Covid-19: New research showcases the construction industry’s adaptability

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From video tutorials and remote working to offsite construction and real-time virtual sketching, a new study from Buildoffsite has revealed how the construction industry has responded to Covid-19

Led by Nigel Fraser, the study aimed to collate and share learning from across the construction industry as it adapted and responded to the pandemic, with a particular focus on the design management process.

The research included online focus groups with industry experts, one to one telephone interviews with construction industry professionals and an online survey, with 45 people taking part.

It also included a review of related academic papers.

Key challenges

The study revealed some key challenges, such as the importance of efficient communication, as workers made the change to working remotely from home. The need to replicate design meetings, for example with virtual sketching software to allow for real-time changes to designs, was a common difficulty.

The lack of in person group interactions and one to one mentoring opportunities, for an industry which relies heavily on ‘on the job’ training, also became apparent.

However, the move to remote working also brought about benefits. Expertise was no longer tied to location. Instead, employee skill sets and knowledge were being more effectively deployed regardless of geographical location.

Offsite construction was able to offer continuity and reliability despite challenging and changing circumstances.

Employers were also responding to challenges and finding innovative solutions, for example, online video libraries to replace in person training, and informal check in calls to maintain staff wellbeing.

Adopting a ‘systems engineering’ approach to design management was highlighted as a means to ensure that teams could make consistent decisions across and within work packages.

Many employers also recognised the difficulty some faced working from home in unsuitable environments and so made the office available in a safe and socially distanced manner for these members of staff.

Showcasing how adaptable the construction industry is

Reflecting on the findings, lead author Nigel Fraser said: “Although the pandemic has led to large changes being made quickly, the sector has adapted well and this research has provided a great opportunity for individuals and companies to share what has worked, or perhaps what has been a challenge, for others in the sector to learn from.

“The nature of the pandemic meant the sector had to respond to these challenges with speed, and in many ways it has encouraged the sector to reflect on how it operates and reinvent itself to work more flexibly.”

Joe Dyde, business manager at offsite membership organisation Buildoffsite, added: “This research showcases how adaptable the sector is as it has responded to these challenging times.

“The report brings together a wealth of experience and practical advice on how to overcome some of the challenges often faced as well as ideas on how to use this force for change to improve efficiency and productivity going forward, which I hope will be useful to colleagues in the sector as we continue to navigate an ever-changing landscape.”

You can download the full report here.

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