COVID-19 crystal ball: How this crisis will transform the construction industry

By Peter Kray

CSI members discuss what they think will be the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on people’s lives at home and at work. Photo ©
CSI members discuss what they think will be the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on people’s lives at home and at work.
Photo ©

COVID-19 has already transformed our lives at home and at work. From a current discussion on the CSI Community, CSI members discussed what they think its long-term impact will be.

It is proven that we can do a lot more design work remotely. I think it would have taken 10 years for my firm to be this comfortable with this much staff working remotely, but we are seeing that our folks are still quite productive.

In fact, our firm signed up for the Architecture 2030 commitment in December, and our internal firm leadership review of the required sustainability plan happened about three weeks into our new stay-at-home protocol. The Partners are now talking about everybody doing a minimum of two days a week from home after this passes, just for the savings in fossil fuel consumption. I am certain they would not have come up with that before we had 100 percent of our staff working remotely.
Cam Featherstonhaugh CSI, CDT, AIA

The yin-yang of COVID-19
Yin and yang (or yin-yang) is a complex relational concept in Chinese culture applicable to current business practices in this era of COVID-19. This cosmic duality sets two opposing and complementing principles against each other in solving business and life situations. I would argue they are actually symbiotic relationships and are dependent upon each other.

The ying
Technology has become the great tool for communication, data processing, and design. It enables complex tasks to be performed quickly, efficiently, and correctly (for the most part). It has become necessary for business, entertainment, and life in general. How do we live in a world without Facebook and other electronic forms of social media?

The yang
Our reliance on technology has negatively impacted social, business, and reasoning skills.

Critical thinking is a necessary skill that is being lost, but is even more necessary in this COVID-19 period, when we may not have access to electronic tools or we need to consider options beyond the tools we have at our immediate disposal.

The conclusion
Total thinking is the implementation of this duality of critical thinking and electronic tools. Knowing how to use them together to solve the difficult problems we currently face is the solution. It is the marriage of old school and new school. Do not be stuck with only one way to solve any problem.
Dennis Hall FCSI, Lifetime Member, CCS, CCCA, CDT, FAIA, LEED

Great points Dennis! Your statement “Do not be stuck with only one way to solve any problem” is a good reminder for all to always have a plan B. With COVID-19 impacting how we work, live and breathe, it is making all of us rethink what’s truly important and how much we have taken for granted.
Alana Sunness Griffith, FCSI, Distinguished Member, CCPR, CDT

There are a few things that I see coming out of this in these areas.

How we work
As Cam mentions, the projects do not seem to be falling apart just because we are not all in the same office. Our office has been resistant to staggered work hours (with few exceptions) and I think there will be new acceptance of that, especially so people can commute during non-peak hours. We have actually had higher remote ‘attendance’ at our all-staff meetings than we typically get in person. We are exploring the use of remote cameras for our site visits.

The work we do
Office planning has been moving toward stuffing as many people into the space as possible, and I think we are going to see owners want to provide their staff with more space. The idea of ‘hot-desking’ may be a quick fad that is over with (will anyone ever want to share a desk again?).

The lives we live
I think everyone knows how much of a waste commuting is, and around our office I hear more people are sleeping better, eating better, and getting more exercise. We might want to structure our lives going forward to incorporate those things a little more.
Anne Whitacre FCSI, CCS, LEED AP

Positive outcomes of shelter-in-place era
(In my humble opinion)

  1. Extra time allotted to prepare taxes.
  2. Stimulus check…well for some of us.
  3. Healthier daily routine. Extra sleep, less stress, and more home cooked meals. Also, for those of us that usually sit behind a desk all day, we are now more enticed to go for a walk.
  4. Immediate family relationships strengthened.  Okay, maybe challenged, but hopefully for the better.
  5. Less earth vibration. Less vibrating of earth has given seismologists extra sensitive readings and data. I would think these can be used as a new norm against future readings.
  6. Air quality index (AQI) has greatly improved. Air pollution has dropped 30 percent. Ozone is strengthened. It will be interesting to see how quickly it returns to previous conditions. What effect will this have on global warming?
  7. Internet services will become a priority.
  8. Increased development of drones, robots, and artificial intelligence (AI). Increased use of internet of things (IoT) to lessen the need for centralized data storage maintenance and security.
  9. Biometrics increased for secured technology. Decentralized data will become more of a security concern at IoT nodes.
  10. Hopefully an upgrade to the 30-year-old computer system at the unemployment office. Y2K COBOL programmers are once again in high demand. However, it seems that paying people for not working has never been a priority.
  11. Increased telecommuting. Telecommuting has finally become acceptable to businesses that usually discourage it, thinking employees will not be as productive. Many seem to have discovered they are more productive, but would this trend continue once people leave their houses, and lose that concentrated focus? I think some personalities were made for working at home and some were not.
  12. Video conferencing has become ubiquitous and norm. This has forced many who were resistant to current technological trends to join the modern world.
  13. Attendance levels of meetings and communications increased. There are fewer pending distractions that keep people from being available for a video-conference, since they are always, ‘in their office.’
  14. Hot-desking/desk sharing becomes discouraged. This has always been a practice undesired by employees but encouraged by management. Now that sharing space is no longer considered safe, employees can legitimately request to have their own private workspace, if they must work at the office.
  15. Home-schooling no longer ostracized. Everyone with kids will now have firsthand experience of objectively understanding the realities of home-schooling. Unfortunately, this will be minus the management and scheduling of extracurricular activities.
  16. Training webinars have increased access to current information that improves overall job knowledge base, which improves the levels of the knowledge base across all employees.
  17. Universities will further develop and expand their digital offerings. Hopefully this will increase education and lower costs.
  18. Local sustainability awareness rises for domestic product supply, and less reliance on other regions. If we cannot support ourselves, we cannot support anyone else either.
  19. Remote web-cam observations increase record keeping for construction site work status and progress observation documentation.
    Amy Haynes CSI, CDT

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3 comments on “COVID-19 crystal ball: How this crisis will transform the construction industry”

  1. Not that codes will change with respect to occupant loads, but people’s perception of when a space, indoors or out, looks too crowded, and they decline to enter, may have been fundamentally changed.

    The ubiquitous Fire Dept. Maximum Occupant Load sign may also get a temporary change.

  2. I don’t get it. Throughout this whole COVID-19 pandemic I’ve worked from the office, and not from home. Office staff not exceeding 10 persons, and we all have our own individual nesting places from which we work. Majority being isolated office spaces, with exception to open reception and shared spaces, being restrooms, kitchen/break room, circulation areas, and shared work space areas like copier/printer spaces, conference rooms, and work table areas. How much time of the day you spend in these areas with others, touching and sharing the same surfaces is what is most crucial to the response of COVID-19. Prevention measures to safe guard from contracting the virus. If anything, we have all respectfully reacted to and are following the importance of personal hygiene to wash your hands and cover your cough. What is most affected is how often are you seen and involved or in contact with persons. Individual, personal communication. Your ability to be easily available to communicate, and effectively respond when communicating. What is the importance of your interactions, research, and documentation of response. Where does this take place, to be performed efficiently and effectively with minimal distraction and controlled interaction. A place where you can engage, react, perform critical thought, and present your conclusion. It comes down to your presence, ability to reached, and your effectiveness and ability in responding to interactions. What places and tools do you require to be an important and effective individual that persons want to interact with you. Let’s face it, when you are dead. You are dead. Keep on living!

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