News continues to roll in about the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and the appropriate ways to mitigate the crisis. As governors and mayors issue executive orders canceling nonessential businesses, the construction industry has no choice but come up with a unique, unprecedented response.
Though some projects have been closed down by the orders, others are considered essential and can continue. Contractors say the health of their workers is paramount, and office employees are told to work remotely. But many leaders are still looking at ways technology can help their teams push projects forward.
“The majority of the industry isn’t as prepared for, or lacks experience, working remotely,” said Robert Yuen, CEO and co-founder of Monograph, a project management software company for the AEC industry.
But tech firms are plugging their solutions from all angles.
Construction management software maker Riskcast began waiving all implementation fees and offering 90-day system access to any new customer with no fees, the firm's co-founders told Construction Dive. Companies that do not want to continue using Riskcast after the 90 days will be able to export all payroll reports and other data for their own archiving purposes.
On March 25, Procore launched its integration with video conferencing software Zoom, allowing users to schedule meetings and video chats through Procore. The company also announced it will be hosting roundtable webinars on teleworking best practices through the use of its tech.
"As a software company we realize that we’re in a fortunate position to be able to continue to run our business remotely," CEO Tooey Courtemanche told Construction Dive. "[But] our customers are still out there building the hospitals that are so desperately needed, the homes we’re all working in today and the infrastructure we need to survive."
The new normal
Because there are so many jobsites still trying to meet their schedules, Construction Dive collected information from various AEC professionals last week to get a sampling of the industry’s response to work-from-home orders and possible solutions for construction firms to ensure they don’t fall behind. This week, more AEC leaders share new insight with us as site closures and working remote continues.
For example, Chris Fercho, strategic business consulting manager for Microdesk, considers the AEC industry "technology-heavy," and noted that players have been "putting cloud environments in place from both the design and preconstruction side" for some time. "So for those design teams and preconstruction teams, it comes down to the time it will take to transition to remote work and adapt to that new environment for it to become the 'new' normal,'" he said.
"For those in the field who are relied upon to build the projects on site, they do not have the luxury or choice to work remotely to continue with their work," Fercho continued. "But as we move forward in the industry, we hope this will make us take a step back and look at how our projects are being constructed with the standard practices in place, and maybe force us to look into the future for how we can improve the construction industry as a whole. This includes thinking about how we can build structures faster, more efficiently and more safely for everyone involved."
He went on to say that projects that are being delayed this week, for instance, could cause backups in the design side of the industry along with projects in the pipeline. "We already face a shortage of skilled workers in the industry and if those skilled workers are unable to work on current projects in major cities affected by this pandemic, this will in turn delay all future projects where their skills are needed," he said.
Greg Sizemore, vice president of health, safety, environment and workforce development for Associated Builders and Contractors said that as its 69 chapters and 21,000-plus members respond to the coronavirus outbreak in their areas the association "will also continue to adapt and implement the policies, best practices and technologies necessary to safely and ethically deliver work while following the recommendations issued by CDC and local health officials."
Kathleen MacNeil, a principal at MP Boston, said her team is exploring virtual ways to schedule workers and maintain social distancing guidelines, and noted geo-locating apps could be of extra service to ensure the spacing. She expected construction to resume in Boston as soon as the current ban is lifted.
"Construction has come a long way in the last few years and the industry is likely to come up with new innovations as a result of these challenging times," MacNeil said.
HoloBuilder offered some ways in which an individual worker — while following social distancing guidelines — can still make a difference on a jobsite. "These 360-degree cameras are small, hand-held devices that can be purchased online for a few hundred dollars. These devices allow one individual, usually a field engineer, to document the site by capturing photos, and if the camera is paired with dedicated software, the photos are organized on a floor plan automatically," said Harry Handorf, head of marketing communications. " All you need is one person in the field to capture to allow all stakeholders to gain virtual site access. Training takes 10 to 20 minutes and anyone can start capturing with a 360-degree camera."
Handorf mentioned that the software linked to the jobsite cameras can also be combined with video conferencing, which gives all players involved access up to 24/7 feeds.
His advice is to "capture frequently enough to keep your teams up to date. Usually we have seen [captures done once] per week, but given the current situation we see that frequency increase significantly. "