The outbreak of Covid-19 has significantly changed the way that construction firms operate. Some workers are continuing with essential works, to keep vital parts of Ireland’s infrastructure running. However, many sites have come to a standstill – with construction businesses facing the almost unprecedented challenge of enabling a workforce largely based in their homes.
These are daunting, challenging times. But the disruption can also be an opportunity to consider streamlining processes and adopting digital technology. Digital transformation can not only create a healthier and more productive working environment right now, but establish long-lasting improvements, that will benefit the firm post-pandemic.
With an incremental approach that combines technology and culture, businesses can lay the foundations for a productive, resilient organisation in the future.
The current state of digital in construction
Most construction businesses have been aware of the importance of digital technology for some time. Nearly three quarters worldwide say that they are prioritising digital transformation (72%), to improve overall project performance (20%), scheduling (13%) and health and safety (12%).
Nonetheless, most of the construction sector is at an early point in technology adoption. Worldwide, 95% of organizations worldwide use digital construction solutions in just 50% or less of their projects. Now, adopting remote collaboration tools can facilitate improved information-sharing in dispersed teams and enable stronger collaboration in the future.
A single source of truth
Using technology is critical for working remotely, but when employees are separated it can actually increase the risk of miscommunication and efficiency. All construction businesses are aware of the pitfalls of different teams using different versions of documents or data – and those risks increase significantly when no one is in the same place. It’s also possible for workers to end up focusing on low priority tasks, rather than those most important for the business.
Establishing a single source of truth, using cloud-based technologies, can keep everyone on task and working productively. Team members can work from the same documents in real time, with version tracking to manage the information. Changes can be marked up and tracked, with on-page comments for rapid communication.
Everyone can see the information they need and record their progress against tasks; that helps employees to know what’s expected from them, and managers to trust that work is being completed. A single source of truth also makes it easier to onboard new colleagues on projects, as you only need to point them to one place, rather than multiple resources. Importantly, this approach can not only improve collaboration for employees in the business, but with clients and partners in other organisations.
The right culture
Remote collaboration presents challenges beyond the technology. Workers can feel isolated or disconnected, and it’s very hard to separate home lives from working lives when you’re sitting in your kitchen. Establishing new virtual working norms for the team can be an important step, for helping people to adapt to the current circumstances and use technology productively in future.
It can help to define good practice, such as using video on conference calls by default, to support active listening; encouraging employees to signal when they’re going offline; and promoting patience with each other’s new working environments – screaming toddlers, barking dogs and all.
The frequency of communication should increase to maintain good relationships – both within the business and with collaborators and clients. Sharing updates regularly will build transparency and trust, as well as enabling people to support each other with challenges outside the workplace. Overall, creating a positive, supportive working culture will help teams to get through this period, but it can also set the tone for a more caring, engaging workplace in the future.
A digital-first mindset
Many construction organisations are focusing on the tools that will keep the business operating right now. But once we’ve come through the pandemic, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever return completely to the old way of working – even in the construction sector. Considering digital transformation as a means of optimising the business in the long term will help teams to achieve lasting benefits
There are ways to ensure that the changes made now can be scaled across the business. Focusing on cloud-based solutions means that new users can be added easily at a later stage. Meanwhile, choosing digital tools that can easily integrate with other platforms will ensure that technology doesn’t introduce new siloes between systems and with clients or collaborators.
Creating a repeatable digital service blueprint will help to ensure that different teams deploy digital processes in the same way across the organisation. Setting out best practice also ensures that processes are standardised and people use tools in the most productive way possible.
In the long term, technology brings the most benefit if you can think ahead and create a strategic digital roadmap, that’s integrated into the overall business plan. Consider how technology can work as a competitive differentiator, by boosting productivity, improving client relationships or delivering exceptional builds. By thinking about digital processes as a means of optimising the whole business, rather than a short-term fix, construction firms can set themselves up for future success.
Adopting digital technologies now will build resilience into the business, to cope with the current period of disruption and further challenges further down the line. But digital can also help to improve other areas of business performance post-pandemic, whether that’s building lasting client relationships or minimising rework caused by outdated information.
The situation in the construction sector appears incredibly difficult, and understandably in many cases the priority is staying operational. But things will get better. There is an opportunity to take this time to build resilience into the business and foster greater productivity, with a focus on new technology and new processes. This is a huge professional and personal challenge for everyone, but we can take the time to plan for a brighter future.
Adapted from an article originally published in PCB Today