05 Jan Will COVID-19 build a digital normal for the construction sector?
According to research by McKinsey, the construction sector has been the least digitised of all UK sectors, but since the outbreak of COVID-19 construction companies have had to embrace more tech in order to not only remain operating remotely but also to manage the enforced social distancing.
As the first industry to return to work, modern technology has to be embraced. It’s no longer a choice to be resistant to change. Instead, construction companies have had to learn and adapt as a matter of survival.
The construction sector has often been seen as the linchpin for economic growth. Even before Prime Minister Boris Johnson proclaimed that we had to ‘Build build build’ to get the UK back on its feet, the construction sector has been seen by many as the benchmark by which we can all make our judgements on how long recovery will take post-COVID.
Without a doubt, this is now an opportunity for the construction sector to build its own ‘new normal’ that adopts technology and digital means to be more productive, efficient, and cost-effective.
Now more than ever before, the construction industry cannot sit on the fence when it comes to digital adoption. As revealed by KMPG, the construction industry is made of three types of companies; innovators, followers, and behind-the-curve.
For construction businesses who invested in technology before the first stage of the pandemic, they are more financially robust than those who are still living by outdated practices.
When the UK lockdown commenced in March 2020, there was a wave of doubt that the construction industry could adapt to these measures. In fact, a survey by Leesman discovered that 49% of UK construction employees had no experience of home working.
For project managers and project directors, in particular, they had to get used to a world with overseeing a site without physically being able to visit. Everything from memos, drawings, photos, specification changes, weather, people on-site, and progress – all had to be managed remotely.
Construction companies continue to be led by person-to-person interactions. You could say, pre-COVID it was almost still operating in a traditional business model.
The forced remote working that was implemented during lockdown meant that construction firms were forced to adopt new technology and software that could support people’s roles and ensure projects continued.
Digitalisation in the construction was no longer a nice to have; it has become a must-have during the covid-19 pandemic.
The accelerated change in working conditions has meant that technology adoption has increased dramatically in construction. A survey by Procore Technologies found 66% of companies rolled out some new technology during the lockdown.
Health & Safety
We can’t ignore the fact that many roles in the construction industry can only be fulfilled onsite.
These ‘construction heroes’ as many people dubbed them during the lockdown, were still having to turn up to essential works projects and continue their roles amid a global pandemic.
Health & Safety has always been more prominent in the construction industry more than any other UK sector, but during COVID-19, this has become a heightened responsibility for all construction companies. Add social distancing measures and the need to check all staff on and off-site are not showing symptoms and you’ve got a huge health and safety challenge.
The adoption of onsite tech and software has allowed many construction firms to monitor this at a distance. For the majority of construction businesses which rolled out online technology solutions, 52% said the safety of their teams improved during this period.
Beyond the force of COVID-19 pushing digital into the construction industry, there is further support for innovation through the government’s research and development tax incentive.
Many construction companies have already taken advantage of this relief. According to the governments 2019 figures, there were 52,335 R&D tax credit claims filed in 2016-2017 which paid out a total of £3.5 billion to companies which met the criteria. However, HMRC data shows that this is only around 1% of SME’s in the UK construction sector.
If more construction firms were to adopt R&D relief, they could invest in more innovative technology such as automation and machine learning. For example, as revealed at Digital Construction Week, building information modelling, and drones are rapidly changing the way the construction industry is working, and training new recruits.
With the data as it stands, there is no doubt that covid-19 has pushed the construction sector into digital adoption faster than what was predicted. Now with more awareness of the benefits of digitalisation and technology, it can only serve as a great experiment to see how far it can go.
5 Ways Construction Companies Can Move Foward
Taking action from this digitised ‘new normal’ in the construction sector, it’s essential that businesses adopt tech and digital in their marketing strategy to keep the pace.
These are five simple ways a digital approach can support construction companies in remaining efficient and competitive during the current climate.
Apps to Track & Trace
Adopting an app or software device to implement a track and trace system for site workers can ensure people are instantly notified of any COVID cases. These can be sent via email, or via SMS.
QR Codes for Information Sharing
While the technology is certainly nothing new, QR codes have been used by a number of sectors during the pandemic to share information or updates. Creating a QR code for ordering materials, gaining enquiries or giving people health and safety guides could be something we see more of in the next coming months.
Remote Recruiters for Talent Scouting
As more digital technology is adopted and remote working becomes part of our working lives, it will be critical to hire talent that can embrace these new ways of working. Getting people into the business who have experience and knowledge of these new changes will help to move businesses along.
Social Media to Influence the Next Generation
The skills gap in the construction sector is well documented. There is a severe lack of young talent entering the sector as it’s not seen as a desirable industry. Construction companies need to embrace social media in order to start raising their profile with the next generation.
Tech for Safer Working Conditions
As health and safety will remain a priority and a concern for workers on site, technology can ease this pressure and allow transparent working conditions. Construction businesses must look at the software now available to reduce not only the spread of COVID but also reduce accidents taking place onsite.