The Black Swan in the Room

 In Mark's Message

I’m almost literally speechless at how much the landscape of pretty much everything has changed since I did my last Mark’s Message! How quickly this singular extraordinary event has forever changed everyone’s life! 

But, ok, I’m going to refrain from rehashing what all of us in the industry already know – this was and is a major “Black Swan” event. So, here we all are, in a bit of a limbo at the moment, not quite sure exactly where things are headed from an industry (and even personal) perspective. And I think I speak for everyone when I say yes, it’s a bit unnerving, to say the very least – there is a lot to fray at our nerves as well as the nerves of our industry. Companies and their workers have had to deal with the ongoing threat of serious on-site and in-office illness, along with unforeseen project delays on a massive scale. And with workers trying to understand their newest moniker of “essential worker” and what it means to their life, health and employment.

Let’s face it; the construction industry was already trying to remedy some existing challenges, including skilled labour shortages and an ageing workforce before this all happened. And sure, there are a lot of companies that were flush with projects-in-hand before all of this. But there is a definite possibility that as both the government and private sector try to recover financially from this over the next few years, that it may create a temporary slowdown in available projects and existing project pipelines. Make no mistake; we will see an industry that has been permanently changed with both the public health and economic effects of this for years to come.

Despite the cautiously optimistic news of slowly restarting the economy, there has already been quite a lot of damage done. And that’s, unfortunately, a reality that we all need to deal with. But out of this, people and companies need to take a very hard look at themselves, their processes, and their employee’s health and safety and mental health moving forward, and that’s not an easy thing for some companies or individuals to do. Only after that, can real change and societal shifts be made. “Business as usual” is currently a common term for businesses looking to foster a sense of normalcy in the crazy current reality. The reality is that it is not and will not be “business as usual” for years to come. Companies that either can’t or won’t change won’t survive this, and it’s really as simple as that!

Opportunity is Knocking

 The “Land of Milk n Honey” in our industry sure feels like it was a long time ago. The reality is that we have enjoyed a booming economy for well over 20 years running until we hit this “Black Swan” – the trigger for what economists say is an overdue recession. However, the construction industry is fortunate enough to have been one of the few sectors that have been able to continue most operations, albeit in a more limited way throughout all of this. When compared to other industries, the construction industry is significantly more likely to recover more swiftly than most other industries. However long that will take, coming out of this thing should be something the construction industry should be thinking about now. There’s a famous saying, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Meaning that there are a lot of opportunities to do things that you either couldn’t or simply wouldn’t have done before.

In spite of the over “covidi-fication” of everything right now, opportunity is everywhere. True collaboration and really supporting each other are just two of so many positive things that could come out of this situation. Do you have a competitor you have built a “wall” against? Maybe there’s an opportunity to share information to the industry’s benefit, just as one example, or collaborate with your competitor to find a creative solution to a common challenge. Companies and organizations across the industry can take this opportunity to galvanize and un-silo from different industry sectors. Real collaboration and cooperation at all levels of the construction industry is more important than ever before. 

There are also many opportunities to better communicate and engage with coworkers and employees. One of the hard facts of this situation is that it’s clearly exposed any gaps and cracks in companies, as it relates to pretty much everything from communication, to processes, to employee satisfaction, it’s all out there, right now, and ready to be addressed and improved upon. At an organizational level, let’s re-evaluate our processes, company structures, and projects from an honest and systematic perspective while understanding that we need to do our best to future-proof our businesses and the industry as a whole. A the end of the day, we all need to ask ourselves’s some hard questions:

  • How can do better ensure that our employees feel safer coming to work? 
  • Are we doing everything we can to keep our employees as safe as possible in any scenario?
  • How can we better utilize technology to improve both operations and safety? 
  • Are we doing enough to plan for future challenges?
  • Where did we fall short as a company through this unprecedented time?

The Future in a Nutshell

I’m definitely no “Nostradamus,” but I think that it’s pretty safe to make at least a few of the following educated assumptions; luckily, they are more on the positive side:

Health and Supply Chain Focused Construction:
Construction based around healthcare institutions, as well as other health-related manufacturing facilities, will increase.- obviously! This crisis has identified some bottlenecks that have created some real concerns in supply chains for many industries.  The movement of key manufacturing to North America and Canada will occur to avoid these issues moving forward. As a result, construction will increase for large warehouses and huge storage and distribution facilities – you are probably seeing the reaction from Amazon to their sales increasing by orders of magnitude – they are building everywhere!

Project Timelines:
Project timelines, no matter how big or small the project will take longer to complete due to a significant shift in safety policies and procedures, and due to supply chains snapping under pressure from worldwide disruptions. Creative approaches will be needed to counter the effect of project slowdowns – the opportunity for newer innovative construction methods could definitely be some low hanging fruit to help “juice” projects forward.

Remote Workplaces:
There will be a significant shift in the way the industry’s office staff work. With the realization of the effects on companies’ overheads, coupled with the fact that remote work can be done at a lesser cost, what was already beginning in some companies, will now become the norm.  Lets face it, commutes are getting longer and more awful and gridlock could be eased significantly from this move to remote work as a new standard..

Modular Offsite Construction:
With a lot more focus on employee and job site safety, there will likely be an acceleration on the focus on modular offsite construction. Modular construction can prevent or reduce close worker contact – building in panels allows for easier separation on-site.

Safer and Cleaner Sites:
With a renewed focus on employee health and safety, especially the thorough cleaning of job sites, tools, machinery sites will inevitably be a much cleaner, safer, and ultimately more pleasant places to work. We’ve been forced to clean up our act a lot more, and it will have positive effects on both our operations and employee satisfaction.

Self-monitoring employee health and safety apps, as well as a host of other emerging health-related technologies, will become a standard part of allowing entry onto job sites.

In Closing

Everyone wishes all of this would just go away. Wishing it so won’t change the facts – there is much evidence to suggest that this thing will be with us for the rest of the year and its effects and after-effects, much longer. This major worldwide event will definitely continue to form our industry in the coming years. Still, it doesn’t need to be a wasted experience if we can learn from it, from both a personal, professional and business perspective. Perhaps this is the terrible wake-up call we needed to do better for ourselves, our friends, families, and the environment as a whole. Let’s find the opportunity in this negative event, and let’s together turn it into positives. I would also like to personally extend our best wishes to you, our readers, as well as your families. We hope that you are all doing well. If there are any folks, our friends out there in the industry, who have ideas they want to talk through about how we can together improve the situation of our neighbours, friends and colleagues that are needing support, please contact me directly. If nothing else, we all need to take care of each other during this time.

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