As the initial shock of the COVID-19 crisis wears off, longer-lasting plans are being put into place. But these are unprecedented times, and most of us are learning by trial-and-error. Sharing experiences, therefore, remains central to us all surviving in the construction industry.
Procore’s Field Marketing Manager, Jeremie Henry, recently hosted an online roundtable (click here to listen) to explore how Australian construction industry managers are keeping their companies above water during this time.
Joining Jeremie on the webinar was:
- Dean Willemsen (Co-Founder and Director, Prime Build)
- Phillip Smith (Group Executive EHSQ, Shape Australia)
- Sean O’Connor (Director, Kingdom Projects)
- Brett Alexander (National Head of Operations, Amicus)
- Tom Karemacher (VP APAC, Procore)
Here are the key takeaways from the meeting.
Slow Work is Better Than No Work
Here in Australia, the construction industry is a huge contributor to the local economy, generating over $360 billion in revenue — around 9% of our GDP. It’s therefore unsurprising that industry corporations such as the Master Builders Association are really pushing the message that ‘slow work is better than no work’.
Twelve percent of all the respondents said that they were ‘running normally’, while the majority 75.4% said that they have their office staff working from home with field staff still on job sites.
A recent Procore listener survey reflected a similar sentiment from sites around Australia. Twelve percent of all the respondents said that they were ‘running normally’, while the majority 75.4% said that they have their office staff working from home with field staff still on job sites. It’s promising to hear that most sites are still operational, with only 12.6% halting their projects altogether.
Uncertainty is Still the Greatest Challenge
All roundtable guests agreed that their greatest challenge at present is managing the uncertain future ahead.
“In our world, pipeline uncertainty is a big problem,” noted Dean Willemsen, Co-Founder and Director of Prime Build. “I’m sure we’re not alone there. Understanding what projects are coming up, with so many variables and uncertainty, tops the list of challenges at the moment.”
Adding to project uncertainty are the shifting sands of site regulations. Here in Australia, every state and territory are executing different regulations around the COVID-19 lockdown. For national companies like Shape, simply staying across these ever-changing rules — plus the conditions set by individual sites — is a project unto itself.
“There’s some transient change management taking place,” says Phillip Smith, Group Executive EHSQ, Shape Australia “We’ve got active projects across Australia, with each client and each building manager having different requirements that we need to attend to.”
Communication is Everything
The panel agreed that keeping their staff up-to-date with developments within the business was crucial to maintaining a sense of calm and focus. Through Zoom calls and video conferencing, the management teams were able to get anecdotal feedback on how their staff were responding to the new conditions.
“We do a kind of weekly pulse checking with all our staff,” says Brett Alexander, National Head of Operations at Amicus. “We ran a survey checking how they’re going, seeing if we’re giving them enough information, and just really checking on their mental state.”
The construction industry can often fall prey to a macho, ‘don’t complain’ mentality. The panel noted how careful they have been to recognise fear or anxiety among their employees.
“Some people are quite nervous to go to a site, where they are working with people that they otherwise wouldn’t know outside of work.”
“People have taken the pandemic in different ways,” noted Sean O’Connor, Director, Kingdom Project. “Some people are quite nervous to go to a site, where they are working with people that they otherwise wouldn’t know outside of work.”
Remaining mindful of people’s comfort zones, and creating safe work environments, was a major focus for the panel and their teams.
Creating Routine in the Madness
Sticking to existing routines and patterns has helped to maintain a sense of normality. Brett Alexander says that his team have kept up their daily ‘toolbox talks’ — just updating the format. “We have tried to stagger these morning meetings,” says Brett, “or just hold them with the actual key trade supervisors. This helps to cut down the number of people that are congregating in that area.”
Routines can really help with staff morale, too. The construction industry relies heavily on relationships, and the whole panel agreed that investing in fun, light-hearted social events — within the regulations — was hugely rewarding. From joint playlists to Friday afternoon drinks via Zoom, keeping the staff connected helps bolster morale within the team.
New Tools and Processes
Every company who participated in the roundtable said they have been experimenting with new processes and tools for survival. Some are rolling out new sign-in processes, such as health and temperature checks for sub-contractors; while others are replacing emails with one-on-one phone calls with the staff to relay new rules.
One particularly helpful tool was Shape Australia’s new ‘COVID Resource Center’.
Maintaining a ‘people-first’ mentality has been underlined by all the guests.
“We’ve realized that there has been a lot of communication being put out there by our business, as well as a lot of documentation and updates to systems and procedures,” said Phillip Smith. “So we developed a National Team’s COVID Resource Center. It serves to actually provide a frequently asked questions page and also a resource page.”
Maintaining a ‘people-first’ mentality has been underlined by all the guests on the Procore/ANZ Roundtable. In everything from on-site safety to employee mental health, the priority for all business owners in the construction industry remains their people.
We can’t change the course of COVID-19, but we can change the way our businesses respond.
The next Procore Webinar, Workforce Safety Amid COVID-19, will be held on the 8th of May.
It will look discuss:
- How the construction industry has become the lifeline of the economy
- The importance of the COVID-19 Guidelines as an industry road map and what they will mean for workers
- How construction businesses are evolving their best practices in response to the ongoing changes faced.