How Has the Coronavirus Changed the Construction Industry? A Look at New Best Practices for Construction Companies

COVID-19 safety measures have created operational challenges for businesses across all industries, forcing many to make major changes just to stay open.

As plans for reopening continue to take shape (or in some states, are being scaled back), the construction industry faces its own unique hurdles, including all-new guidelines, mandates and procedures for resuming existing work and starting new projects.

What are these new changes and how are builders coping with this new reality?

Northwest Partitions examines how the global pandemic is impacting commercial construction companies and the new best practices informing the industry.

Northwest Partitions: The Pandemic and Its Impact on Construction Companies

Construction companies across the U.S. have been dealing with the economic and operational consequences of coronavirus firsthand and have felt the impact of the crisis in a number of ways.

Project freezes

At the outset of the crisis, commercial project freezes were not universal across the country. Still, many contractors were forced to shut down jobsites and stop work due to state and local stay home orders, while others voluntarily paused work because of general worker health and safety concerns.

In places like Washington state, exceptions to state and local moratoriums were often made for projects deemed “essential,” while other job sites deemed “non-essential” remained closed. This created significant project delays and severely impacted construction companies who could no longer meet project deadlines. 

For the most part, lockdowns and construction project freezes are being lifted around the country. But, with general uncertainty and infection rates varying by region, it is difficult to say if or when local authorities will reinstate project freezes.

Supply chain disruption

As the pandemic worsened, entire industries came to a near-complete standstill, creating severe logistical and transportation problems for suppliers and supply chains around the world. 

While many supply issues have been corrected or have improved in the last few months, that initial disruption resulted in further project slowdowns that are still plaguing contractors and jobsite productivity.

This is particularly true for builders that rely on materials and supply chains originating overseas, many of which are already subject to a number of challenges in terms of shipping, transport and tariffs.

New workplace policies and practices

As Northwest Partitions knows, the pandemic and recent reopening guidelines have challenged construction companies to rethink how they carry out day-to-day operations. 

In many cases, the result has been a thorough reevaluation, design and implementation of policies and procedures that not only protect workers’ health and safety, but do so while maximizing onsite efficiency and productivity. 

Depending on the size and focus of a firm, such an undertaking can require a significant commitment of time, money and labor, and which can ultimately strain project and company budgets. 

How long will this impact last?

The long-term effects of the current health crisis on the construction industry remain unknown, but Northwest Partitions is staying informed and knows what commercial construction firms need to operate in the short-term, particularly if they hope to remain productive and competitive in the months and years ahead. 

New Best Practices for Construction Companies

Northwest Partitions understands that maintaining efficient operations during the global pandemic is not without some considerable challenges. 

Yet, a few industry best practices have emerged to help construction companies adapt to new realities, keep workers safe and maintain project productivity even in uncertain times.

1. Jobsite safety, reimagined

COVID-19 has brought new meaning to the phrase “jobsite safety,” renewing the emphasis on safe work practices that minimize onsite hazards and keep workers healthy. Construction firms in the greater Seattle area and around the country are implementing new jobsite protocols to protect crews and minimize project disruption.

Some of these new practices include:

  • Increasing perimeter security and strictly controlling access to the worksite
  • Performing temperature checks on workers at the start of each day
  • Increasing access to handwashing stations and sanitizing opportunities throughout the site
  • Mandating use of PPE including gloves, masks and protective eyewear 
  • Comprehensive policies and procedures for disinfecting tools, equipment and surfaces
  • Staggered employee schedules and start times whenever possible
  • Training, implementation and monitoring of sitewide social distancing policies

2. Increases in remote work

Working from home is not an option for construction laborers, equipment operators and other onsite personnel, but for office and support staff, more construction companies are turning to video conferencing and remote work technologies to keep employees safe while also keeping things running.

More U.S. construction firms are also utilizing video and telework to conduct meetings with clients, inspectors and subcontractors to reduce face-to-face interaction. While this type of communication is not always possible, it does help eliminate unnecessary site visits. 

While the country experienced a surge in remote work as a result of the pandemic, the savings it may produce in terms of time and money could give it staying power long after the crisis has subsided.

3. Reliance on remote technology

Video conferencing is not the only web-based innovation changing project operations. In fact, many contractors are testing a variety of hi-tech tools to streamline processes, facilitate engagement, maintain social distancing and complete routine tasks in and around the jobsite.

  • Go Pro: Some construction companies are now using GoPro technology to record project progress and update teams on the latest developments
  • Tech-powered safety gear: Tools like sensor-infused hard hats and motion-activated voiceover technology help remind workers to socially distance while on site
  • Remote temp takers: New, automated temperature screening devices allow many firms to take and record worker temperatures from a remote location

Construction companies throughout greater Seattle and the country are using remote technologies to improve site safety and expedite everyday processes.

4. Slower project pace

As Northwest Partitions knows, implementing new, sweeping safety measures across jobsites takes time. This often adds to project timelines and pushes back critical project milestones. 

Fewer onsite workers, more pre-work preparation and more time dedicated to cleaning are slowing down builds and limiting opportunities to fast-track projects, at least in the short-term. 

While it is unknown how long this trend will last, it is currently extending many commercial projects and forcing some painful reevaluations of project plans, schedules and deadlines.

It is possible that increased familiarity with these measures will gradually reduce the time needed for implementation. Until that happens, construction companies will need to factor these new procedures into project planning and pricing. 

5. Creative alternatives to supply chain delays

Many builders in the U.S. are experiencing material shortages and delays due to COVID-related shake-ups in the global supply chain. 

This pushed many contractors to identify new, more creative solutions for sourcing much-needed materials, including a commitment to ordering from suppliers closer to home. 

Many construction companies are now teaming up with clients, subcontractors, architects and trade partners to identify shortages and develop solutions that allow projects to move forward. 

Northwest Partitions: Western Washington’s Drywall and Framing Leader

Northwest Partitions (NWP) is the leader in western Washington metal stud framing, drywall and paint applications. 

For 38 years, NWP has delivered high-quality drywall and framing solutions to clients across greater Seattle, earning the reputation as the best in the industry. 

Whether your commercial construction project is in downtown Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, Everett or beyond, NWP ensures attentive customer service and superior-quality results. 

Visit NWP or call 425-375-2500 to learn more. 

Want the latest on drywall and metal stud framing? Visit NWP on Facebook and Twitter

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