You may or may not be aware that the construction industry is the second least digitised in the world, just behind agriculture. There can be little doubt that Covid-19 will finally change that:
- No longer can architects and clients meet with planning officers to discuss proposals
- No longer can design teams and specialists thrash out plans in caffeine fuelled meetings
- No longer can contractors and site agents huddle around plans in the site office.
Businesses that deploy technology stand a chance. Those that don’t, don’t. Companies that came out ahead after the 2008 financial crisis invested heavily in digital technologies. This is not the time to experiment and to try and discover the perfect digital roadmap – there simply isn’t time.
These are daunting times, but there is some good that can potentially come from this. For instance, a huge tranche of the business community has discovered that they can actually work from home pretty effectively (they clearly haven’t met my children!). Although this is worrying news for occupiers and investors in office space, it could herald a new dawn for working practices. For those people used to spending 4 hours a day commuting on overcrowded and unreliable tubes and trains, this could be a new dawn as they get back nearly a whole day each week.
And without the diversion of “water cooler” gossip, many are finding that they can get more work done in 3 hours than they used to in an entire day.
Such an increase in productivity could help unlock a significant (and much needed increase in GDP). But there are downsides that we must all be alive to as well. The construction industry is already one beset by mental health issues and a tragic number of suicides. The added stress brought about by financial uncertainties and potential isolation from interaction threaten a mental health crisis of unprecedented proportions unless employers and colleagues alike take care of each other.