Neil Coales, managing director, Agilité looks at five ways in which the sector construction services sector may continue to evolve.

The construction services sector is often complex, particularly when working on a continent-wide scale. But, the challenges created by COVID-19 has heralded a fresh approach to project management and delivery. For Pan-European construction company Agilité – which specialises in helping organisations enter, relocate or expand throughout the continent – change is already afoot.

1. The development of a wider supply chain network

What has been interesting to note thus far, is the disparities between countries in their reactions to the pandemic. Europe has not been uniformed in its approach, and the speed and level of lockdown has provided additional challenges not just on site, but within the supply chain too.

As sites slowly begin to reopen, Agilité is working hand-in-hand with our clients and their teams, given the only way the industry will progress, is by working as a team.

In these early stages, firms whose suppliers are spread across the globe will find that many – if not all – have been forced to significantly reduce operations, extend delivery times or close altogether. As such, procurement teams are looking for new purchasing options without a lengthy lead-time, in order to ensure delays aren’t passed onto the client.

While Agilité Solutions hasn’t noticed a hike in the price of materials – as yet – there has already been a notable impact to the bottom-line. This is largely as a direct response to the necessary roll-out of new health and safety measures, as well as the costly transport and movement of goods.

2. Heightened health and safety

Industries the world over are planning or executing tentative steps to reopen for business. Belgium and France, for example, are slowly starting to allow construction work to recommence – albeit under extremely strict government guidelines and with social distancing measures front-and-centre.

Given the nature of building work, it is often the case that two or more employees may need to be in close proximity during the fit-out process, therefore sourcing and distributing the correct PPE before workers even enter the site, is key.

Internal layouts and logistics – such as corridors, staircases and walkways – need to be completely reconsidered before teams return to site. If a pathway isn’t wide enough for two people to pass safely, routes must be established to ensure individuals travel in one direction.

Historically, we have seen sub-standard hygiene provisions by a handful of firms, but any remotely unsanitary infrastructure will no longer be tolerated. The focus on cleaning regimes is already apparent, with refectories and cafés needing to be attended to every three hours, and designed in a way which maintains a safe distance between employees when they remove their masks to eat and drink.

3. Longer lead times

The knock-on effect for the sector means that there is only half the number of workers on site as most would ordinarily plan for – resulting in a longer lead-time for any project schedule.

The key to maintaining success here, is to keep the client informed via regular update and review meetings. And, if team members have additional downtime, look at how their levels of service might be enhanced. Time allows more thought and consideration to go into every element of a task – both in the personal and professional sense. So, in our world, design, procurement, and value engineering can all be bolstered during this transition period.

Of course, normality isn’t going to be regained like the turning on of a tap either – it won’t all flow back into place at once. We’re going to be in a state of flux for some time and need to adapt accordingly.

4. New approaches to interior design and layouts

Businesses the world over are reassessing their interior configurations. Whether it’s overhauling the traditional liner office layout or re-evaluating a close-quarters café culture – the design of places where people meet will have to be revisited.

Alongside the reactive changes which will need to be made before organisations reopen their doors, there will inevitably be a longer-term shift in the design of communal areas. Take one of Agilité Solutions’ own projects, for example – a client has asked for a planned breakout space to be reconsidered in order to reduce the number of surfaces which have the potential for contamination.

These don’t have to be revolutionary adaptations - simple solutions such as automatic on/off sensors for taps, new seating layouts and alternative materials, all play a vital role.

5. Flexible working and new shift patterns

Firms which have long-held a flexible working policy have been far better-equipped to adapt to this ‘new normal’ – and all signs point to a more dynamic approach to the ‘nine-to-five’ moving forward.

Traditional shift patterns will be a thing of the past – with each industry and firm reinventing their daily routines. In construction, for example, working hours may change to ensure not everyone arrives at the same time – at least for the next six months.

There needs to be a degree of process flexibility too – and an understanding of which elements you can and can’t be adaptable on. Project managers must be clever throughout the end-to-end delivery and look closely at timelines to see if the number of personnel on site can be adjusted accordingly – and which elements must be completed prior to the next phase starting.

Ultimately, people want to be back at work. However, if this pandemic has taught us anything, an appropriate compromise must be given between clients, suppliers and staff, to deliver projects on time, within budget and above all, safely.