24.06.2020

Collaboration remains key in this new normal

Zoe Price, Chief Operating Officer for UK Construction at Hub Framework Partner, ISG

By definition, built environment professionals are tenacious problem solvers – it’s in our DNA. Nothing in our sector is ever straightforward, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we’d miss the intellectual and practical challenge of devising solutions to seemingly impossible situations. In Covid-19, our entire industry and way of life has been challenged like never before, and the stakes couldn’t be higher as the daily government briefings so poignantly remind us.

There is no easy solution to this global pandemic, and when it comes to construction, we must adapt to this new normal quickly to avoid irrevocable damage to our sector, the wider economy and most importantly to the livelihoods of millions of people that support us. The new Nightingale Hospitals are a superb and immediate response from our industry, when the call to action came, and now we need to navigate an increasingly complex landscape of materials scarcity, labour shortages, squeezed finances and operational restrictions.

There’s much from that list that’s out of our hands, but the final point is something we can own and dedicate our problem solving and innovative skills to resolve. And that’s what we’ve been doing since the start of the outbreak, creating a new app that’s a dedicated information resource for tackling one of the largest challenges we all face on our sites – maintaining safe social distancing.

The response from our people and supply chain to the challenge of reimagining our standard processes and procedures, to incorporate strict adherence to social distancing requirements, has brought out brilliant creativity and innovation – some of which I’m sure will persist long after the pandemic has been defeated. This collaborative effort to develop new and safe operating solutions has proved a real highlight in these difficult times, creating a resource that we have actively shared with the industry via BuildUK’s excellent Covid-19 information portal.

But the collaboration has not ended there. Understanding the significant challenge that the education sector has in re-opening schools and colleges for pupils, whilst maintaining social distancing, has seen us working in partnership with Vale of Glamorgan council to develop a bespoke app to support education leadership teams. The rapid adaption of our existing site app for this new context reinforces the significant value of public private partnerships, and the capacity of our industry to provide agile solutions to shared problems.

It’s important to emphasise the key role that our supply chains have in keeping the show on the road. Without the input and creativity of our project partners, we could not have created the safe conditions to return back to work – and provide the resource that we have now shared with industry and the education sector. At a time when productivity is down, with a corresponding squeeze on cashflow, it’s vital that we work hard to create the best conditions for our suppliers to operate. Collaboration is again key, and we’re finding through surveys and regular webinars, that we’re able to provide targeted support that protects the skills and expertise we’re going to rely on as we emerge from this period.

Nobody can be clear on how long the pandemic will continue to impact our lives, but the consensus is clear that there isn’t going to be a fast exit from this crisis. That’s why it’s also important that we start to plan today for how we’re going to build those projects that are at the earliest stages of development. In the absence of a viable treatment or vaccination to Covid-19, social distancing is one of the most effective measures to control the spread of the virus. Social distancing is here to stay for the foreseeable future – so we need to design for these unique times.

It’s inevitable that the long-term consequence of this global pandemic is an even greater focus on offsite solutions, and the suite of innovations that sit alongside this methodology, including platform and standard component design, as well as Design for Manufacture (DfM). As we adapt to this new normal in the built environment, we shouldn’t be surprised if the future legacy is a smarter, more integrated and efficient sector – but of course with innovation and problem solving at its core.   

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