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COVID-19 – A cure for construction?

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Posted by Philip Harris on 18 May 2020

Philip Harris Partner & Solicitor-Advocate

Getting back to work

Work on site has resumed. 

But many Directors, Executives, Managers and Head Office based personnel remain working at home.  This applies to Main Contractors and Sub-Contractors alike.

Construction professionals also remain working at home.

This creates a huge opportunity which is not to be missed – the opportunity to re-think and improve the industry.

A trauma, of any kind, knocks us sideways. 

It can stun and disable, temporarily at least.  Covid-19 is no different.

So, we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves down.

Those at home may not be able to start all over again.  However, they can do better than that.

They can take time to learn the lessons of the past and work out how to do things better for the future. 

We all want to be better.  We want to do our best.  This means different things to different people.  For some, it means being more profitable.  For some, it means better quality.  For some, it means new technology, energy efficiency or sustainability.

Window of opportunity

It looks like we still have a window of opportunity to re-plan, innovate and invent.  So, Covid-19 really could be a cure for the construction industry.

Improved efficiency: Search within

The key to being more efficient often lies hidden within us.  Now is the time to find that key and unlock potential, within our companies and firms. 

If we take the biblical saying “ask and it shall be given”, then we must simply remember to ask.  We should ask our employees, at all levels, for ideas and initiatives to improve methods and techniques and our own organisations.  

Ask the young – they are usually more IT efficient than the old guard.  But, also ask the older people, some of whom will have been through five recessions and can provide experience and wisdom. 

“Only connect”

The parties to construction projects are in an inter-connected chain.  They know that inter-dependency requires constant communication.  But, pressures of work get in the way.

Now is the time to get creative.

Construction Professionals can engage with specialist suppliers and Sub-Contractors to learn how better to procure and use new products and techniques.

Design and Build Contractors can talk to Employers, Consultants, Sub-contractors and specialist suppliers to streamline and improve communication and delivery.

Specialist Sub-contractors can develop improvements in their interface with preceding and following trades and work with Professionals and Main Contractors on programming solutions.

Our specialist suppliers can invent and innovate.  There is no doubt about that.  In the process, they need to be careful to protect their Intellectual Property.

Procurement in the global economy

For the moment, Covid-19 has replaced Brexit as the obsession.  However, we must plan for procuring materials in a global economy, after both Coronavirus and Brexit.

Any finally … dispute resolution

Many of the steps the industry can take are positive and most are collaborative. 

That said, cashflow is the lifeblood of the industry and money, or the lack of it, will be a problem.

Projects have been disrupted and delayed and responsibility will not easily be shared or resolved.

So, methods of resolving these issues need to be found.

Mediation will work if both parties co-operate consensually and use an impartial facilitator/mediator to help them.

Final determination of technical issues by an Expert, whether party-appointed or appointed by a professional body, can be efficient. 

Adjudication can be a fast-track solution and it may be sensible for both parties to agree to resolve more than one issue in the same adjudication to save time and costs.

Fast-track, short-form Arbitration can be agreed.  Even if there is no formal Arbitration clause in a Contract, the parties can choose a simple, quick Arbitration procedure and agree to resolve matters within weeks, or even days, before an Arbitrator, who is agreed or appointed by a professional body.

Act now

Overall, the message is simple – plan now.  Plan for the future.  Do not wait until we are back at the daily grind and wonder why nothing has changed for the better.

Let’s not regret we did not take the opportunities that we had!

About the author

Philip Harris

Partner & Solicitor-Advocate

Philip has 30 years’ experience as a construction solicitor and advises on all aspects of construction law.

Philip Harris

Philip has 30 years’ experience as a construction solicitor and advises on all aspects of construction law.

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