The construction industry is starting to get back to a ‘new normal.’ With recent commercial bidding activity surpassing pre-pandemic levels, according to the 2021 Autodesk Construction Outlook Report, new projects are flooding in for construction groups. This is both a blessing and a challenge, as moving forward in 2021 and managing the sudden influx of work will require construction leaders to leverage the tough lessons the industry learned in 2020.
On Episode 9 of Digital Builder, Gregg Schoppman, Principal at FMI, and Matt Steere, Construction Industry Strategist at Autodesk, join us to discuss the findings of the 2021 Autodesk Construction Outlook Report and how to manage the spike in project bidding activity this year. They also unpack what construction companies should be doing today to ensure success in 2021. Other topics we discuss include:
- How to use insights from the Outlook report to initiate a recovery from the pandemic
- Why expecting a full transition back to “normal” shouldn’t be our focus
- What the future of work looks like for construction in a post-COVID-19 world
- The pandemic’s impact on work culture for the construction industry
“If we’re returning to normal, we haven’t learned anything.” — Matt Steere
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Here are 3 things we learned about moving forward in the future of the construction industry in a post-COVID world:
1. Do more than just hire people.
It’s true—your company might be suddenly overwhelmed by jobs. It’s also true that there’s currently a labor shortage in construction. But don’t just hire people and put them to work. Do your firm’s future a favor and invest in a talent development program for your new and current employees.
“First and foremost, rather than just saying, ‘We need to go out and hire a bunch of people,’ [think about], what are we going to do once they get in the building?” Schoppman says. “What does [Company X] university look like at your company? And I know that could be a daunting proposition to say, ‘Well, we’re a $25-million mechanical [contractor], and you’re talking about having a university?’ Folks, it doesn’t need to be 800 courses. But if you have core values, what are we doing to train people to those core values?”
Also, make sure that your onboarding process is sound before you bring on new team members. Have goals, and a plan in place to achieve them.
“Other than just training on safety, what are we training on when it comes to productivity, customer management, and how to even set up your job appropriately?” says Schoppman. “What does onboarding look like in your company?”
Having a thorough onboarding and training program at your company will position you for any number of jobs, no matter how fast they come in. After all, you don’t want to be playing defense forever.
“I think those are the things to do now—start getting those things in place,” Schoppman says. “Because if the uptick continues, let’s make sure we’re not going to be playing more defense. If you’re a billion-dollar enterprise, you should already have a good talent development process.”
2. Invest in Your Processes
Although the best time to analyze and improve your processes is when work is slow, it’s still not too late to do it now. And while it might be more difficult in an era when jobs are steadily rolling in, it’s imperative that you take a hard look at the processes that are working for your team, and the ones that might need improvement.
“It’s never too late, right?” Steere says. “The best time for you to actually invest in your company and your people is when you’re slower, so you can take a step back, take a look at your processes and say, ‘What can we do better, or what can we do differently with technology to really help us?’ And if you didn’t do that in the last year, it’s okay. You can still do it. It might be a little bit more challenging because you’re pulling in all these bids and these new projects. But it’s really important that you take a look at the essential activities.”
Once you determine the essential activities on a jobsite, you should focus on the activities that support those essential functions, Steere says. Then you can continue evaluating what needs improvement and how to optimize it. In other words, to execute the jobs your team is on, prioritize the refinement of processes.
“You start to look at how you can adjust your workforce and how you can actually pull people in from technology to support your jobsite that don’t have to be there every single day,” says Steere. “My message is, it’s never too late, but you still have to go through the process. It might be a little more challenging now because you’re really busy or going to be really busy, but it’s never too late.”
3. Change Your Perception on Normalcy
Don’t get back to normal—get back to better. Hybrid work environments will have a lasting impact on the industry, so, Steere says, why not embrace them?
“I cringe at normalcy because I don’t think we’ll ever be back at normalcy,” says Steere, “but there’s a huge opportunity to actually make more money this way.”
This is all part of taking key learnings from the last year and putting them to work for a better future.
“If we’re returning to normal, we haven’t learned anything,” Steere says. “There are so many companies right now that are leveraging technology in this hybrid working environment, and they are making more money. So, how can you leverage that? You’re still going to have to manage when people come back to the jobsites [and] into the offices.”
“You have to think about how you’re going to integrate people back together and how they’re going to feel comfortable, safe, and you’re going to take care of them.”
Taking learnings from the last year and turning them into new opportunities in 2021 and beyond means embracing new ways of doing things—by choice. For many construction professionals, growth can come from introducing new or amplifying existing technology solutions and innovative thinking.
“Getting back to normal? No. Let’s get back to better.” Schoppman says. “We learned so much this last year about working virtually. I always use the phrase, we’re in the business of construction, not the construction business. And thinking about the business, the technology, let’s put some of these tools in our toolbox going forward. We should and have learned a lot. Let’s make sure we don’t forget those lessons.”