By any measure, 2020 changed the way we work forever, and was a major stress test for the processes and systems construction companies had in place before the pandemic hit. In the light of a new year, GCs, specialty contractors, and owners are enthusiastically exploring new ways to become more innovative and resilient, not just to better weather the next storm, but to explode out of the gate in 2021.
Procore recently hosted a wide-ranging panel discussion on how the construction industry has adjusted its priorities and strategies to boost performance, remain competitive in a new working world, and set itself up for maximum success in 2021.
Procore VP, US Customer Success Annie Woo hosted the webinar entitled, “Planning for Performance in 2021,” bringing in a variety of industry leaders including: Lisa Hogerty – SVP, Real Estate Planning and Development, Boston Children’s Hospital, Angie Simon – CEO, Western Allied Mechanical and Jason Seaburg – COO, Suffolk Construction.
To kick things off, Woo asked the panelists about some of the biggest lessons they learned, and how they’ll apply those learnings to create positive business outcomes in 2021 and beyond. Not surprisingly, technology factored heavily into their answers.
“I work in the healthcare business, and I think safety was the number one thing that we pushed for out of the gate at the beginning of March,” Lisa Hogerty said. “Between Procore and Zoom, the speed at which we could keep things moving was just amazing. The technology was really the enabler, and I don’t think we had quite that level of appreciation previously.”
Hogerty explained that before the pandemic, Boston Children’s Hospital would typically do about 450 virtual telehealth visits per week. Since June, that number has climbed to 4,500 per day.
“It was life-saving in some cases, it just opened up a whole new line of business for us,” she said.
Jason Seaburg said as the pandemic crisis unfolded, his company quickly learned they were able to be more flexible than they ever thought possible. Conceding that construction companies are not exactly known for their flexibility, he said this knowledge, and the importance of the technologies enabling it, were important takeaways from 2020 for Suffolk.
“We learned really quickly we can allow people to work remotely, but also that our field personnel have to work in the field. We know that with our technology we can get them what they need, whether we’re in the office or not. Going forward we’re going to continue to work on that and allow our employees to work from wherever it’s most convenient.”
“Honestly I don’t think four or five years ago we could have done what we just did over the past year. Before Procore we used kind of a homegrown platform built off of SharePoint. It was all well and good, but nothing like a tool like Procore, nothing like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, you name it. So, because of these tools, we can do things that before we just couldn’t. And I think that’s going to help improve the work life balance that is so important for our people.”
Communication is Key
Good communication is essential in the construction industry, whether it’s office-to-field, field-to-field, or anything in between. In an upcoming Procore survey of more than 5,000 customers, 79% said that thanks to using Procore and other technologies, they were able to stay ahead of communication and improve it when it was needed most. A further 85% said Procore improved field crews’ visibility and their ability to communicate site issues back to the office. The survey is scheduled for release in mid-February.
Angie Simon said keeping those lines of communication with employees open throughout the crisis was a “critical” element of Western Allied getting through 2020.
“Two-thirds or three-quarters of our employees are in the field, they didn’t have a choice to stay home. So we let them know that we had their back, and cared about their families as well. We had virtual all-hands meetings where we brought in anybody in the field who wanted to join. Those virtual platforms were a great way to communicate, and technology was really key to enabling us to communicate really well with all of our employees,” she said.
Construction Technology’s Unexpected Big Boost
It’s no secret that construction has historically been slow to embrace new technology, but the industry’s adoption seems to have gotten some serious momentum from an unexpected source.
“If there’s anything positive about the pandemic it’s that it probably helped many, many companies leave paper behind a little bit more and adopt technology, mainly because they were forced to,” said Simon. “The pandemic kind of threw us into that, and those companies that were already innovative are now more innovative.”
Seaburg recalled the field trailer storage rooms packed with overflowing filing cabinets from a decade or so ago, and drew sharp contrast to how it’s improved since those paper-dependent days.
“I can honestly say, you go out to our jobsite, and you have a 600,000 square-foot state of the art inpatient facility, there’s 550 tradespeople working and not a single file cabinet. That speaks volumes to how far we’ve come in this business,” he said.
Coming Together as an Industry in a Time of Uncertainty
To close out the conversation with the panelists, Woo asked what’s on a lot of C&E professionals’ minds these days: How can the industry work together and prepare for success in 2021?
“I think what the past year has taught us is patience and empathy. A lot of us are at home, we’ve got young kids in our houses banging on the door or photobombing meetings, and I think a year and a half ago that would have been uncomfortable for a lot of people,” said Seaburg.
“I think we’ve all learned through this that hey, we’re all human here, and let’s be patient and empathetic with one another. We’re figuring out how to take that approach and attitude and bring it forward into the New Normal.”
Hogerty pointed to the prevalence of virtual meetings that were a hallmark of 2020 as opening up a new level of intimacy between coworkers.
“We’ve been invited into each other’s homes, and we’re trying to understand on a virtual platform who’s stressed out, who’s not stressed out, and relate the fact that we’ve got each other’s backs and that we’ll get through this,” she said.
Simon said a year like 2020 shows how “change” should no longer be considered a dirty word in the industry.
“One thing we showed very much this year was how resilient we can be, and how much of a team we all have to be in construction,” Simon said. “Construction doesn’t typically change easily, but I would say embrace change, change is good. You just have to suck it up and say ‘I’m going to change,’ because we need to. Construction has seen a lot of change over this past year, and it’s now shown we can survive through this.”