Despite the obvious impact of the pandemic, there was a lot of positivity to be drawn from the events of 2020 in the construction industry. The IHS Markit / CIPS UK Construction PMI for December 2020, shows that the construction sector continued to show recovery in the last quarter of the year, with house building at the forefront. Despite the chaos of the first UK lockdown and the fears many of us had for the industry, the PMI data shows positive development for the end of 2020, with an activity index for December of 54.6 (values above 50.0 indicate growth).
The various levels of lockdown across the country have had a huge impact, of course. With business sites and offices all-but-empty for weeks, and residents confined to their homes, maintenance has suffered greatly. Additionally, the amount and type of use that both buildings and infrastructure have seen has been very unusual in its nature, especially in the residential sector, where private homes have been more occupied than ever before.
All this combines to create a need for immediate repair and maintenance as soon as the movement restrictions lift. As we saw after the first long lockdown in mid 2020, expect a surge in the maintenance sector as both business and homeowners look to catch up on many months of inactivity.
It is not just good news for those in the maintenance arena. Interest in the housing sector has shown to be a constant growth, and both renovation projects and new builds are looking to increase post lockdown.
Updating your business to a changed world
There’s no denying the fact that working practices have changed considerably in the last twelve months. The swell in working-from-home (WFH) has shown a change in behaviour for many, especially office-based staff and those who work on the back-end of any construction business. New technology must be embraced, and adapting to employees’ needs is critical for any future-looking company in 2021.
Many of those who took unexpectedly to WFH in the midst of the first lockdown have now found a comfortable working routine and are looking to continue with their new normal going forward, while others have struggled with the isolation and lack of direct contact and are keen to return to an environment vibrant with energy from colleagues and bosses alike.
Looking to technology
At Ensign, we stand on the forefront of technology for the construction industry, but it’s not just the many advances in our own software that is helping our clients and partnered businesses. We have seen a massive take up in both dedicated construction software, and more wide-reaching workflow tools. From platforms such as Zoom, now almost ubiquitous across the country, to cloud administration solutions and project management tools, there’s a huge demand for everything the technology sector has to offer.
This doesn’t come without a cost, and not just the obvious financial investment. Training has never been more essential, helping staff move from the old way of working, to this new COVID-affected environment.
Taking the time now to research the best new IT options for your business and implement a plan of training and transference, could be the difference between coming out of the stocks running, and stumbling at the first hurdle. Using these lockdown weeks to your advantage will definitely help in the long run.
Preparing for new physical working practices
On-site work has to adapt, too. No doubt the current practice of face-masks and social distancing will be with us for some time and must be implemented on all sites for employee safety. Developing a new set of working practices for site use (where the face-mask is as much a required piece of PPE as the well-known sight of a hard hat) is essential to ensure employee safety and confidence moving forward.
One other major effect is with potentially limiting the number of workers at each site. Guidelines still applicable from November 2020 will doubtless have an impact on the timescales for projects, as workers are unable to work in close proximity to each other. With each site needing to be taken on a case-by-case basis, there’s no hard rule for the number of workers at a given location, but it is clear that the days of completely free movement are still some way away.
Make sure you keep up with any changes to the health and safety regulations and take the time to set up a program of training at every level, from site managers through to contracted workers.
Dealing with employee difficulties
Not everyone will be able to smoothly return to work. Employees who have been furloughed, or those whose jobs have been changed through the pandemic, may have found themselves in financial difficulty, or with other issues such as fragile mental health.
As a responsible and caring employer, take the time to listen to your employees needs, set your expectations properly, and allow for a period of transition between lockdown and a return to full efficiency. Of course, many workers will be chomping at the bit to get back out there, but that simply won’t be the case for everyone.
Human resources departments may find themselves stretched during these difficult periods – keep a close eye on the situation and make sure there’s support for the supporters!
Making full use of the time you have
No one knows whether lockdown may return within weeks of lifting. Take care to have contingency plans in place should you suddenly be required to cease activity once again, and manage every day well.
Making the headlines in the past few weeks, and very relevant to the construction industry, is the proposal that workers must have had a vaccination (if possible) or face a lack of employment. It’s a complex debate with strong voices on both sides of the argument, where even the most informed legal teams haven’t yet found a definitive answer.
Our advice here is to be very careful before making a blanket rule regarding vaccination enforcement, and if it is something you feel strongly about, consult your legal team before making any announcements.
The impact of the coronavirus extends beyond our ability to go to work – it has also had a major influence on supply chains. Shortages in timber, for example, have forced some construction businesses to delay or even indefinitely postpone projects until replacement supply chains can be found.
With the added impact of Brexit when factoring in imports and exports, the importance of confirming your material supply throughout your project lifecycle is now more key to your business than ever before.
Again, working with the latest technology can help considerably, as can reorganising your project management team to ensure they have the personnel and resources available to do the work they need.
Winning business after lockdown
There’s no doubt that tenders are going to be hotly fought, and competition strong. It is important that you create the most comprehensive quote possible.
Here, our software is perfectly placed to help.
In the last year, our team has worked on improving the Ensign software suite to provide all our clients with a robust estimating tool that will cut the time it takes to create complex quotes by half. Plus, with our subscription-based model, it’s cost-effective no matter the size of your business.
Why not book a free demo today, and see how we can help you emerge stronger from this international crisis.