Navigating your construction projects in the best of times can be demanding. The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated day-to-day challenges to an unprecedented level. While you can’t entirely control what happens during this unpredictable time period, you can be proactive. We’ve put together a few ways to help you mitigate unique challenges during these uncertain times.
1. Planning Ahead is Crucial
Extra planning can help keep the schedules sane. Your resources are the key to getting the work done. Can you reorder the flow of activities in the schedule to make the labor more effective? Maybe it’s possible to bring in specialized equipment for work experiencing a labor shortfall?
If you are depending on off-site fabrication, look for alternative sources or ways to use different materials and methods. Consider the materials for each project phase and search for other sources of supply for those most critical. You might increase your stocks of commonly used fasteners, tool batteries and safety supplies like hard hats and eye protection.
There is also a benefit to regularly asking yourself if you are solving the right problems. A shortage of people on a particular activity can arise from scheduling and resource issues as well as from absenteeism. A spike in change orders might start with a flawed process for specifications and RFIs, not from scope changes.
2. Get Ahead of Potential Delays
If half of your workers and subs become unavailable, you will need to work out arrangements with your clients. So, keep the communication lines open with daily briefings on project trajectory. Your plans for managing delays will be important to owners, and they’ll want to know you are taking the initiative and considering creative ways to keep moving ahead.
When you have a view of the extent and type of potential changes, you can consider ways to accommodate them with the least amount of turmoil.
Do virtual check-ins with your subcontractors every day to assess their readiness and address their concerns about the schedule. If you can get even a few days heads up on potential delays, you’ll be better prepared to get a solution rolling or a workaround ready.
Subcontractors handle the lion’s share of labor on today’s projects, so that’s the first place you’ll likely encounter pending labor problems. Talk to them. Maybe you can arrange some low-risk labor arrangements that help balance labor availability and reduce bottlenecks. These are unusual times that require creative solutions.
Speed up your communications with the design people to remain in the loop about scope adjustments. When facing a slowdown, some owners might look for ways to cut overall project costs, sparking design changes and specification changes. When you have a view of the extent and type of potential changes, you can consider ways to accommodate them with the least amount of turmoil. You might also offer your construction knowledge to inform the process.
3. Managing Absenteeism
Overtime shifts might help you stay ahead of delays from absenteeism. You will have to pay more, and the longer this goes on, the more likely employees will burn out. While it’s not a long-term solution, overtime could help you keep things moving for short durations and with adequate compensation and rest breaks.
Another option is using rotating shifts. This way you can schedule people across all necessary hours, both day and night. You might find it possible to have some people on-call so they can quickly fill in when someone gets sick. Since they are essentially on-duty 24/7, it’s common to pay them more for their trouble. Some firms make these rotating positions so nobody performs the role continuously.
Assess their willingness and readiness while also agreeing on the terms under which they do the work.
If you ask employees to work at odd hours when compared to their normal schedules, do so gradually to give them a chance to get used to the variability. It’s also a good idea to make schedule changes with at least a week’s notice while maintaining some flexibility for people with conflicting commitments.
You might have employees who are multi-skilled and can fill in on jobs that aren’t their primary ones. Assess their willingness and readiness while also agreeing on the terms under which they do the work. Use on-the-job training to get people familiar with their new work or new roles.
Of course, you still need to be mindful of the laws, regulations, and contractual obligations that apply to your company and your jobsites and seek legal counsel before making significant changes to the way you schedule and/or compensate your workforce.
4. Go Over Contingency Plans
Review your contingency plans and the contingencies you’ve set up for each project. Does your insurance cover you for new risks?
If your financial picture gets too dark, the federal and state government may help.
The U.S. government’s $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid relief package, the largest stimulus bill in history, is meant to keep businesses and individuals afloat during this unprecedented crisis. The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), breaks down how the CARES Act intends to provide relief to the construction industry. A copy of the AGC analysis of the new legislation could be downloaded here.
In addition, the Small Business Administration recently announced that it “is working directly with state governors to provide targeted, low-interest loans to small businesses and nonprofits that have been severely impacted by the coronavirus.” They’re offering working capital loans of up to $2 million.
5. Health and Safety First
Since illness is unpredictable, you may experience unpredictable fluctuations in staffing during this pandemic. For your people, focus on health and safety first. Here are the CDC guidelines. Additionally, the AGC has created a COVID-19 page with valuable resources and information for the industry.
Every day brings new information, changes, and new challenges. Stay flexible and be proactive.