Over the past 5-10 years, many businesses have become accustomed to a remote based, or “work from home” model. Construction, however, has resisted that trend due to both attitude and necessity. With the occurrence of the Covid-19 pandemic, a paradigm shift has occurred that has changed the way in which the construction industry views remote work.
According to Construction Executive, remote work in the construction industry is likely here to stay - “While construction workers may not be able to work remotely for most of their tasks, much of the support staff may be able to, including the back-office workers, billing and accounting employees, and other support staff. Reducing on-site staff can help companies manage costs, decrease office overhead and apply the savings to the new safety measure and better technology.”
This comes as a change for contractors. Generations of construction company employees have worked predominantly in the field - performing the physical work of construction. A “you’re working if I can see you” philosophy has largely transferred to the business operations of a construction company. Whether it’s IT, Business Development, or Finance, the expectation for employees of construction companies is that work gets done in two places - on the jobsite, or in the office.
With the arrival of Covid 19 contractors had no choice but to embrace work-from-home options for their employees - it was the only way to keep operations running! Technology has enabled contractors to move forward, but it hasn’t been without challenges.
As Construction Dive noted in an interview with Robert Yuen, CEO and co-founder of Monograph, “Adjusting to a remote-work environment is putting pressure on firms that have not invested in internal knowledge documentation, communication tools … robust video conferencing tools ... and real-time project management solutions that keep everyone in sync,” Yuen told Construction Dive. “A second pain point is a lack of remote-friendly infrastructure”, he added. “For example, we’ve found that many firms and their IT departments have struggled with seat-based licensing specifically with their modeling software.”
The construction industry is learning what other industries have long known - remote work can also be productive, well managed work. While in the past an appealing office environment (onsite childcare and recreation, meal subsidies, etc.) was used as a hiring incentive. Today, employers who offer work from home as an option - or provide an entirely remote employer model - are the companies of choice.
Certainly pandemic-related health and safety concerns rank at or near the top of the list. Broadly though, according to a recent Chicago Tribune article referencing a Pew Research Center report regardless of industry or demographic, employees prefer to work remotely. “Most Americans now teleworking from home want to keep doing so. The national survey of U.S. adults reveals that while the coronavirus may have changed the location of our jobs — whether in an office or from home — it hasn’t significantly reshaped our work duties and culture for a majority of employed adults.
Another third said they’d want to work from home some of the time. A very small share want to go back to the office full-time,” said Juliana Horowitz, associate director of social trends research at Pew Research Center and one of the coauthors. Those working from home all or most of the time now see clear upsides with telework. About half (49%) of Americans now have more flexibility to choose when they put in their hours, and 38% say it’s easier to balance work with family responsibilities, according to the report.
Those who serve the construction industry as advisors and partners have embraced the shift to remote work - regardless of their prior beliefs.
“When the pandemic hit, we had just opened a physical office in Toronto and were discussing expanding our corporate headquarters in Santa Barbara,” explains Bassem Hamdy, CEO of Briq. “Of course, we immediately closed our physical offices in order to keep our people safe. Quite frankly, I had always been a skeptic about work-from-home, so we put a pretty rigid plan in place that involved daily stand up meetings for individual teams, as well as tight coordination among our leadership. If I’m being honest, we’ve had a great outcome. We can hire talent wherever it is, our people have found ways to collaborate and communicate productively, and our morale is really high. We will remain a remote-first employer even after the restrictions of Covid have passed.”
Whether by choice or necessity it is apparent that the construction industry has broken through the mindset against remote work. How many companies continue to embrace this model in the years ahead remains to be seen, but the lessons learned in a time of crisis have proven that an industry with a deeply embedded tradition of on site work has the ability to change course when needed.
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