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Adrian Attwood, Executive Director of DBR (London) Limited, explains how the construction industry can make the most of the final weeks of lockdown.

The construction industry has been affected by COVID-19 in various ways over the past year. From a decrease in demand for services and difficulties with sourcing materials from suppliers, to having to make employees redundant and deal with the impact of Brexit, the sector has certainly faced its fair share of pressures.

However, despite these obstacles, there has been one silver lining: we have been able to work almost continuously throughout the pandemic. With only a few weeks of lockdown left, now is the time for the industry to reflect on its learnings and make the most of the benefits (there are indeed benefits) that the current situation brings.

Here are the ways construction companies can use the remainder of lockdown to their advantage:

More space

The fact that most people have been working from home during the pandemic, and most public sites are closed, means there has been more space for construction companies to carry out their work.

Empty office buildings, shops, museums and tourist attractions allow contractors, particularly those in the heritage sector, more freedom to move around on site, and offer a refreshing degree of flexibility when it comes to work schedules.

While some companies may have only been able to work at night, after building occupants and visitors had gone home, they now have the opportunity to work during the day as well.

This has been helpful for DBR across the board. From large-scale work on important landmarks, to smaller, yet essential, maintenance services, such as graffiti removal and roof repairs, this flexibility has been invaluable in getting work done ahead of schedule.

Teaming up with technology

The use of technology has also grown during the various stages of lockdown. Video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and MS Teams have not only become popular among those who have been working from home, but have also proved useful for connecting managers and workers on different construction sites. Virtual inspections and meetings both reduce the need for physical site visits, allowing a greater number of people to collaborate on projects regardless of their location.

In terms of digital tracking and 3D modelling tools, cutting-edge management software such as Zutec and Autodesk Revit allow construction companies to create technical and design documentation remotely, and share project information between team members and with clients.

That said, a greater reliance on all things digital has also made us realise the importance of human contact in certain situations, and the need for even newer technology that takes us beyond 2D communication.

Keeping, and protecting, your staff

While the first few months of the pandemic were challenging for construction professionals, the sector has been able to work continuously ever since. This means on-site workers have managed to progress with their projects and more employees have retained their jobs.

Another advantage of being in the construction industry is the opportunity to work in the open air, which reduces the risk of spreading the virus. Contractors are also already experienced in rigorous health and safety protocol, which has meant the sector as a whole has been able to quickly adapt to new protocols, upscaling many existing procedures to accommodate the new norm.

For example, at DBR, we’ve implemented increased hand-washing and sanitising stations along with larger welfare areas. We have also continued to encourage the ‘Cycle to Work’ scheme in order to reduce reliance on cramped public transport, and have made sure that those who can work from home, such as office and administrative staff, are able to do so.

A growing awareness

In addition to a need for increased physical safety measures, lockdown has also made us much more aware of the needs surrounding people’s mental health.

Anxiety caused by furloughs, job cuts and a shift in working patterns has been prevalent throughout the pandemic, and is something that should continue to be addressed even after lockdown is lifted. At DBR, we have two in-house ‘Mental Health First Aiders’ who are available should staff need someone to talk to. We also have a third-party employee support scheme which allows team members to seek help anonymously.

Further, people have realised the need for a better work-life balance. Not having to do as much long-distance travel, being able to spend more time with our families and having more chances to focus on hobbies are positive aspects of the lockdown, which we all should take advantage of.

Driving economic recovery

We are a powerhouse industry, which means we will drive recovery by supporting other sectors and creating jobs and wealth, leading to an overall boost to the economy. The pandemic has presented many obstacles, but in doing so has helped us to manage change and prepare for any other unforeseen circumstances.

Every step we’ve taken since March 2020 has been in the right direction. As a result of using the extra space we’ve been given this past year to carry out work, adopting powerful new technologies, and developing ways to support both the physical and mental safety of our teams, we are now in a strong position for when lockdown ends.

While months of confinement and uncertainty have been by no means easy, they have allowed us to reassess the ways we work and to focus on those things which matter most. Finding the positives during lockdown is important, and will make us as an industry, and as a nation, stronger and wiser.

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