As Laing O'Rourke staff go back to the office and the government launches an advertising campaign to get office workers back to the city centre, digital technology has emerged as one of the construction industry's lockdown heroes. The value of staying in constant communication whether via Zoom and Teams or on-site was a key enabler for construction teams throughout the height of the pandemic.
So can technology continue to make the industry leaner and faster?
Managing the Nightingales
When the call came to transform the Birmingham NEC into a Nightingale Hospital, tier-one contractor Interserve turned the project around in just nine days. But managing so many people and sharing information among consultants and workers in a high-pressure environment would have been a nightmare without construction software PlanGrid that allowed information and work organisation to flow seamlessly.
But how can contractors ensure the uptake of software across a project? Dan Harmer, one of the project managers involved in the Birmingham Nightingale, says the way to make such a system work is to ensure your subcontractors are familiar with the software by writing it into your contracts.
Digital tools proved vital for maintaining a stream of communication that constantly updated as the work progressed at a frantic pace. Even simple time savings like the ability to issue permits from floor to floor and conduct on the spot administration meant the work could progress faster and more efficiently.
Staying in control
For fit-out specialist BW, the adoption of a digital project management platform allowed the company to move beyond Teams and Zoom and take control of their business across multiple projects. As Rob Frank, Customer Experience Director explained, the ability to update drawings, photos, diaries, documentation and managerial insights on one platform proved invaluable.
Project Managers can see at a glance where there are snags, or where drawings and tasks are still outstanding. This avoids endless workarounds and gets the work done more efficiently, supports remote working and reducing travel requirements. As Frank points out, that doesn't necessarily mean working from home, simply that a manager may have several projects that can all be managed from one location.
Hard to manage
Even without the coronavirus crisis, construction is a tough industry to manage with so many different strands to pull together. And the industry as a whole is still not taking full advantage of the digital tools and platforms available to it.
But for those who have chosen to innovate during the lockdown, the rewards are huge. Contractors have the opportunity to pull together information and communication into one platform and support a wide range of tasks that are always kept up to date.
But should contractors who have been slow to adapt jump straight into digital transformation? Dapatchi Group was already in the process of a year-long rollout when the Covid-19 crisis hit and the software suddenly proved vital.
By that point, the site-by-site approach had already seen the new platform stick and the software proved critical in communicating the company's approach to safe working practices. By reinforcing the directives and procedures through video, written and visual content the implementation became simple and straightforward.
Nobody was prepared for the swift implementation of lockdown, but contractors who were already engaged with digital technologies were better equipped to communicate and collaborate and come out ahead.