Industry | Construction

 
 
 
 

What lies ahead for
UK construction?

 
 

2020 was meant to be a boom year for UK construction.

The government’s National Infrastructure Strategy was set to invest £100 billion in construction across the UK, including transport, local growth, decarbonisation and digital infrastructure.

There was promised investment in Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Midlands Rail Hub. Plans for 40 new hospitals. Even a new Social Housing Paper that was supposed to launch a housebuilding revolution.  

Then came Covid-19.

And the construction sector was forced to rethink everything, almost overnight.

 
 
 
 

How prepared were you to deal with COVID-19?

 
 

Source: Virgin Media Business conversations with 127 customers and Global Data survey (230 c-level leaders within UK enterprise and public sector)

 
 
 
 

The lockdown effect

As the first national lockdown took hold across the UK, many construction sites closed straight away. 

But with a large number of projects required to continue as ‘essential work’, many more remained open. 

This meant the immediate impact of the pandemic was not as painful as in some other industries. But the disparity of open building sites and closed suppliers caused problems. Distribution issues made raw materials scarce, and prices skyrocketed. Constructors’ revenue began to decline.

The impact was felt on site and in offices. Increased health and safety measures, put in place to protect workers from the virus, meant fewer employees were allowed on site at any one time.

The sector pushed on, under a looming cloud of contractual uncertainty around the risks and costs of project delays.

With a third national lockdown now in place, the sector is again better positioned to recover than most industries as construction sites are allowed to remain open.

Projects will continue moving ahead, even though we may see further disruption to supply and distribution networks, and non-essential workers will need to operate remotely again.

This is fuelling optimism that there are clearer skies ahead for the sector’s long-term recovery.

 
 

In our recent study of c-suite constructors, speaking to our customers and the industry at large , 67% believed the sector is well placed to recover, with high demand being supported by government provisions to encourage people to spend.

This is largely due to high demand supported by government provisions to encourage consumer spend e.g. extension of the help to buy scheme

Source: Virgin Media Business conversations with 127 customers and Global Data survey (230 c-level leaders within UK enterprise and public sector)

The sector is open-minded about new technologies and working practices that will drive collaboration and productivity. 

If both are used to full effect, there are opportunities for the taking. 

Given that lockdown restrictions may last until spring, a positive attitude towards innovation will be vital to keeping people working together effectively.

 
 
 
 

Customer priorities post COVID-19

 
 
 
 
 
 

Construction and the new workforce

When you think of construction, you naturally think of a physical business. 

People working on site. Project managers and architects supervising in person. 

Yet Covid-19 and two national lockdowns have exposed this thinking as outdated. They have forced many construction businesses to positively think about how they can give their workforce the freedom to work remotely over the long term.

Out of all those we spoke to across private and public sectors, construction organisations showed the most willing to reduce office space and embrace remote working for back office staff. 

Many tasks relating to building documentation and management can be done remotely, and 

55% said they would have fewer in-person meetings with customers in the future, while 65% believed they would adopt more flexible working practices. 

None of the respondents expected to revert back to their pre-Covid practices, while 55% predicted their future workforce would include a higher proportion of home workers.

The tele-building revolution will ensure all non-essential construction workers can remain at home while working. 

 
 

investment in collaboration tools that promote mobile working will allow projects managers and architects to keep on top of progress through video calls into sites.

The expectation is of a drastically changed workforce. One that will need to overcome a range of IT challenges to maintain productivity. 

Some of the challenges result directly from constructors’ attempts to quickly adapt to Covid. 

When the first lockdown hit, 60% of businesses in the industry were required to switch to remote working overnight, causing hardware shortages and strained networks. The pressing need for a quick fix also raised concerns over security and integration with overall IT strategies, while highlighting problems with business legacy systems.

 
 
 
 

Construction had a relaxed approach, sites were open, 200
people down to 50 at scattered sites. The challenge was to set
them up – server-based software doesn’t work on VPN. Educating
older users how to work from home was tricky.

IT Manager, Construction Customer

 
 
 
 

IT challenges faced in responding to
COVID-19 and its aftermath

It’s unsurprising, then, that 40% of constructors say they need external help in
managing their post-Covid IT needs. Companies in the sector will require an
expert partner to work with them along the road to rebound.

 
 
 
 

Covid has positively forced us to
do what we always thought was
impossible: give our workforce
the freedom to work remotely.

IT Manager, Construction Customer

 
 
 
 

Creating collaborative construction

With overnight remote working fixes and a fragmented supply chain, communication between teams has never been more vital, particularly during lockdown periods. 

Collaboration between designers, engineers, consultants and contractors needs to be effectively managed in new ways to guarantee consistent quality of work across all these elements.

Whereas once this would have been done on site, that co-ordination now needs to happen virtually to mitigate risk and reduce waste.

 
 

Cloud-based project management software is the answer. Programmes like Monday.com and CoConstruct can maintain efficiency and visibility across the entire range of project stakeholders. 

This can help construction companies make the critical and informed decisions they need to make every day, reducing delays and ensuring projects remain on track. Hybrid solutions that combine scheduling and collaboration tools can offer the greatest convenience.

 
 
 
 

Our Network has coped pretty well during Covid, so for now
we’re not looking to fix anything that isn’t broken. However, we
will still be continuing with our SD WAN trials in the spirit of
futureproofing. We see the real benefits sitting with our office
staff who will receive better quality of service with increased
use of video conferencing and streaming.

IT Manager, Construction Customer

 
 

Augmented Reality will also allow teams the virtual experience of being inside buildings. Investment in this technology will improve safety for employees and give companies the means to collaborate on the creation of a space before committing to a design and build.

 
 

Why does all this matter?

With greater collaboration comes greater results. 

Good communication avoids costly mistakes and increases productivity, keeping clients satisfied that projects are happening on time and under budget.

 
 
 
 

Meeting the sustainable construction challenge

The construction industry is under immense pressure to adopt more low carbon, sustainable methods of construction. 

The industry currently accounts for 10% of UK greenhouse gas emissions

There’s scrutiny on businesses to reduce this. The government’s Construction 2025 strategy is pushing for a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the built environment by 2025. 

Companies and suppliers that are skilled in green construction will lead the market.

 
 

Modern methods of construction like better waste management and sustainable modular construction will certainly play their part in this mission. 

But so will technological innovations.

Again, collaboration tools are vitally important. Clear communication will ensure wastage is kept to a minimum. It means the right amount of raw materials can be delivered to a site, and only when they’re needed, which will have a knock-on effect of lowering emissions. 

 
 
 
 

Keeping information secure

With its diverse range of project stakeholders, situated across a range of sites and locations (including temporary offices), the risks of cyber-attacks in construction are high. 

On any project, information, plans and employee records might be shared between multiple different organisations and a range of devices. Security needs to be watertight, especially on government projects that may include especially sensitive information.

The use of secure, flexible networks is the way to keep this data safe.

SD-WAN, for instance, uses high-standard encryption and firewall technology. It can adapt its security using real-time threat intelligence, delivered through the cloud – essential in a world where cyberthreats are rapidly changing and escalating.

Having a secure network lets companies preserve client confidentiality. It can give clients peace of mind, providing complete control and visibility of which stakeholders are allowed to view sensitive project information.

 
 
 
 

The nature of construction means we need to be flexible so we
can scale or descale when needed. Cloud is sometimes a red
flag for the board because they automatically assume it’s less
secure. But anyone could walk into our data centre

IT Manager, Construction Customer

 
 
 
 

Everyday solutions for revolutionary outcomes

Everyone makes use of the built environment. So it is no exaggeration to say that everyone can benefit from a construction industry enhanced by the better sharing of knowledge, data and resources. 

It could be the factor that allows a person’s dream home to be built on time. Or lets a company move to the next stage of its growth in an advanced, sustainable office block.

 
 

If a construction company can enhance the productivity and security of its flexible workforce, enabling better project management across its network of stakeholders, it will find itself on the road to recovery from the impact of Covid-19.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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what's happening
in other sectors?

 
 

Want to know what's happening in other sectors?