warehouse featuring various roof configurations — flat and sloped — with a chimney and sewer stack, plus built-in gutters. Training consists of installing flashing, shingles, or gutters on the training house.

THINGS TO DO It takes a lot of rain to qualify as a rainy day in Washington state, and downtime would more likely be caused by the occasional foot or more snowfalls that hit the area. But when Sound Glass Sales, in Tacoma, runs into weather unsuitable for working outdoors, installers — all the company's installers are employees — get busy recycling.

“We pull a lot of aluminum windows out of buildings,” says vice president Gvido Bars. Those old windows stay stacked in the company warehouse for just such occasions. To recycle the windows, the installers remove the glass from the metal frames. The frames are then hauled to a recycling plant, and the proceeds are used to fund company functions. Sound Glass Sales just took a group of employees to a seaside resort and casino for a weekend, using money from the fund.

Turning old metal windows into a recycling load takes about two days. Should rain or other inclement weather prevent installers from working outdoors, Sound Glass Sales' management sets installers to work washing and cleaning out trucks, and “getting caught up on maintenance,” Bars says. The company wants, he says, to avoid putting employees in a position where they're not working a 40-hour week. “A lot of these guys are relying on a full-time job.”

SWITCHING PLACES Sound Glass Sales does both residential and commercial window installation. A big advantage of doing both types of business is that when, for instance, a lull occurs between big commercial jobs, the commercial installers can be moved to residential projects, which is where most of them started anyway.

All County Exteriors in Lakewood, N.J. — where the exterior division produces about 20% of company sales, with much of the remainder generated by new-home building — applies a similar management solution to downtime in either division. “We float [installers] back and forth if the workflow decreases on the renovation side,” says vice president Ross Marzarella. “So we always have something for them to do.” That might involve assigning a roofing crew to install skylights on new homes for a day. The key to managing a large workforce, Marzarella says, is “projecting your capacity, and knowing which crews fit where.”