The coronavirus crisis has changed lives for people all over the world. From careers to education, travel, and health, almost all aspects of life have been altered. One industry that has been seriously impacted by the pandemic is the commercial construction industry. Construction crew jobs went from plentiful to few and far between and projects were shut down and companies closed for business due to the unknown. Over 80 percent of businesses say their markets have become more competitive over the last three years, and the construction business is no different.
Because there were no federal guidelines on construction specifically for the pandemic, state governments were forced to issue their own rules. This, of course, led to confusion and uncertainty as each state had different guidelines.
In California, San Francisco listed public works construction and construction of housing as essential jobs. Chicago Illinois allowed construction for public health emergencies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and housing to continue. Boston Massachusets issued an indefinite construction pause but made acceptions for construction that promotes public health, such as hospitals. The governor of Washington State stated to stop all residential and commercial construction, with exceptions for emergency repairs and construction related to government functions.
While it may be a while before state guidelines start to look similar and construction crew jobs pick back up, there are a few universal similarities in the way this pandemic has changed how construction crew jobs will function.
Emphasis on cleanliness
It’s no surprise that one of the changes workers will see in construction crew jobs is an increased emphasis on cleanliness. Contractors will implement new guidelines for their projects that will limit contact between workers and keep them as healthy and safe as possible. Some of these guidelines will be:
- Staggered shifts to limit contact between teams
- Temperature checks for employees before they enter the jobsite
- Disinfection of all tools and machinery
- Mask and glove policies
- Handwashing stations
- Bans on carpooling
For projects that involve more “dirty” work, such as work at sewage treatment plants, even more serious guidelines will be put in place to ensure that workers don’t come in contact with any materials that could be detrimental for their health.
Social Distancing = More Technology Use
Not only will construction crew jobs have a bigger emphasis on cleanliness, but there will also be an emphasis made on social distancing and having less crowded sites. Sites may even have guidelines for how close workers can be to one another while they work. Washington state requires workers to be at least six feet apart while working. Even after the virus dies down, this is a guideline that will likely continue to be followed. As the threat of the virus starts to recede, it will take some time for workers to feel comfortable returning to construction crew jobs where there are big crowds. A construction contractor will have to budget time wisely with smaller crews and more rotating shifts to keep fewer people on-site at any given time.
For example, roofing companies may typically have quite a few people working on a project at once, especially for larger-scale homes or commercial projects. But with the limits in certain states on the number of people that can be gathered in a place at once as well as the concerns of workers, the projects will have to be broken into teams that work at different times.
Not only will there be less crowded sites for construction crew jobs, but there will also be an emphasis on using technology for communication and in place of in-person meetings. Contractors will hold team meetings over the phone or video conferences, public meetings will be done virtually, you can even expect to see building inspections done over a video call from time to time. People have learned during this quarantine that work can still be completed when communication is virtual, and it is not something that will likely change even as the virus recedes.
Demand Will Change
As the construction industry moves into this new style of work, there will also be a huge shift in demands for project types and certain materials. Projects such as retail and hospitality may be in less demand, while those such as public health facilities and hospitals will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. There may also be an increase in demand for warehouses and distribution space as American companies stock more inventory at a given time. Companies want to ensure that there are sufficient supplies and access to materials needed in case of issues with importing products in the future.
There will also be a shift in demand for specific types of products. For example, truck rentals may increase as companies prefer to move their materials for themselves and ensure the quality and cleanliness of their products. However, other types of transportation products may go down as travel decreases with more telecommuting.
Not only will types of products and projects change, but the customer will also want to see changes that have a positive impact on the world. A shift toward sustainability in building materials and workflow is expected to move forward. Construction companies need to be prepared to change their tactics that may be outdated and adopt more eco-friendly options to please not only their customers but government officials and citizens as well.
Shift In Supply Chains
One large struggle construction companies faced during the pandemic was receiving the materials they needed to complete their work. With goods from China being so heavily relied on, companies took a big hit as quarantines in China shut down factories and the production of those goods, even before the virus hit the United States in full force. Companies were forced to seek creative solutions to get the materials they so desperately needed for their work.
Some products that were once very popular and at the top of the list for companies, such as commercial pest control, were immediately shifted to the bottom of the list as they struggled to get their most vital products. Pest control wasn’t necessary to keep them in business. Building materials were.
Moving forward, construction companies are seeking alternative suppliers that can be more reliable regardless of world issues. As the demand for construction of warehouses and distribution centers in the United States increases, companies will be able to rely on other companies that are located right here in the country. There may also be an increase in partnerships with manufacturing companies in Mexico. Companies just want to feel secure that they’ll have the contractors supplies they need to get their work done and succeed.
Longer Project Timelines
Another change in the construction industry that will reflect in construction crew jobs are increased timelines for projects. Will all of the new guidelines for social distancing, cleanliness, and shifts in supply chains, it is no surprise that projects will take longer to complete. A project like installing filtration water treatment could double in the timeline as there is an increased wait for parts and smaller teams working on the project at a given time.
Even a project like commercial boiler maintenance that could normally take less than a week to finish could be stretched much longer with missing parts in the supply chain and as different tradespeople are on-site on different days. Mike Benike, Vice President of Rochester, Minnesota-based Beinke Construction recently said, “Construction schedules will not be the same as they used to be… Things will take a little longer because we won’t be able to have lots of people in the same place at the same time.”
Companies will need to take into consideration these new time restraints as they bid for new jobs and make new contracts. There will undoubtedly be a period of learning and shifting as companies figure out that the new normal expectations are and what they can plan.
Increase In Offsite Building
Companies that have relied on prefabrication for products before they come to the job site had a huge leg up during this pandemic. More companies will surely investigate the potential benefits of offsite building for their workflow.
Relying more heavily on prefabricated products will help companies cut down on labor hours and time their workers need to be on-site near one another. This could also help companies control their timelines a bit more as they can rely on products to be already completed before arriving on their premises. Assembly line production can cut down on-site congestion and help companies to combat some of the negatives they’re facing with these new pandemic guidelines.
Rather than having their workers spend time together to assemble tools and materials for projects, they will simply have to use professional crane services to move the already fabricated products once they reach their destination.
While there will likely be a learning period and shifting of the most important tasks, the construction industry can come back stronger than it was before the pandemic.
The financial crisis of 2008 taught a lot of companies important values and businesses can look to those lessons now for guidance. Companies that were successful in 2008 moved fast on productivity, including lower costs, reallocating resources, and making big moves to get rolling again. Company leaders also looked into investing options that were more reliable, such as digital technology, and diversified their portfolios to stay stronger.
However businesses can’t just jump right into moving fast towards the future. To protect themselves from taking big risks that could ruin them, they need to define what work will look like for them for the foreseeable future and prepare for the new normal in the industry.
With an increase in emphasis on health and safety for the world, there will also likely be a huge shift towards an emphasis on sustainability in construction. Construction crew jobs will be expected to adopt more green options and materials will be expected to be sustainable and eco-friendly. Businesses that are hiring for septic system maintenance and installation may shift and look for more earth-friendly options.
One call to action proposed five stages of as companies move forward into the “new normal”: resolve, resilience, return, reimagination, and reform. Reimagination may be the stage many companies are in as they think of how their construction crew jobs will look in the future and plan for what they can do to continue to work and continue to grow.
While every company want’s to plan to be immediately successful and jump right back into normal work and business, that’s just not doable for everyone. Leaders need to be prepared to reshape how they think and “roll with the punches” as new challenges and opportunities come at them. They need to be prepared to make changes and consider new options that they may never have in the past.
Construction companies also need to prepare to not only change how their process is done but how their customers want things done. Customers are going to shift towards more virtual communication, online purchasing, and sustainable options. If construction crew jobs don’t meet those new expectations, a company will not be successful in the new times. Shifting not only work guidelines but also customer relations will help construction companies to continue to move forward and grow.
A healthy construction industry is necessary for the economy to recover and adapt, but that industry will look nothing like it did, even a few months ago. As leaders accept the changes and move towards the future the industry can not only make a comeback but become better and stronger than it ever was.