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Building Efficiently in a Post-COVID World

The COVID-19 pandemic struck a hammer blow to the construction industry. From global supply chain disruption to stalled projects to soaring material prices, the coronavirus’s aftershocks are still being felt by all areas. But there are positive signs...
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The COVID-19 pandemic struck a hammer blow to the construction industry. From global supply chain disruption to stalled projects to soaring material prices, the coronavirus’s aftershocks are still being felt by all areas. But there are positive signs that construction has weathered the storm and is starting to rebound. Here are some ways that the industry can create new efficiencies as it continues this comeback into the rest of 2021 and beyond. 

The past 18 months have been rough for most businesses, and construction got hit harder than most. According to a recent blog post by Procore, 2020 should’ve been a record year in a good way, with construction contributing over $900 billion to the American economy in the first quarter of the year. But then COVID-19 struck, and that momentum was halted in the most jarring way. In Q2, over a million jobs were lost. Though around 600,000 of these were restored between then and now, that still leaves approximately 400,000 people out of work. 

Market research conducted by consulting group Deloitte concluded that the pandemic cost the construction sector almost $61 billion. When combined with the impact of the widespread job losses, “this represents the erasure of two years of GDP gains and four years of job gains,” the Procore post author wrote. 

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Commenting on the seismic shifts in the construction industry, Michael Rubin, Goldberg Segalla’s national OSHA and Worksite Safety practice group chair told Construction Dive: “Employers can no longer conduct business the same way as they did in the past. Especially now, they need to be flexible and in many instances, creative, as they think of new ways to perform certain tasks that they have performed in the same way for many years in the past.”

During the peak of the pandemic, this meant workers who were allowed onsite because they were deemed “essential” wearing masks and, when possible, observing social distancing guidelines. It also required project managers learning to do what they were used to doing in person from a remote location. But while some of these practices will remain for the foreseeable future, the construction sector needs to think bigger to help get back on its feet and return to the kind of pre-pandemic prosperity that was underway before the spread of the coronavirus. 

Removing Communication Roadblocks

While construction companies and the contractors and subcontractors they employ have little control over the wholesale cost of lumber and other materials, the job market, or federal and state health policies concerning COVID-19, there are some controllable factors. If these can be manipulated correctly, builders can start to create their own efficiencies. 

The primary example is communication. While wearing masks may have hindered face-to-face conversation on the jobsite during the pandemic, the real issue in this area is the lack of current, comprehensive, and proactive information sharing between stakeholders. Plans are changed in one system but the alteration isn’t communicated down the chain to those who will be performing the work, so mistakes are made and costly rework is necessary. Workers waste hours waiting for equipment that never arrives because the dispatcher didn’t know when it was actually needed. A crew shows up on a jobsite ready to roof two homes, but they have to go home because the tiles they requested have been delayed and nobody bothered to tell them. 

These are just three examples of the many mix-ups that occur daily. All of them can be traced back to the stark reality that people aren’t getting the information they need at the right time to put it into action. The results? Project hold-ups, defects, and skyrocketing costs. Unlike the after-effects of COVID-19, such issues are fixable. And the solution starts with finding a more effective and efficient way to communicate. If workers had access to a single communication platform that ingested data from other systems, presented job-, team-, and people-specific updates, and offered real-time notifications using complete and up-to-date information, construction would be able to eliminate many of the wastes that currently plague it and minimize many more. 

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