Which Pandemic-initiated Construction Processes and Technologies are Built to Last?

Many of these processes will stick around long after we return to our so-called “normal” way of working. Here’s what to expect over the next several months and years.

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By Kyle Peacock, CEO, Peacock Construction

The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in new processes and protocols that impact everybody on the jobsite from the boots on the ground all the way to the back office. Many of these processes will stick around long after a vaccine is available and we return to our so-called “normal” way of working. Here’s what to expect over the next several months and years.

Lessons learned in wave one

When construction sites first shut down this past spring and projects were halted, contractors became more reliant on technologies such as drones and remote monitoring tools for checking on jobsites as well as online collaboration suites such as G Suite and Microsoft Teams to manage the business from home. While these tools have been around for some time, they got more use while everybody stayed inside.

As jobsites reopened, contractors adopted a lot of new processes to prevent future shutdowns due to COVID-19. Initially, some were simple. These included mandates for always wearing PPE and taking employee temperatures at the start of a shift.

The temperature taking and health screenings led to the question of what to do with the employee’s health information, especially if someone on a jobsite contracted the virus. Several options to manage that problem have emerged. They include online surveys, paper sign-in forms and waivers.

However, when you think about the need to document and safeguard information about who was on a site over the previous 14 days, while also following HIPAA guidelines, a paper-based approach isn’t going to cut it. And shared online documents are also risky. Besides, they generate a paper trail that’s impossible to comb through in the event that the contractor needs to alert people of possible exposure to the virus.

Moving from lessons learned to best practices, some larger construction firms, with their own IT departments, created custom apps for digital check-ins, health screenings and contact tracing. Smaller to mid-sized firms found it easier to buy an app or use Safe Site Check In.

What’s working today, what we’ll be doing next year

Depending on how you look at it, we’ve got at least six months to a year before we return to our pre-pandemic work environments. In that time, we’ll continue to see new processes introduced and others change. The protocols and technologies that will become ingrained in how we work in the future are those that offer a dual- or multi-purpose. 

In the current environment, we can expect daily temperature checks, health screenings and tools that support remote working and jobsite monitoring to continue, especially as we head into winter.

A year from now, we’re not likely to see daily temperature taking. It’s more likely that we’ll see digital thermometers get their most use during flu season or in response to isolated incidents on jobsites.

On the other hand, masks will continue to be worn more frequently. The construction industry is driven by safety and protocols. Therefore, we’ve been conditioned to wear PPE and, through the pandemic, extending how long we keep it on. 

Technologies for remote monitoring such as security cameras and drones will continue to deliver value to construction. As they become more sophisticated in their features, and prices come down, they’ll be ubiquitous on jobsites.

We’ll also see more robots on the job. This has been coming for a while and addresses the demand for automation, faster building and the skilled labor shortage while also supporting social distancing. Again, multi-purpose.

For contractors that only recently adopted online collaboration tools, they’re discovering they offer huge time savings. Yet they’ve realized that these tools are not well suited to managing health screening records or do contact tracing.

Digital check-ins at work pick up where social contact tracing fails. One of the biggest issues with the use of contact tracing apps is the concern that big brother is watching your every move through your phone. However, when contact tracing is limited to business relationships, and health information is protected, most people willingly participate. Besides, an employer simply has more influence, and employees understand their boss has limited scope into their activities.

Of course, once there’s a vaccine, health screenings for COVID-19 will decrease. However, the process of digitally checking into a jobsite will stay with us. And the check-in process will expand to include custom questions and surveys, and eliminate paper-based forms and visitor logs.

This is because contractors see the value of knowing who is onsite at any given time for safety and security beyond the virus. It’s important in the event of an emergency or for the simple task of reconciling hours worked with invoices.

Construction in 2021 and beyond

While the pandemic has been nothing short of devastating, it has ushered in new ways of working in construction. The contractors who are willing to try to refine new processes, and respond with digital technology, will mitigate the impact of the pandemic on their businesses and improve operations long after this crisis has passed. 

Kyle Peacock is CEO of Peacock Construction. He got his start managing construction for Boston Properties, then joined Peacock as a Project Manager, eventually becoming CEO.