It’s no secret that 2020 was a difficult year for everyone in the construction industry, both personally and professionally. The industry faced extraordinary challenges that changed everything from how we work to how we think of safety, which projects will take priority over others, and so much more.
But with resilience, innovation, and optimism, we made it through. We are now more than a month into the new year, with a renewed hope for better days to come. As we get deeper into 2021, we want to honor and learn from the construction leaders who remained strong and resilient, not just for themselves, but for their teams.
Each week on our Digital Builder podcast, we explore themes from leading experts in the construction technology field. On Episode 7 of the podcast, I speak with Samiha Shakil, Sr. VDC Engineer at Skanska, and Carolina Alvarez, President & Founder of J&S Building Maintenance, both nominees for Autodesk’s 40 Under 40: Champions of Construction 2020. We look back on the last year, and talk through how they stayed strong in the face of unprecedented adversity, including:
- How they kept their teams operating through the pandemic
- The silver linings coming out of 2020
- Their predictions for the construction industry in 2021
“The definition of a hero is not to be strong when it’s easy, but it’s to be strong when it’s difficult.” — Carolina Alvarez
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Key Takeaways from Episode 7
On how to keep teams operating safely through the pandemic
3:23 Carolina Alvarez:
We quickly had to make sure that everybody was able to have their PPE, and put plans into action to be able to go back to work. And just like everyone else in our industry, we could not find PPE anywhere. So I was driving to San Diego, close to the border to pick up stuff. I had to drive to Nevada, I drove to Utah. And this is from having friends in the industry who were like, “Yeah, we have some, come meet us. We’ll give it to you.” We also had clients that were shutting down, that were not able to open up again, and I wanted to make sure that we were able to keep everyone on board.
I didn’t want to do layoffs, and so I was like, “Okay, well, let’s see where we can put so-and-so, maybe they can go help another person.” We definitely struggled those first 60 to 90 days. But once things turned around and we were hiring more people because we needed the extra people, we wanted to pay it forward. We know there’s a lot of nonprofit organizations that also couldn’t get donations and couldn’t get the things that they needed, such as PPE. So once I was able to find a supplier that could help us out, I wanted to pay it forward. I bought a bunch of stuff and started delivering to these nonprofit organizations as well. But again, I think the unsung heroes are my staff in the field really.
On the silver linings of 2020
24:18 Samiha Shakli:
So broadly for the industry, I think we’ve proven increased adaptability. Construction is known to be an industry that is very slow to change, but I think that we’ve proved otherwise, and we shouldn’t stop here. The door is open and there is an abundance of technology out there, and it’s worth the effort of the research and development to find the right fit. Skanska has been on the path of digitization and construction tech for a while, but this year, I just feel like I’ve seen a collective growth and acceleration in that desire to adapt and use new technology. Whereas, I feel like a few years ago, just as a whole, and I think this is a common thing in the industry, maybe we don’t trust the technology that’s coming out.
On how construction is constantly producing data
32:34 Samiha Shakli:
We, as people who are in this construction environment, are producing data and utilizing data in ways that we’re not really cognizant of all the time.
On predictions for the construction industry in 2021
36:35 Carolina Alvarez:
I think 2021 is going to be working together, sharing your knowledge, seeing what we can give back so that we can bring the economy back and everyone back to work.
Knowledge is power. Having that knowledge and being able to access these tools that we put in place, or maybe that were already there, but nobody was using them. It starts at the top. If your management doesn’t want to, then everyone else is just not going to follow. I think it’s amazing to think we don’t need an office anymore. We don’t need to come to the office because now we can access all these amazing tools online. We have platforms, and we have so much that we can do anywhere in the world. I think that we’re going to see a lot more in the digital world, for sure.
42:27 Samiha Shakli:
I really hope we can all, as an industry, come up to speed and do this together. And I would love to say that I hope that companies across the board focus on training their employees. It doesn’t have to be on how to use a 360 camera, it doesn’t have to be on how to use a laser scanner, but it could be various workflows that will save you time, because we shouldn’t have processes that bog us down. Everyone’s time is very valuable, especially in a fast moving industry like ours. So I hope, as a whole, we all just focus on building power users within our industry and then kind of spreading that information, and collectively moving forward together.
Interested in learning how construction firms can stay resilient in 2021 and beyond? Check out our Resiliency Playbook series filled with strategies, best practices, and insights from leading firms, construction experts, and thought leaders.