Improved Planning Can Reduce Coronavirus Impacts on Construction

There are few industries, if any, that will not be impacted in some way by COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus. A recent publication by Construction Dive highlights 6 ways the coronavirus outbreak will affect construction. This includes the impact on employee health and safety, material delays, quarantines and travel bans, and more. 

However, there are opportunities for construction companies to reduce these impacts of the coronavirus on their projects. One key opportunity is to improve the planning process. 

Reducing Employee Health & Safety Impacts

There is no doubt that the coronavirus impacts employee health and safety. Currently, there are several construction projects around the globe that have already been delayed and temporarily suspended due to virus exposure at the job site. As the virus spreads, the likelihood of a more significant workforce shortage, due to health and safety issues, increases. 

To help mitigate this impact, the upfront planning process, as it relates to job site safety, can be adapted to address current health concerns. Toolbox talks may be modified to include mitigation measures such as: 

  • Frequent handwashing
  • Covering sneezes and coughs 
  • Avoiding face touching 

While these mitigation measures are always important, they are crucial now due to the risk of contamination. Construction firms should plan for these measures before the work begins to ensure that crew leaders are aware of the opportunities to keep their crews safe and healthy. Better planning can help reduce the likelihood of a workforce shortage caused by illness and can prevent related project delays. 

Improving Chances of On-Time Material Arrival

Even when the world is not facing a pandemic, material delays cause construction projects to run behind schedule. With nearly 30% of all U.S. building product imports coming from China, the impact of the coronavirus on the Chinese economy now puts U.S. construction projects at a greater risk of schedule delays and price increases due to material shortage. Supply shortages are already beginning to cause project delays for one of the country's top home builders and this issue will likely affect a growing number of contractors in the U.S. construction industry. 

Construction firms that will be least impacted by the material delays are those who plan well to remove supply and price-related constraints. These firms will be better positioned to have materials available for the immediate future and will likely be doing a better job of planning ahead to determine the requirements for near-term upcoming work. However, those who do not have a defined planning and constraint removal process in place will experience more challenges finding supplies and getting materials at a fair price. 

Eliminating Challenges Associated with Remote Work

There are many companies today that provide their employees with the opportunity to work remotely, at least on occasion. However, now companies that may not have provided this opportunity previously are mandating that their employees stay home, if their role allows. 

Having an effective communication plan in place during this period of remote work is crucial. Luckily, there are many technologies available today that help construction companies improve remote interaction.

Trestles Labor Management System, for example, helps to improve communication between the office and the field. This communication is critical, especially now with mandates to minimize physical interaction. Project managers can use the tool to create plans for their crews by setting daily goals, clearing constraints (such as materials, permits, the coronavirus, etc.), and communicating safety requirements. This information is easily transferred to crew leaders who can then respond by electronically submitting their time and progress against the plan. They can also communicate any critical impacts. With the current circumstances, a crew leader may be notified that someone at the job site has been infected with the coronavirus. This information can be tracked via a note within the system. Management teams might also consider adding a new delay code, "COVID-19", which can be used to determine what portion of a project was impacted by the coronavirus. 

Technology enables improved planning and communication, when used effectively. However, its use is more important now than ever to help keep construction teams safe and healthy, to ensure material delays don't become constraints for the field, and to keep projects moving forward efficiently.