The coronavirus pandemic caught most U.S. business sectors off guard, which further enhanced its impact and prolonged the suffering of industries like construction. As part of efforts to be able to better weather the next major disruption, some companies are giving digital solutions a closer look. A recent report by McKinsey says the construction industry is likely to emerge from the pandemic leaner, more digitized, and with a greater eye toward sustainability.
Technology to Support an Increasingly Remote Workforce
For the foreseeable future, the jobsite is going to look very different. Caps on the number of workers allowed onsite, mandated mask-wearing and social distancing, and few face-to-face meetings will all present new challenges for the industry as it recovers.
To ensure work is still getting done on time, companies will need to invest in technology made for a more remote workforce. This could take shape as an increased reliance on cloud-based collaborative software tools, 3D and 4D modeling, and other solutions. Companies will also be looking at a wider variety of online channels to order materials, manage cash flow, track inventory and equipment, and even monitor employees’ health and wellness.
To ensure work is still getting done on time, companies will need to invest in technology made for a more remote workforce.
Due to social distancing, more meetings are likely to be conducted remotely. Employees provided with work computers will thus need proper software and hardware, typically an integrated webcam and software like Zoom or Skype, to attend a call.
Inspections are another essential construction function being reimagined with social distance in mind. Virtual jobsite visits and visually-based inspections can be done with mobile device cameras and streaming video software. This way inspectors can “visit” multiple projects per day without needing to physically be there, increasing social distance and making them more efficient in their work.
Increased R&D and IT Spending
Currently, construction spends a dismally small amount on research and development. In fact, as little as under 1% of annual revenues go to R&D, according to McKinsey. For comparison, the automotive industry spends around 3.5% of its revenue on R&D while aerospace spends 4.5%. When it comes to IT spending, construction also lags behind many of its industry peers, spending 1.2% of revenue on IT annually. This number is particularly jarring when compared to 3.5% of revenue averaged out among all sectors, according to Deloitte.
By increasing spending in these areas, firms can identify and implement technology solutions that will increase productivity.
“Digital tools like 4D simulation, digital workflow management, real-time progress tracking, and advanced schedule optimization will become even stronger,” McKinsey writes.
McKinsey also expects to see an increase in R&D spending around standardized building designs to facilitate an increased need for process automation. This will help companies complete work faster, even with fewer workers allowed on-site at a time due to social distancing.
To help establish economies of scale as well as combine efforts to fund larger spending in IT, R&D, and technology, McKinsey predicts more firms will consolidate “for much-needed resilience in their balance sheets.”
Upskilling the Workforce
Other investment companies are expected to focus on ensuring workers are equipped with the technology tools and skills needed for the expected uptick in remote work. Whether that’s providing enhanced security software for sensitive files stored on remote workers’ computers, ensuring all workers are proficient in collaborative modeling and project planning software, or providing them with the appropriate mobile devices to run everything they need to do their jobs.
There will be an adjustment period for everyone in the industry as work slowly returns to normal levels.
The investment in time and resources will pay dividends as workers increase their skill sets and become more comfortable and familiar with new tech. Workers from older generations are generally less enthusiastic about technology than their younger counterparts, but learning new platforms or systems to avoid potential exposure to COVID-19 is about as good a motivator as you’re going to find.
There will be an adjustment period for everyone in the industry as work slowly returns to normal levels. Many companies who were already considering revamping their technological processes pre-COVID may be forced to take that first step out of necessity. In short, the pandemic has created a set of circumstances where the trend of greater tech adoption in construction is likely to be accelerated.