Article written by Christopher Guderian on www.constructionexec.com
COVID-19 has brought dramatic and lasting changes in countless ways. Uniquely, the hands-on nature of construction has presented a wide range of challenges to the industry. Seemingly overnight, long-established construction best practices for in-person meetings, onsite tours and financial tracking procedures were rendered unfeasible, inefficient or dangerous as social distancing mandates took hold. Suddenly, construction firms were tasked with redefining how projects were managed and executed in the era of COVID-19 and beyond. Construction technology quickly emerged as a key component in solving the myriad of issues arising from the new normal.
Prior to COVID-19, the need for multiple contractors and subcontractors to be onsite and the fact that every project is truly unique along with well-established industry best practices made the industry technology adoption rate glacial at best. The COVID-19 pandemic has sped up an industrywide adoption that would have taken years to complete under ordinary circumstances. Through deployment of construction technologies and platforms, development firms have been able to maintain safety and efficiency on jobsites while positioning their companies for long-term flexibility and profitability. Although necessity has brought on widespread technological adoption across the industry, two core advantages will ensure that it is here to stay.
Maximizing efficiency while ensuring the safety of those on the jobsite has always been the core focus of construction project managers. As COVID-19 struck, managers were forced to balance efficiency and safety amidst a fluid and evolving situation. Virtual, cloud-based project management platforms quickly emerged as possible answers to solving this dilemma. While some firms had adopted these platforms as ancillary parts of the construction jobsite prior to COVID-19, they immediately became crucial components for managing a jobsite during the pandemic.
Cloud-based project management platforms have enabled project managers to migrate many in-person tasks to a virtual format. Now, almost every aspect of a job can be made available through a phone or tablet. Contractors and subcontractors can easily access up-to-date blueprints and plans, while also checking on the status of the job remotely, which limits how many people are needed onsite and also reduces the length of time they will need to be there. Additionally, managers have been able to rely on contractors and subcontractors to upload daily timestamped photos of job progress, allowing managers to virtually visit jobsites and conduct inspections. Furthermore, the adoption of 360-degree video hardhat cameras is taking these virtual visits to the next level by providing a comprehensive snapshot of jobsites in real time. Through project management platforms, managers can now visit multiple jobsites, perform rigorous inspections, and instantly mitigate problems in a single day without leaving their offices or homes.
Along with virtual project management tools, managers are also leveraging video conferencing tools and cloud-based, construction-specific document markup tools to virtually review plans with contractors and subcontractors. In the past, all those involved in a job would need to drive to a single location and spend countless hours poring over paper plans that would then need to be revised and recirculated. Now, all members of the construction team can quickly jump on a video call to go over a plan and make edits in real time. Once reviewed, new plans can be instantly uploaded to ensure that every contractor and subcontractor on the site receives the revisions. Through this virtual and collaborative approach, managers are now able to oversee the markup process more efficiently while saving contractors and subcontractors time and confusion.
With skeleton crews in many offices, receiving prompt and accurate payment has been an issue throughout the industry. As many construction management firms will increase levels of remote work even after COVID-19, this problem will not be disappearing anytime soon.
The adoption of new technologies provides a solution to this problem as well. Now, contractors and subcontractors can bill directly though the same project management app they use to track the phases of a job. This not only ensures prompt payment but allows managers to have a real time view of job costs and allows development teams to have an unparalleled overview of project financials at any time. Promoting increased efficiency and collaboration, construction and development teams can now work together to better understand projects’ soft and hard costs, while identifying possible opportunities or problems well in advance. While understanding expenses is vital during a time when material shortages and elevated labor costs are an unfortunate reality, the enhanced collaboration and transparency presented by virtual project management tools will offer opportunities to realize increased profitability down the road once COVID-19 subsides.
Additionally, a tech-driven approach has paid immediate dividends for construction managers as it has limited the amount of time that jobsites sit dormant and unprofitable. These frameworks currently being developed for a tech-driven jobsite will also serve as replicable templates to quickly get projects in the ground and keep them on track in the future.
THE FUTURE OF CONSTRUCTION TECHNOLOGY
The adoption of construction technology due to COVID-19 will have deep, lasting impacts on the entire industry. With the increased ability to coordinate virtually, managers can streamline projects while expanding the geographic reach of their contractor sourcing. As project managers continue to place increased value on construction technology and are able to pick from a larger pool of prospective vendors, contractors and subcontractors who are reluctant to adapt to technology will find it increasingly difficult to be successful in the post-COVID-19 world.
It is clear that technology provides an invaluable array of solutions to many of the industry’s most immediate challenges as it faces the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the long-term increases in efficiency and profitability will be hard to ignore once the pandemic is over. As it has for many other industries, technology will transform the construction industry and allow tech-driven construction firms across the world to execute even more ambitious and, ultimately, profitable projects in the years to come.