Is COVID19 making long-term differences to the construction industry?

In the first few months of 2020 we’ve all had to adapt to a completely new way of living and working. A number of industries have seen massive uptake of services – supermarket delivery slots are rarer than hen’s teeth these days. And if you haven’t been furloughed, online meetings with distant colleagues and customers have become the norm.

The construction industry has faced very tough times. Sites have been shut down and work put on-hold, with all the contractual and financial risk that poses to contractors.  The majority of roles in construction are not compatible with working from home – and the majority of our industry is still made up of small businesses who don’t have the resources to last through a long-term break in work.

But there is some hope that the kind of massive enforced change that we have all been through will overcome a lot of inertia in the construction sector.

Sharing information digitally has been the only way to communicate in the past few months.

Many in the industry hope that this way of working will continue.

There can be no going back to dragging out the old ways of doing things

Karen Fletcher Karen Fletcher Former editor of CIBSE Journal and MBS magazine

Forward to the future, not back

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) asked a number of leading construction managers how they saw the current crisis impacting their work. All agreed that adoption of digital tools was very likely to grow from this point.

Richard Saxon CBE, chairman of JCT, is quoted in Construction Manager magazine saying: “The leaders are showing the way after stress-testing remote working arrangements.”

Andrew Gamblen, digital manager at Wilmott Dixon, agreed that people are becoming more comfortable with using digital technologies to communicate and collaborate remotely: “I don’t know what things will be like by the end of the epidemic, but I do know we definitely won’t be working in the same way as we were before.”

The general mood of the industry is that it should take the new ways of working forward into the future – not fall back on old practices when we return to ‘normal’.

Some would add that given the massive financial hit that the construction industry has taken, it has no choice but to adopt technology that can help deliver more efficiently and effectively.

A cleaner environment

Our shut-down has also impacted the environment, with many maps of global pictures showing massive reductions in pollution and images of clean air in cities as distant as Mumbai and London. This is another change that many would like to see continue in the long-term.

Once experienced, the difference in air quality will be very noticeable if we simply return to the same old habits. Will it make people more willing to embrace new technologies, such as heat pumps, for example?

The draft London Plan (due to be launched shortly) is looking to promote greater use of heat pumps and heat networks. The emphasis is on shifting away from NOx-producing heat sources with an eye on making London’s air cleaner, and its inhabitants healthier.

Remote working

And it’s possible to add remote monitoring of modern heat pumps too – with engineers able to check a householder’s system online.

Not only does this greatly reduce call-outs (with the pollution-loaded road miles that entails), it means that if an engineer does have to visit, they bring the right equipment with them.

When all this is over, we still face the challenge of climate change. The first half of 2020 has proved that we can transform how we do things at a significant scale.

Having learned that lesson, there can be no going back to dragging out the old ways of doing things until the very last minute.

Karen Fletcher is Content Director for Rocket Content