What will construction look like post-Covid-19?

PUBLISHED: 09:00 10 June 2020

Despite the challenges, construction businesses are looking to the future positively   Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Despite the challenges, construction businesses are looking to the future positively Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto


In the final page of the series, Sue Wilcock looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lessons learnt from it, could positively shape the future of construction locally.

Sue Wilcock  Picture: Warren PageSue Wilcock Picture: Warren Page

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges to the sector. But perhaps the greatest, is that to survive, construction businesses have had to become more flexible in the way they operate.

Like many businesses, the crisis has revealed that a mix of home and office working is likely to form the way ahead in the future.

Amy Leader sits on the Suffolk Joint Construction Committee (SJCC) representing the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and explains: “This pandemic has pushed businesses to fast track their agility; something which would have taken years to evolve to this point had the crisis not happened.

“Looking forward, I think offices will change, as rather than just being a working space for staff, it will become more of an area for people to gather and knowledge share.”

Mark Hart, joint MD of Barnes Construction thinks that dexterity is the key. “In the future businesses should move away from thinking of the office as the place where your workstation is based, and lean towards it being a hub for the team to come together to interact face to face, be creative and share knowledge and experience,” he said.

The sentiment is shared by Craig Western, director at Wincer Kievenaar Architects. “Despite highlighting aspects that we miss, such as the social interaction, networking events and seeing day-to-day progress on sites, the crisis has created a proven ability for flexible hours and home working,” he said. “Yet, no one size fits all.

“We have listened to our team and although many have enjoyed working from home, others have missed the office interaction. So, although we will encourage home working in the future, our office will evolve into a space where we can gather to share ideas; sometimes to work creatively you need to be together.”

Another big change to the industry in the future will be continuing to use virtual technology to communicate and be more effective.

James Potter is MD of structural engineering design business, Superstructures. He said: “We plan on utilising the video technology we’ve accepted as being a temporary normal, to boost our project performance in the future. It will be great to hold more regular meetings with our design and construction teams via video platforms, to really develop a design through shared sketching and discussions relating to concepts and buildability.

“Despite the physical distance between us, I’d like to think that having gone through the experience together, the crisis has brought us closer. Throughout, we’ve had virtual social events and there has been regular interaction to ensure everyone knows what’s happening in the business.

“My hope is that in the post-COVID world, we will be stronger than we were before.”

This use of virtual technology will also reduce construction’s environmental impact in the future. As Mr Hart explained: “Rather than automatically jumping in the car to travel to the office or a meeting, there are tremendous efficiencies that can be made by getting together virtually. Apart from the obvious reduction in travel time and expenses, conducting video calls has made us more accessible to people that work at a distance.”

Martin Liddell sits on the SJCC representing the Institution of Structural Engineers. He thinks video meetings encourage teamwork within the supply chain.

“I have been working on a project where the mechanical and electrical coordination with the steel frame has been complex,” he said. “However, through video feeds from site and regular Teams calls, all parties can understand the issues, respond quickly and work collaboratively to put forward options and solutions.”

Aoife O’Gorman sits on the SJCC representing the Royal Institute of British Architects and adds: “From a consultant’s perspective, we have all learnt how efficient attending virtual meetings can be, and as Martin highlighted, video feeds from site, while not fully replacing site visits, can be an incredibly useful and productive tool.”

Mr Western agreeed: “Less time spent commuting means less pollution and more time to spend doing something else. However, in the future, we need to get to grips with how we separate work from home life. Working in the back bedroom or at the kitchen table can make it harder to mentally separate the two.”

One final positive hope for the future of the industry, is that there will be a continuation of the collaborative atmosphere seen during the pandemic.

“The crisis has showed us that we can remove the traditional hard-nosed accountability of the sector and work together to find solutions to problems, rather than going for a contractual approach where we blame each other,” said Mr Hart.

“Wouldn’t it be great if the lasting legacy of COVID-19 for the construction sector was a non-adversarial approach to the way we work?”

Roadmap to recovery

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has produced a strategy to drive the recovery of the construction and built environment sectors in the UK following the pandemic and economic downturn.

Titled Roadmap to Recovery, the plan will be delivered over two years and has three stages; Restart (0-3 months), Reset (3-12 months) and Reinvent (12-24 months). The strategy aims to increase the level of activity across the sector, accelerate the process of industry adjustment to the new normal, and build capacity in the industry.

As well as decarbonisation and delivering better, safer buildings, its priorities include increasing prosperity across the UK and modernisation through digital and manufacturing technologies.

The result will hopefully be a more capable, professional, productive, and profitable sector, which delivers better value to clients, better performing infrastructure and buildings, and competes successfully in global markets.

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This story is in association with Barnes Construction, Wincer Kievenaar, Superstructures and Suffolk Joint Construction Committee.

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