The construction industry, together with everyone else, is in the midst of a global pandemic that has resulted in one of the deepest recessions on record. As Tim Whiteley, co-founder of Inevitech points out, however, the crisis has served as a catalyst for positive change, accelerating digital and cultural trends that were already at play but were previously moving at a fraction of the current pace.
When the UK’s nationwide lockdown took effect in March, firms were thrown into crisis mode with little warning and were understandably disorientated. Now, the UK government has introduced a new round of measures to suppress a second wave. Although construction workers, for now, will continue to be able to work on-site, the government has reversed its previous messaging and is advising people to work from home if they can – carrying implications for the broader construction supply chain, operating models, cash-flow and ecosystem.
But compared to seven months ago, the opportunities now lie in the transition from disaster recovery measures to a longer-term strategic, digital vision that can drive competitiveness within the industry.
So, how can construction firms achieve this? In short, they must connect the digital dots and there are three keys ways they can do this:
- Recalibrate resilience: One of the biggest threats to remote working are cyberattacks – according to a recent Threat Report from VMware Carbon Black, 92% of UK cybersecurity professionals said attack volumes have increased as more employees work from home. More personal devices are in use, home networks are unmanaged, data is becoming dispersed across more locations and disparate services. Dependence on physical PCs sat in an unmanned office on a solitary internet connection are unacceptable points of failure. Strategic planning needs to address these elements – security, redundancy, ease of management – to ensure greater resilience is built into systems, infrastructures and processes.
- Build-in indefinite agility: Remote working forced firms to embrace collaborative tools, such as virtual desktop platforms and wider services like Microsoft Teams and, having witnessed the benefits, employees are set to demand greater flexibility going forward. And leaders expect this too – a recent survey from the Institute of Directors found that 74% of company directors plan to keep increased at home working after coronavirus. This may well mean reducing costly overheads such as large fixed office spaces, and companies will need to work smarter and be lighter of foot to accommodate both employee and financial pressures.
The construction sector faces particular challenges, especially those teams who need to collaborate on complex design files with their dependence on powerful workstations and network speeds. Whereas many organisations will be using remote desktop technology or established software specific services, questions need to be asked about whether these provide the desired performance as well as addressing the wider contexts of connectivity, use of building resources and overall resilience. Are there better, more innovative solutions out there? Now is the time for companies to revisit their rapidly adopted technology solutions and ensure they are truly fit for purpose for an indefinite period.
- A phased approach, with a long term goal: Implementing these solutions now should help cement certainty in the future, helping companies secure the edge over their competitors and generate a significant return on investment. This is not just a technological conversation, it’s a commercial one. IT teams need to coordinate with senior leaders of the organisation to ensure that digital technologies are incorporated in line with priorities of the broader business.
This calls for a strategic – and quite possibly a phased evolution – one that can be reviewed and refined in line with constantly-changing macro factors. For example, flexing between virtualising some parts of the business through to embracing 100% cloud-based working. The bottom line is that, given the unpredictability we’re facing, leaders need to have the flexibility to rapidly pivot and change direction to meet the demands of today while anticipating the challenges of tomorrow.
Before anybody had heard the term ‘Covid-19’, the construction sector already suffered cyclical downturns and faced a number of significant operational challenges, not to mention a lingering skills deficit.
While the coronavirus crisis has certainly taken its toll on firms, and it unfortunately appears that the end is no longer in sight, there is perhaps nevertheless a silver lining to be gleaned. The technological acceleration driven by the pandemic has induced a greater robustness, flexibility and capacity to absorb shocks across the industry and power the good that it can do.
The near future looks pretty tough right now. But we can stay connected. We can innovate to meet every challenge. And we can evolve through this time of adversity to become so much better at what we do.