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Mitigating COVID’s Impact on Construction Projects

by Marilee Bodden

 

COVID-19 has disrupted just about every aspect of life over the past 24 months, so it should be no surprise that construction projects haven’t been immune to its impact. According to a survey conducted by the Association of General Contractors, almost 90% of contractors report experiencing COVID-related project delays. Common reasons for these delays include longer lead times, lack of available materials, delivery issues, and workforce shortages.

The bottom line: thanks to COVID, it’s become even more challenging to deliver construction projects on time and on budget.

The pandemic has created more risk and unpredictability. And given the complexity of even relatively small construction projects, that means that your exposure as an owner has never been greater. Whether you’re opening a new school, building a state-of-the-art healthcare facility, or expanding a commercial site, COVID has significantly increased the odds that your project will go off the rails at some point.

While it’s impossible to fully eliminate risk, we can improve our ability to anticipate it . . . and in doing so, better mitigate its impact. Here are the most common COVID-related construction problems:

Supply Chain Disruptions

One of the most-publicized impacts of COVID has been its impact on the global supply chain. No industry has been immune, but construction has been particularly hard hit. As foreign sources of both raw materials and finished goods have been impacted through closures or labor slowdowns, the trickle-down effect has been felt domestically. Long shipping delays have been common, with work sometimes forced to stop entirely until some critical component finally arrives. 

And materials aren’t just harder to find, they’re also more expensive. Supply chain slowdowns have caused significant inflation. Steel prices, for example, have risen over 219% since early 2020 alone.

Labor Shortages

COVID has also severely disrupted the workforce. Whether it’s due to company-wide layoffs, sick employees, or workers changing careers as part of the so-called “Great Resignation,” the result can be a critical shortage of labor on your job site.

According to a study conducted by the Association of General Contractors in September 2021, almost 90% of contractors surveyed report difficulties in finding craft workers . . . and that was before the Omicron surge.

Backlog Increases

As a result of labor disruptions and supply chain issues, there’s been a corresponding increase in construction backlog, or the amount of work that construction companies are set to do in the future. In fact, the backlog for single-family homebuilding jumped to a 15-year high in November 2021. That trend isn’t limited to residential construction, either — commercial construction companies also report virtually unprecedented levels of backlog.

So how does construction backlog impact you as an owner? 

Given the cyclical nature of the industry, contractors and construction companies rarely want to turn down work, regardless of their capacity for it. In this context, that unfortunately leads to overpromising when it comes to availability and scheduling . . . and then all too often underdelivering because they’re simply spread too thin.

Job Site Safety

COVID has also had a more subtle impact on labor. Periodically during the pandemic, OSHA has revised its best practices for helping keep construction workers safe from COVID. Beyond commonplace practices like social distancing, masking, and improved hygiene, they also recommend having workers use separate equipment (or at least sanitizing equipment between use).

Either recommendation results in added costs or added time. And for job site supervisors, the investment of time goes beyond just ensuring that appropriate COVID prevention protocols are in place. Contact-tracing known exposures can easily become a major time-sink.

If recommendations to mitigate viral spread aren’t followed, the risk is an even more significant delay as whole crews get sick or are forced to quarantine. And the longer-term questions about who bears legal liability for a “COVID-unsafe” job site are just getting started.

What You Can Do

While the reality is that many COVID-related challenges are beyond any owner’s control, there are some steps you can take to mitigate their impact on your projects.

  • Own your data. Too often owners are at the mercy of contractors, architects, and consultants when it comes to really understanding the status of your construction project. If you’re not getting an accurate picture — or even the entire picture — that could mean some nasty surprises down the road. There’s no substitute foreign able to see for yourself whether individual milestones are being met, what POs have been paid, or what your real-time balance-to-finish is. Knowledge is power, as the old saying goes.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Even before the pandemic, miscommunication was responsible for almost half of all construction rework. In the Age of COVID, having clear and documentable communication  processes has never been more important. Whether it’s the ability to instantly share an updated project schedule or streamline RFIs and Submittals, your project team needs to be on the same page, working from the most current information, with accountability for results. 
  • Leverage project management technology. According to the Association of General Contractors, 60% of the companies surveyed say that they plan to rely more heavily on new technology to help mitigate some of COVID’s impact. Construction project management software can speed up workflows, eliminate lost data, improve accountability, and increase efficiency from planning through close-out.

As the only construction project management software on the market developed by owners for owners, Owner Insite’s collaborative cloud-based platform can be an essential tool in helping you protect your construction projects from the effects of COVID. It’s never been more important for you to maintain visibility, communicate effectively, and keep tight control over your project schedule and budget.

Contact us to schedule a short demo to see how Owner Insite can help you deliver your construction projects on-time and on-budget . . . even during a pandemic.

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