Written by Rose Morrison
The construction industry faced a unique set of challenges during COVID-19, all of which set the stage for widespread innovation as the world began to recover. The pandemic left the entire global population at a standstill, and even when life did start returning to normal, it did so slowly and inconsistently.
Construction was generally considered an essential industry during the pandemic, so some projects didn’t completely halt. Nevertheless, worksites, project meetings and supply management changed significantly. What has the industry learned from these changes and the challenges posed by COVID-19? There are three key areas where change will be developing further coming out of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to think more about daily health and hygiene habits. Door handles and keyboards were wiped down more often, hand sanitizer was sold out everywhere, and masks were cleaned and swapped out regularly. Everyone paid more attention to health and safety than ever before.
As for business, disruption was sudden and severe. Many businesses needed to make a monumental shift to remote work due to social distancing protocols and lockdown orders – and for many, the change will be permanent.
For the construction industry, one of the least digitized sectors, it went beyond hygiene and safety. Suddenly the spreadsheets, paper forms and documents so commonly used in the industry, created unprecedented challenges as project teams were working remotely. The move to online channels and digital tools became paramount to enable the continuity of construction projects. The transition has proven to reduce on-site costs, provide better communication and more reliable data analytics, which has led to better risk management and improved project performance.
Construction has suffered from labor shortages for years, long before the pandemic. Now, it’s been strained even further. Fewer people allowed on-site means the work demand on each individual goes up and projects slow down. Additionally, when demand and investments decrease during an economic downturn, contractors and project owners are sometimes forced to let staff go due to lack of work or budget cuts. Construction projects worldwide had to learn how to make more out of less in the face of COVID-19.
Automation has been a rising trend in construction for a while now, but it took center stage during the pandemic. Between staffing shortages and reduced funding, the time was ripe for an increase in automation. It’s a cost-effective solution because, even with the initial investment in equipment, it’s been shown to significantly increase productivity and efficiency, even upwards of 60%. In a COVID-19 and post-pandemic world, site managers don’t need to worry about a robot getting sick or hurt, either. Even automated systems that simply speed up human-operated processes can make a big difference.
Another factor to consider is the role automation plays in team member safety. Health and safety will remain prime priorities coming out of the pandemic. Automation and robotics integration can ensure human workers don’t have to be put in unnecessary danger or tasked with potentially risky jobs. Even if such situations are unavoidable, automation and digital tools help Owners keep an eye on construction progress from a distance to ensure projects continue to move forward.
One interesting result of the COVID-19 pandemic is a greater demand for more sustainable, health-focused facilities. This may be a long-term reaction to the pandemic, but an optimistic one, nevertheless. There are a variety of forms it could take.
Many companies are rethinking how offices should be designed. Building designs prior to the pandemic may now need revisions to feature open floor plans with room for individual customization. Some companies may opt to reduce space and instead provide personal pods that could be checked out when a remote employee comes into the office. More buildings may need to be reconfigured to let fresh air inside and provide easy access to the outdoors.
On a more general level, a key concern for new projects has been ventilation and airflow. The pandemic made clean air a top priority, and buildings being designed in the shadow of COVID-19 are likely to allocate significant attention to high-efficiency ventilation systems.
Sustainability has also become a greater concern for the general public. During the pandemic, the world saw greenhouse gas emissions decrease and nature thrive when the global human population was forced to pause activity. This seems to have sparked worldwide interest in creating a more environmentally friendly built space. As a result, Owners may need to revise
designs or add more clean energy sources, such as solar panels, to existing facilities.
A New Era for Construction
The pandemic may have forced the construction industry to a near halt in 2020, however, it will come back with a burst of innovation in the months and years to come. As construction continues to realize the benefits of digitization and the vast amount of data it can provide, the industry will become safer, and more efficient and productive than ever before.