At the end of 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over, and making predictions for the year ahead seems challenging when we’re still such a long way from normality. But over the last 18 months, it’s become clear that being prepared for the unexpected – and ready to respond to change – is critical.
Positively, construction businesses and owners are already in a much better position than at the start of 2020 to deal with disruption. Organisations have worked hard to become more resilient, and improved their safety, quality and productivity in the process.
The year ahead will bring the chance to build on this progress, and put businesses in the best possible position in this difficult environment.
Here, our experts from across Europe and the Middle East share their thoughts on what might be next in 2022 – and how construction businesses can be ready to make the most of every opportunity.
Climate change becomes companies’ responsibility
Climate change and sustainability came to the top of the global agenda at the end of 2021. COP26 saw governments pledging to reduce national emissions and set new standards for every industry – and the impact for construction is already becoming clear around the world.
Governments are driving change particularly in the Middle East, according to Senior Customer Success Manager Mohammad Abou Assali: “Saudi Arabia has committed to reducing the carbon footprint of the construction industry. Because of the high level of public investment projects, in 2022 we’ll see greater pressure for contractors to find more efficient ways of doing things.”
New methodologies like prefabrication will provide the opportunity for projects to save carbon emissions, while lowering costs and unpredictability – and the UAE has mandated that 25% of buildings should be 3D printed by 2030.
In the Nordics, sustainability has been front of mind for a long time. But as District Manager Nicholas Klokholm explains, “In 2022, we’ll see higher demands for evidence and data on the impact of activities, to see exactly where carbon emissions are being saved.
“There will also be a move from focusing on more sustainable materials to construction processes themselves; for example, measures in Oslo to create materials hubs outside the city and optimise deliveries, to have one lorry a day rather than 20.”
Sustainability might not be an equal focus for construction in every country. But as District Manager for DACH, France and Spain Marvin Theissen highlights, simply focusing on operational efficiency will lead to more sustainable projects: “Think about waste management, doing more with less and finding better materials. It’s the same outcome.”
Connected construction sparks further workforce change
Countries across Europe and the Middle East have experienced acute talent shortages for some time. Sander Lijbers, District Manager at Autodesk, says that in Benelux and beyond “one of the biggest challenges for any construction company is to keep your people. In 2022, use technology to offer more modern ways of working. If you have a labourer that has to fill in a sheet of paper, day after day – and other repetitive, annoying tasks – then improve that.”
There will continue to be huge demand for digital skills. “Technology often doesn’t work the way it should, because it’s not adopted in the right way, which has to change,” explains Marvin. That will mean continuing competition for younger, digitally native employees and skilled graduates.
In Ireland, Brian Roche, Account Executive for UK & Ireland notes, “There’s huge competition for talent in every sector right now. I know very well from my teenage daughter that young people looking for new jobs don’t want to work for a company that seems to still be in the dark ages. Technology will be a critical part of attracting and retaining talent.”
There have been huge shifts in how construction teams work in the last year – and Nicholas highlights that 2022 should also be about supporting existing workers: “Organisations should be offering support throughout the implementation and beyond. Ensure it’s really easy for people to see why changes are happening too.”
Reverse mentoring is an important tool, Sander highlights: “Young people can educate the people that are already in construction companies in how to use modern devices and look at things differently. At the same time, more seasoned professionals will teach the young folks why things are as they are and give them the benefit of their experience.”
Brian concludes, “2022 will be about companies adapting to the hybrid workforce, which is here to stay. But businesses can also embrace the advantages. This opens up a wider talent pool, as remote working means it’s less relevant if people are based in Cork, Dublin, London or beyond.
“Connectivity can also be completely transformative for inclusion. If someone has a physical disability and can’t get on site, or caring responsibilities that limit time away from home, they can work virtually. Construction can benefit from much more diverse teams and access exceptional talent that was once locked out of our industry.”
Why 2022 will be the year of data quality
It’s clear that adoption of technology in the last 18 months has skyrocketed. As Brian explains, “If you can say that there’s been any benefit of Covid-19, it’s that it has pushed construction to where we should have been eight years ago: realising that technology is essential. If companies hadn’t had the ability to rapidly adopt technology and scale it up, construction would have been more than decimated over the last two years.”
The next step will be getting the fundamentals right. “In 2022, it will not just be about capturing data, but capturing meaningful data. Get that right and you can make informed decisions based on the right data,” says Sander.
Integration will also be critical. “Having multiple pieces of tech that don’t work with each other is a broken method,” explains Brian. “Ensuring people can access data whenever they need it is critical. That means companies addressing the size and complexity of their tech stacks. Instead of silos, create a common data environment.”
Moving from digitalising individual elements of projects to focusing on overall workflows is a common theme. Nicholas suggests, “Rather than looking at one specific process, start standardising the way you’re working across the company. Look at data on a more regular basis – day to day, not month to month. You’ll be able to see that the technology is working to improve outcomes – while enabling you to act on data to drive change.”
Getting data right in 2022 will put businesses in a position to start making use of machine learning and artificial intelligence in the future, according to Marvin – opening up even more exciting opportunities to improve.
One piece of advice for 2022
There’s plenty to think about for 2022 and beyond. But what will be the biggest opportunity for each region next year – and how can businesses prepare? Across the board, the key is continuing to move.
DACH, France and Italy: “Realise the value of your data – and trust it. For construction businesses, high quality data will mitigate against mistakes and disruption. For owners, data will show the value of your project and benefit asset management for years to come. Take control of your data, and don’t just leave it to contractors.” ~ Marvin Theissen
Benelux: “Technology can help construction businesses address lots of the challenges ahead: keeping your people, mitigating disruption from materials shortages, meeting sustainability targets. But we have to move from simply capturing data to capturing meaningful data – that will mean companies can make the right decisions, using the right data.” ~ Sander Lijbers
Saudi Arabia and UAE: “Owners – and government entities – are pushing for greater use of technology, which means businesses will need to act. Connected construction is evolving at a rapid pace; construction businesses should focus on digitalising workflows and exploring new ways of working to realise the opportunities in 2022.” ~ Mohammad Abou Assali
UK & Ireland: “Don’t stop now. Companies that start to settle back into less connected ways of working will find themselves pretty much irrelevant. Technology is absolutely a competitive differentiator in this highly competitive environment. Focus on connecting all the workflows of your projects and ensuring people have the information they need when they need it.” ~ Brian Roche
The Nordics: “Change is difficult – it doesn’t just happen; you have to be willing to dare to do it. Move from looking project by project, to taking a solid approach. Lead change from the C-suite, create a solid strategy and put resources behind it. Then be open and honest about what you’re looking to do. Digitalisation doesn’t happen overnight – but that in turn means if you’re behind today, you can become a leader – if you create a solid strategy and favour long-term benefits over short term wins.” ~ Nicholas Klokholm