A year ago, Boris Johnson issued his first stay home order to fight the pandemic. He plunged the nation into the unknown and the construction, infrastructure and built environment sectors into uncharted waters.
With companies in these sectors doing the right thing and closing locations in response to growing concerns about the virus, all pointed to a bumpy road. While no one would consider the past 12 months a smooth one, there is consensus that, in essence, things are nowhere near as bad as they could have been.
Why is that and what does it mean for the future? Here, three industry experts from Atkins, Mace and Systra share their thoughts.
Lizi Stewart, General Manager UK Transportation, Atkins
As soon as the first national lockdown hit, the agility of our people really came to the fore. We have seen unprecedented collaboration between Atkins and the sector as a whole to support national efforts to contain the virus and ensure that our critical infrastructure continues to function safely. Then in the significant acceleration in the adoption of technology to keep government investment in infrastructure moving during the pandemic.
Our Infrastructure Insights survey of 400 leading decision-makers found that 95% believe that digital innovation will become increasingly important after Covid and that there is broad consensus that the effective adoption of digitally enabled working methods is effective in accelerating the growth of will be crucial. In fact, only higher government spending was viewed as more critical in this regard.
Covid offers us a unique opportunity to resolve some of the country’s longstanding problems, particularly leveling out regional disparities and improving productivity that have held us back for decades. Covid has shown us that attitudes and behavior can change quickly. Many saw the light of the “fourth industrial revolution” simply because they had to. In the long term, we will bring this pace and focus to a truly green recovery that will restore not only our economy but our planet as well.
Jason Millett, CEO for Consulting, Mace
While I wouldn’t consider the pandemic for a second as anything other than a terrible human tragedy, there has undoubtedly been insights that have changed Mace for the better. Our decision to mobilize a crisis response team the week leading up to the Prime Minister’s first order enabled us to put in place a clear plan for the challenge ahead – including how to work in partnership with our clients. Indeed, working with our customers and our entire organization has helped keep our people safe and on the job. We are now a more resilient company in a stronger position to deal with future crises.
Determination was a cornerstone of our response to the pandemic and our approach to sharing data quickly has underpinned this. Covid-19 has made us a more data-driven organization that has collected a variety of metrics to keep track of our locations and business in a remote environment. Although we saw a significant decrease in the number of employees at our sites, our data showed that projects where we had invested in innovative third-party design methods kept our productivity more consistent and were less likely to face programs with delays.
Our industry was already well on the way in digital and data, but the pandemic has accelerated things and we will see digital innovation as a frontrunner in efforts to solve the big challenges. namely decarbonization and the need to implement systems more efficiently through innovations such as MMC.
Steve Higham, UK Managing Director, Systra Ltd.
Systra’s values of Connected Teams, Excellence and Bold Leadership have never been more important than when executing our strategy to deal with a global pandemic. Informed by health industry leaders, we’ve focused on keeping people safe and keeping service to customers going. This underpins our future prospects. A year later, our “hybrid working” policy is in place and the company is ready to make a permanent shift. We formed a Covid committee that increased the agility and the pace of decision-making, mobilized homework in the run-up to the national lockdown, set up a digital mentor network for junior staff and special measures to support programs of national importance such as HS2, Crossrail and Trans- Pennine upgrade.
Digital tools have been critical to working with international design teams and communicating in general. We used these to share best practices, coordinate global design delivery, and conduct daily team video calls as well as regular CEO updates. This ensured continuity for customers, supported the health and wellbeing of our employees, and protected hundreds of jobs while the business grew. This was particularly relevant for the 100+ employees who came to SYSTRA and switched from 12 offices to 850 apartments while the TSP was successfully integrated into the project business.
The industry’s response to the pandemic shows that we can do things differently – an approach we need to push for future infrastructure investments as we rebuild the economy. I am proud to be part of the SYSTRA team and how positively every colleague reacted to the challenge.
While construction, infrastructure and the built environment have undoubtedly been hit hard, the quick decisions made by industry leaders and the overarching appetite to lead the way in Covid-19 security have meant that our major projects and programs emerged relatively unscathed from the pandemic are .
Now that the government is making it clear that we need to “build, build, build” to drive economic recovery, the future looks bright. Our industry has a clear opportunity and responsibility to implement the knowledge gained during this crisis in order to meet the healing needs of our people.
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