01 October 2020
The impact of COVID-19 has been felt across all sectors of UK Business and Industry, and construction is no exception. Six months on from the initial lockdown, we are starting to see the sector rebound, but the road to recovery has not been without its barriers and challenges.
Back in March, there was a great deal of uncertainty as contractors and housebuilders were wondering not only what the pandemic would do to their bottom-line, but also how quickly they could reopen sites and resume business.
The pressure was felt on other sides of the industry, with architectural practices big and small fearing a distinct drop-off in commissions. Building product manufacturers for their part were concerned about disruption to the raw materials supply chain and distribution networks.
However, despite the uncertainty, the sector held its nerve and kept its heads. We believe this has been due to a number of factors, from careful planning at the outset to the investment in new technology to help overcome the situation.
The Construction Leadership Council’s (CLC) Roadmap to Recovery has been an essential tool in helping the industry to overcome the COVID catastrophe. An extensive and wide-ranging document, it sets out what we all have to do to secure the legacy and long-term success of UK Construction Plc.
Already underway, and delivered over two years, this comprehensive strategy aims to increase, and accelerate, the levels of activity across the construction, making up for losses incurred during the pandemic.
It will also take the opportunity to establish a new, more dynamic eco-system, something needed for a long time. It will look to increase prosperity across the UK, decarbonise and modernise the sector through digital technology and automation. This will, it’s hoped result in a safer, more efficient industry.
Delivered in three phases (Restart, Reset, Reinvent), we already see paper turn into practice, and output gradually continues to return to pre-COVID levels, and disruption kept to a minimum.
If there were any silver linings to be taken from the current situation, it’s the adoption of new technologies in construction and housebuilding. Previously, the sector had been apprehensive when it came to investing in new technology, not only in the back office, but on-site too.
However, when sites shutdown nationwide, it gave time to pause and reflect, turning to innovation to help get these operations up and running again, as quickly as possible. Not only was this to meet official health, safety and, social distancing guidelines, but also to inspire confidence in the workforce to return to site promptly when the first lockdown was lifted.
We’ve seen it first-hand through the launch of our new product, a health and safety management software, One.site. By providing remote induction software and contactless sign-in infrastructure, rapidly installed, we were able to directly help our clients return to site efficiently, with no impact on schedules and timeframes. It also has the added bonus of improving compliance, record-keeping and general risk.
This is just one example, new technology is now blossoming in the industry, and helping to make up for any lost time in the spring. In part, this can account for why construction has been able to bounce back in the way it has. Importantly, this innovation will also be essential in meeting the aims of CLC’s ongoing recovery strategy.
The role of wireless communications should not be overlooked either. Broadband is now taken for granted as it’s becoming more readily available, however, if this pandemic had occurred ten years ago, communications networks would have lacked the capacity or capability to prevent major disruption.
During the shutdown, Wi-Fi and mobile technology allowed for essential, remote working to keep businesses going. Again, this is something unimaginable a decade ago.
Post-shutdown, wireless technology played an equally important role, with connectivity infrastructure helping to maintain a dialogue between sites, head office and other built environment professionals either self-isolating or forbidden site access on safety ground.
On the site itself, quickly establishing strong communications infrastructure on request helped limit face-to-face dialogue at close proximity. The implementation of a reliable network system allowed for real-time discussions across sites of all sizes, via mobile devices.
Having installed a number of these solutions over the last six months, we’ve been able to see how they’ve simultaneously improved efficiency, whilst also protecting workers and helping them comply with social distancing guidelines. It’s another small but significant step on the road to recovery.
Of course, we are not out of the woods yet, and another lockdown will bring new problems, even if construction and housebuilding has been spared in this latest announcement. The good news is that our experiences throughout 2020 have informed us and made us better prepared to tackle them.
Although we need to tread carefully over the next six months, we believe the sector has the resilience to come through these unusual times, stronger, safer, smart and more efficient.
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