The beginning of 2021 should have marked the beginning of a new era. As the clocks turned past midnight there was a collective sigh of relief from the world. 2020 was over and life would return to normal. Unfortunately, the beginning of 2021 should offer more of it.

While the office environment had to adapt to remote working, the construction sector faced much more difficult challenges. Construction projects rely on timely performance and good planning. The pandemic has challenged these two key norms, and the ripple effect of these challenges is beginning to emerge.

Social distancing has changed the way the website works

The UK Government recently published the November 2020 edition of its guidance publication “Working Safely During COVID-19 in Construction and Other Outdoor Work ”.1 The first three pages of this document are devoted to listing the updates for the whole of 2020. This alone underscores the remarkable development that labor measures in the construction industry went through during the pandemic to keep functioning.

Social distancing brings a variety of safety and other challenges to the construction site. Some examples:

  1. The construction site start and end times may need to be staggered to minimize worker contact and ensure that the total number of construction sites is managed. Among other things, this entails a complex coordination risk that goes far beyond the simple coordination of the “day” and “night” shifts, as there are more handover points on a working day. Approaches such as “cohorting” of staff, while helping to reduce the coordination impact, have their own difficulties.
  2. New considerations need to be made about entry and exit points and one-way systems for getting around the site. Access and labor restrictions directly affect the ability to plan and carry out work efficiently, and affect productivity rates on many levels.
  3. Additional facilities and arrangements such as hand sanitizing stations, additional PPE and physical barriers are required or need to be modified to accommodate social distancing, e.g. B. break rooms, rest rooms, changing rooms, waste disposal facilities etc. These requirements are present another time and coordination problem in addition to the cost and space problems;
  4. COVID cleaning systems have an obvious impact, especially on shared tools and equipment.
  5. The type and / or number of people on the construction site may need to be restricted or changed (e.g. visitors). This has the greatest impact on productivity and progress and can result in the need for employees who are less critical to physical performance to adopt remote working practices. Less on-site staff can also result in less direct supervision, which in turn can lead to errors in execution.
  6. While remote working has different advantages and challenges, the simple fact of not being there means that many spontaneous conversations (and observations) do not take place. The lack of physical presence will increase the need for more effective communication and reporting processes. and
  7. All supply chains will be affected similarly (albeit to different degrees), adding to the complexity of the difficulty of coordinating site activities. Not only does this affect the availability of materials, it also creates a headache for those trying to coordinate deliveries to the construction site to fit an already disrupted program.

Project duration and productivity will be impacted due to the pandemic

An inevitable consequence of social distancing measures is resources. Simply put, if resources cannot be increased, either the time it takes to complete a project becomes longer, or additional resources are required. Most likely both apply. The reduced number of employees on the job site and the imposition of restrictions on entry, exit, movement, and start and end times, affect efficiency. As any contractor will tell you, more man hours mean additional costs. The ultimate impact of the pandemic will depend on the nature of the contractual arrangements between the parties. However, there is no doubt that if contractors cannot achieve their normal efficiency on a construction site, there will be cost consequences – with all of the ensuing difficulties that come to fruition for the employer.

Another effect for the parties is the increased difficulty of speeding up the work by using additional manpower. In order to achieve an effective acceleration, careful analysis is required to assess and balance whether an acceleration by reinstated labor (as opposed to an increased one) actually accelerates the program. In the short term, this seems like a pretty difficult road to go.

Other risks can arise as well. For example, projects that may have been exposed to only one “wet” or “winter” season might now have two exposed. This exposure introduces additional performance challenges. The natural consequence is the potential for other related cost increases that are not directly related to work, such as: B. Insurance premiums and other overheads.

With that in mind, it wouldn’t be appropriate to ignore the potential opportunities associated with having fewer people on a job site. One such notable opportunity is to develop modularization and other measures to improve off-site manufacturing to make construction work on the job site faster, easier, and more efficient while taking into account lower labor. Of course, while these new opportunities, while now present in some places, are very likely to take some time to develop before they become industry standards and improve rates of progress and productivity.

Disputes have multiplied

One of the hallmarks of tough times is people’s ability to pull themselves together naturally. In the early days of the pandemic, a customer noted that he had never seen such positive and collaborative behavior from contract workers in his career. Unfortunately, this aspect of human nature does not last indefinitely, and fatigue seems to have set in. A few months later, the same client complained that he was now dealing with “hundreds” of force majeure and other allegations. Other projects around the world are also constantly affected by such circumstances. While this change in sentiment is not unexpected, it appears to be becoming a widespread theme in the construction sector and demands appear to be increasing.

Proactive management and effective communication are essential features of good dispute avoidance measures. In a remote work environment, additional measures must be taken to ensure that these goals are met. In addition, a thorough record is essential for dispute resolution. When contractors are required to reduce the number of on-site employees, a careful balance must be struck to ensure that productivity is maintained and that effective project management and monitoring is not compromised.

The changes to the operation on the construction site are no longer considered new and quickly become a deeply rooted way of working. Employers, of course, expect contractors to plan their business operations with pandemic conditions in mind. So excuses about performance are carefully considered.

1 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5eb961bfe90e070834b6675f/working-safely-during-covid-19-construction-outdoors-041120.pdf