The Future for Construction

As the world economy has halted, and people have been confined to their homes to slow the spread of COVID-19, the impact on the construction industry has been staggering. Less crowded roads, airports, and buildings have opened the door to a unique opportunity to improve facilities and infrastructure during this unplanned downtime. The construction industry has played an unexpected essential role in the fight against COVID-19 as hospitals and labs have had to expand and even reconfigure their operations completely. Most facilities now include drive-up testing options or outdoor waiting spaces, all of which were built quickly with little to no previous model in place. Speedy field hospital construction and other emergency projects have made the construction industry a much-needed area in the current state of the world.

Pros & Cons

The coronavirus pandemic has not just been a blessing in disguise for the construction arena. The industry has been presented with a mixed bag of positive and negative results that have created both peaks and valleys of gain and loss.

PRO: It’s no secret that our world is not only facing a severe health crisis but an environmental crisis as well. As the most recent industrial revolution has continued to grow, resources are quickly consumed in higher quantities. The step back from physical projects is allowing and even forcing, companies to take inventory of their supply and explore greener alternatives. Businesses are also utilizing this time to diversify their supply chain, which creates room for new players to enter the game — especially those who can provide sustainable, green options.

CON: Many construction sites have been shut down altogether due to limited working materials and safety restrictions. Like all industries, construction has taken its share of hits. In the coming months and years, it will be forced to adapt to a rapidly changing world.

PRO: Companies are investing in information technology departments to support team members, whether on-site or working from home. Workers who utilize advanced digital tools will be more productive and communicate more effectively with other employees, contract teams, and clients.

CON: Unfortunately, things will more than likely get worse before they get better. Significant cuts are being predicted for this sector that will mainly come from clients halting planned expansions, additions, and renovations in specific industries. The market will become flooded with available general contractors and turn highly competitive as needs bottom out in some regions of the economy and accelerate in others.

The Future for Construction

Workplace Safety

Because of in-person work restrictions and the necessity to work from home, it is expected that one of the most significant changes to the construction industry will be the off-site building of structures that would be assembled in the field. With fewer people able to work on-site due to safety regulations, teams will have to build sections elsewhere to be physically constructed by leaner field teams. Thus, cutting down on common workplace hazards often experienced in traditional construction projects. Doing so will keep workers safe from the coronavirus and from possible dangers of passing cars and falling materials. It is also expected that off-site assembly will be faster and easier due to fewer transport issues.

Social Distancing

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published critical guidelines for construction sites to keep workers safe and achieve social distancing. This includes:

  • Staggering work schedules and adding additional shifts to reduce the number of workers on job sites simultaneously.
  • Restricting access to certain areas of the worksite.
  • Moving desks, chairs, and workspaces so that they are at least six feet apart.
  • Encouraging workers to limit casual social interactions and conversations.

Advanced cleaning of high-touch surfaces and shared spaces will also help to reduce spread on job sites. Companies should encourage workers to telecommute when possible and conduct health screenings and temperature checks daily. Developing an Infectious Disease Plan and communicating policies and health practices through signage will help to remind workers to follow best practices. Providing handwashing stations, masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes that are easily accessible to workers is recommended by the CDC.

Preparing for the Post COVID Era

The coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting impact on the construction industry for many years to come. Despite COVID-19, in the past few years, companies have seen a shortage of skilled laborers and workers. The adoption of automated and digital tools will provide jobs to a new generation of skilled workers who were raised in the technology era. As workers continue to experience quarantines and travel restrictions, construction may have to rely heavily on automation for on-site work. Digital tools will increase productivity, especially in project tracking, since companies are moving towards shorter shifts of fewer workers to avoid the spread of the virus.

To jumpstart economies, it is expected that governments will reinvest in infrastructure to provide jobs, and will also attempt to meet carbon reduction targets for a fast and efficient way of saving energy, therefore money. Managing resources from power to physical materials will be a tightly watched practice as more workers spend time off-site and in offices, or at home, which will likely lead to more consistent supply management practices, sure to benefit the industry overall. As governments feel the pressure to open up their economies, infrastructure will be the first to get a push forward. Job creation, sustainable practices, and modern building techniques will all be ways the construction industry will get a bolt of energy. Modernization and use of technology will also open the industry up to another segment of workers able to work from home or off-site, ensuring that projects are safe and withstanding.

Abigail Baker is a writer for FedSteel, a major steel pipe distributor.