Academic research into the impact of post-Covid-19 working arrangements on construction sites has found that far from being diminished, productivity may actually have improved.

Although total output on construction sites has been reduced by the constraints imposed by social distancing requirements, output per person appears – in some cases at least – to have gone up.

Reasons for this include better task planning, reduced waiting time between tasks, increased space and therefore less ‘overlap’ of trades, more use of technological solutions, more responsibility for individuals and less time spent in meetings.

The research was carried out by Loughborough University at five sites with the participation of Balfour Beatty, GKR Scaffolding, Kier, Mace, Morgan Sindall and Skanska UK.

Typical comments received included: “50% workforce reduction but only 30% reduction in output” and “With the productivity and the new ways of thinking we believe we only need 7½ people to do the same as 10 people”.

“Factors seen as contributing to this improvement included:

  • Better and more detailed task planning
  • More space, fewer people, and less overlap of trades in the workplace improves gang/task productivity.
  • Better planning by workers, e.g. preparation of workplaces retools and materials.
  • Less double handling of materials
  • Fewer people ‘hanging around’ waiting to start work/tasks.
  • More streamlined worker flow due to workers staggering their start times, reducing the need to queue for site access or changing rooms.
  • People chatting less (due to distancing, one-way walkways etc.), less talking on phones

On one side, there was a perception that those who had returned to the site were the more motivated workers, the ‘team-players.’

Some workers may also have been enthusiastic and energised at returning to work after furlough.”

The report continues: “A strong finding from the research was the perceived benefit of more sequencing of trades and reduced overlaps, also reducing the number of workers assigned to a particular task or area. The general view was that this had a positive impact on workflow, work quality and worker effectiveness/productivity

The report concludes with some final thoughts:

“The way in which the construction sector has adapted to the challenges of Covid-19 has highlighted its flexibility, resilience, and ability to solve problems. It has enabled several projects to move forward with innovations which might otherwise have taken several years to embed. It has also inspired many to raise their game and has challenged some conventional thinking about how projects are planned and undertaken.

“It is important that the sector takes full advantage of this uninvited learning opportunity, engaging in wider discussions about the culture and accepted norms of construction and what benefits might accrue from rethinking these.”

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www.theconstructionindex.co.uk. (n.d.). Covid-19: The uninvited learning opportunity. [online] Available at: https://www.theconstructionindex.co.uk/news/view/covid-19-the-uninvited-learning-opportunity.