As Americans begin their journey into the unknown, they proceed with low expectations. Our country is slowly re-opening businesses that were once completely shut down by the coronavirus pandemic. Employers and workers nationwide are preparing themselves for a “new normal” that may last far beyond what they had imagined.
While there are many sectors of the economy that must face new realities, those in the construction field will return to an industry that has been extremely altered by the public safety and economic effects of COVID-19.
These frequent changes brought by the pandemic may have a lasting impact on the construction industry in the United States.
6 Ways The Coronavirus Pandemic has Changed Construction
As construction workers return to their worksites in New York City and across the country, they all face major changes that are leading some contractors and developers to redefine their processes and project performance. These are unprecedented times; we all must change our routines and continue on the best way we know how.
Here is a list of just a few things coronavirus has changed in construction:
1. Jobsite Safety Redefined
You might say COVID-19 isn’t the same type of work-related hazard that construction workers are used to. In the construction industry, many employers have already implemented new practices for containing coronavirus and keeping workers healthy, including:
- Staggered start times and shift work;
- Temperature checks for workers at the start of each day;
- Controlled access to worksites and increased security / perimeter control;
- Comprehensive disinfection policies for tools, machinery, and work surfaces;
- Increased access to hand washing and sanitizing rub;
- Social distancing policies, including carpool bans, new delivery processing methods, and production/supply chain modifications that utilize pre-fabricated materials when possible.
These and so many more changes are focused on creating a safer, cleaner, and less crowded construction site. In order to enforce and make sure these rules are followed, they will need to have a consistent and committed effort from both employers and workers.
Even though state and federal regulators may change or adopt more coronavirus-focused safety standards, employers who use and implement these policies today will be prepared for the waves of outbreaks expected in the coming months or years.
2. Technology Usage Increase
The pandemic has made us use technology to help the public perform tasks that were usually or only done in person. Though construction does not appear to be an industry where Zoom meetings or tech tools could be as widely adopted as they have been in others, developers and construction workers will likely see increased use of technology for more clearly defined procedures and project phasing to the most routine work tasks.
Some of the technological advancements being tested and implemented in construction include:
- Web-based tools that facilitate engagement with customers and the public about proposed and ongoing projects without the need to meet in person;
- Remote technology processes that help regulators and building departments conduct inspections;
- New tech tools on worksites that allow employers to remotely take workers’ temperatures;
- Tech-infused equipment and safety gear, including hard hats that alert workers when they are within 6 feet from one another.
3. More Remote Work
Although construction workers may not be able to phone in or join a Zoom call for most of their tasks, the fleet of office workers, billing departments, and support staff employed by contractors can.
Studies have shown that American companies are transitioning to remote work policies at incredible rates, and many believe the Work From Home order will become a new normal long after the pandemic is over. Implementing special policies can help companies manage costs in lean times, and parlay those savings into safety measures that keep workers who do have to perform jobs in person healthier and ready to go!
4. Project Timeline Lengths Increase
Big safety overhauls and having to work in a new way of life mean it will take longer to complete projects. We now have fewer workers, and need more time for cleaning, and of course the proper PPE and worksite prep, all of which means the days of fast-tracking projects may be over.
This in turn could be a big game changer for developers who want to push their projects to the finish line. This could be a good thing for workers who can benefit from being able to better focus on safety when performing their jobs. Maybe now there will be fewer accidents and more preparedness
5. Different Types of Projects to Be Built
The pandemic will reshape the demand for different types of projects for the foreseeable future. While entertainment, retail, and hospitality projects may wane, construction for health care and medical supply production facilities could grow, as could construction for new types of workspaces that shift from the once-popular “open concept” environment to more private, segmented working areas meant to improve social distancing and ease worker concerns.
As U.S. companies look to overcome supply chain issues by boosting inventory, there will also likely be growing demand for distribution, warehouse, and manufacturing factories. Though it still remains to be seen how the demand for public projects will respond to tighter budgets, some municipalities have already allocated funds to modernizing major public facilities and infrastructure, including transportation.
6. Supply Chain Shake-Ups & Prefabrication
The pandemic has had a huge impact on the global supply chain. With the U.S. sourcing nearly a third of building materials from China, developers have faced considerable disruptions and delays. As concerns over sourcing and supply chains continue, the construction industry will most likely seek solutions by increasing manufacturing at home and in nearby countries such as Mexico.
The need to recalibrate supply chains and increase workplace safety may also see an increase in processes that rely on offsite construction and prefabrication.
Factory production is attractive not only for its efficiency and cost-effectiveness, but also because it will ultimately reduce the time construction workers will be needed in the field, or be required to work closely with one another to assemble materials and parts that could have been prefabricated offsite.