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Can digitisation overcome Covid-19 travel restrictions?

As UK construction work begins and contractors dust off their tools after weeks in furlough, there is a stark reminder that business hasn’t yet returned to normal. Only workers who can travel to work safely and can’t work remotely are returning, thanks to coronavirus travel restrictions and social distancing rules. The bustling sites with hubs of productivity are now much more fragmented.

Travel restriction sign

Add construction supply chain issues into the mix and the synchronisation of contractors, supplies and tasks throws up a whole new set of challenges. Many countries have closed borders, even to freight vehicles. With reduced sea and air transportation, goods are being delayed and materials such as aggregates, bricks and insulation are in short supply.

European travelling construction workers coming to the UK are now experiencing transportation issues, facing quarantine periods and enduring long waits for visas. Employees and employers alike are facing uncertainty that will have long-lasting effects on recruitment. Meanwhile, in the UK, we are all being encouraged to avoid public transport and car-sharing which will restrict UK-based construction workers travelling to their jobs.

Senior managers are facing some serious challenges because of these changes. Which staff can access remote working? How can health and safety and regulatory commitments be upheld? Can the right materials be ready when they’re needed? How can technology support this change? And how can all this take place within the promised timeframes for a project?

Demonstrating ‘best endeavours’ to get the job done

Although sites are facing a new model of social distanced working, collaboration is not dead.

The industry is pulling together at this difficult time. We see companies such as ISG publicly sharing their operating procedures. Construction Leadership Council (CLC) joined forces with industry leaders to send an open letter to the industry and Government, encouraging investors and clients not to invoke contractual clauses to the detriment of construction firms while they struggle to meet pre-Covid-19-commitments. CLC is updating its downloadable standard operating procedures regularly with the latest government advice.

In line with these changes, construction companies are now focused on demonstrating their contractual ‘best endeavours’ to get projects completed on time and to the high standards that their stakeholders expect. Contractually, timescales are bound to slip as Covid-19 prevents normal working practice. Contractors now need to work alone where a team may have tackled a task and social distance procedures add more time into most jobs. The clauses that require work to proceed ‘regularly and diligently’ and that require ‘all reasonable endeavours’ to get the work done by the completion date are now brought to the forefront.

Construction can’t and won’t stop during this crisis, the economic fallout is too great. But, how can businesses get the job done while maintaining their commitment to protect their staff? How can they demonstrate these ‘best endeavours’?

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Collaboration through digitisation

Covid-19 has cast a spotlight on the construction industry. Businesses are defining ‘essential’ construction site visits and discovering what it means to have fewer people on site. Many administration functions, and even inspections and management tasks, can be completed remotely if the correct technology is available. It only takes one person to document a fault, perform a test or show task progress – if that information can be shared accurately and quickly with everyone who needs to know it.

PlanRadar is an enabler in this new environment; we’ve been talking about the benefits of digitisation for many years now. Digital documentation and communication mean that fewer people need to be present on site, leading to reduced costs, increased productivity and a safer environment.

Collaboration is the key driver behind PlanRadar. Our software keeps projects and personnel connected. PlanRadar allows approved users to create and assign tickets for defects and tasks, whenever and wherever. Each ticket is shared with all project stakeholders and updated in real-time to synchronise workflows. Everyone who needs to know about a change is informed, no matter where they are. Even those working from home have real-time access to site tasks and can influence the project progress.

This new way of working ensures that contractors who need to complete tasks can be on site but inspections, construction site visits and administrative tasks can be actioned remotely.

Enabling this new structure, PlanRadar allows users to upload digital blueprints of the site and arrange them into flexible project layers. Performance statistics highlight issues and senior management can evaluate due dates and prioritise tasks according to the parameters of social distancing and the available workers on site. This effective plan gives transparency to clients and investors while demonstrating the ‘best endeavours’ of the contractor to fulfil its obligations.

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Will this crisis change construction for good?

Quality assurance isn’t suspended during a crisis and although Covid-19 travel restrictions may limit supervision and inspection, these tasks can be reliably performed remotely. Only one individual needs to capture the necessary data or images for a supervisor or inspector to remotely evaluate the work. PlanRadar’s Cloud-based technology means that decisions are location independent.

By accessing digital technology, construction firms and their stakeholders can keep projects on track and reduce any issues that arise from these difficult market conditions.

We’re not sure how long this crisis will last, we don’t know if lockdowns might become regular events and we’re sure that pandemics aren’t the only challenge that construction will face. We do know that collaboration is the key to overcoming these issues. Businesses throughout the world are evaluating the good from this pandemic, as well as the bad.

Could the construction industry see unexpected cost and time savings through pandemic-enforced digitised collaboration?

Looking for more advice on working practice during this pandemic? Check out our recent blog on five things construction managers should do right now in the midst of this crisis.