For years, the construction industry has proven to be exceptional at what it does. Standards have been in place for decades — and when something is working well, it’s not always a priority to change it. But, with these unprecedented times comes the need to evolve.
For most companies, that’s exactly what 2020 was all about. In the midst of these new challenges, we’re seeing innovation and adaptations at a new high, across the board. Executives, contractors, leads, and even investors had to change their way of thinking — not only to maintain compliance with government regulations but also to keep themselves and their employees healthy.
How do you build with as few people on-site as possible? How do you abide by social distancing guidelines while working as a team? How do you reduce the contact between workers, both on and offsite? These were among the harder questions that had to be answered, but people in the industry rose — and continue to rise — to the occasion, creating solutions for many problems. Most of those solutions involve technology in one or another form, and consequently, the new normal for construction is a mix of past and present. And in some instances, it looks a bit futuristic, too.
More than ever, we’re seeing a link between the blue-collar and white-collar worlds. Much like modern offices have been doing, construction companies are making moves to digitize many of their business practices in order to stay compliant, perform better and ultimately be more profitable. No industry has been spared as we are all forced to revolutionize throughout this historic pandemic. While this transformation was already happening, albeit slowly, in the construction industry, COVID-19 single-handedly turned it into a greater priority. This positions the construction industry to make tremendous gains in technology and, as result, improve a company’s bottom line. With this in mind, there are several noticeable and significant ways that building (with the help of technology) is changing:
1. Productivity Measurement
With on-site numbers minimized, leads and site managers are faced with the challenge of maximizing productivity, often remotely. These days, technology solutions have emerged to help accomplish this — most collect field data, monitor equipment use, provide budget and productivity analyses, and more.
2. Payroll Apps
Most traditional construction gigs are paid hourly — so if someone is on the clock, they should be getting paid. Because many employees’ hours have been changing since the pandemic started, it’s become more important to keep track of what, when, and how employees are being paid.
Apps (as well as software) are becoming the leading choice over old-fashioned time cards and paper spreadsheets. They’re faster, more efficient, and more hygienic. Crucially, with coronavirus benefits on the line, they also make it easier for companies to claim tax credits successfully.
3. On-site Health and Safety
As long as people work on construction sites, safety will always be a massive concern. Now, site managers are dealing with a new type of safety challenge: contact tracing. If someone tests positive with COVID-19, it’s critical to determine who was or wasn’t in contact with them while they were contagious. It’s not always so simple in this business, though. Employees, supervisors, vendors, and customers all need to go in and out of the same areas, so it can be hard to keep track of who’s been where. The necessity of doing it, though, has given people in the industry a chance to see and benefit firsthand from technology, like QR codes, GPS tracking, and automated emails and alerts.
4. Personnel Development
In an effort to minimize physical contact, HR departments throughout the industry have embraced digital means of recruiting, hiring, and onboarding. Instead of job fairs, face-to-face interviews, and on-site shadowing, more and more companies are using construction-specific recruiting platforms, remote interviewing, and video or augmented reality AR training methods.
5. Social Distancing
Artificial intelligence (AI) was already an option for next-gen site mapping and management, but the need for monitoring workers’ locations has pushed it even closer to the forefront. However, there are simpler solutions that are still very forward-thinking, like the Proximity Trace. Add it to a hard hat or lanyard, and it tells workers when they’re too close together.
6. Digital Collaboration
Remote meetings, cloud-based file sharing and repositories, building information modeling and online ordering are all forms of technology that, like AI, were already being used in some corners of the industry. Now out of sheer necessity, digital adoption is widespread and accelerated.
7. Skills Gap
No one in construction goes unaffected by the long-running skills gap the industry is experiencing. Even with the economy down and unemployment up, finding skilled trade workers isn’t proving easier. And the industry-wide shift toward tech and connectivity is only exacerbating the problem. On top of traditional skills, today’s leaders and tomorrow’s workers will need to be increasingly digitally literate.
8. Supply Chains
On the back of a global supply shock, industries worldwide are looking to shift their supply chains onto firmer ground. In part, it may involve the regionalization of vendors — but in a larger sense, it’s a job for technology. Tracking, monitoring, predicting, and analyzing have major implications for supply chain resilience. Turns out they’re also all things that technology is better at than people. Embracing tech in regards to supply will help companies continue to manage scarce resources in dynamic markets and keep revenue streams intact.
Normalizing the New Normal
The evolved (and still evolving) relationship between construction and digitalization is one small silver lining on the dark cloud of the pandemic. The transition to more tech-based approaches has been challenging and chaotic at times, but it’s also helped the industry see just how powerful digital transformation can be.
With any luck, pandemic-related problems will keep going down while efficiency and productivity in construction keep growing. Right now, we’re still learning how to use all the tools at our disposal. As we adapt to them, they’ll undoubtedly help us create entirely new strategies and business models. In 10 years, construction could look completely different. In the meantime, constant innovation and embracing change is our new normal.