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Covid-19 is the chance to make a seismic shift in working patterns

9 September 2020 | By Ian Thomas

Iain Thomas shares his views on how the covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity to transform the construction industry

I am a programme manager leading the project delivery of numerous multi-million-pound schemes in the rail, highways and energy sectors. 

I work for a global leading engineering consultancy (SYSTRA). We entered the lockdown phase, as many others did, with no real understanding of the implications or effect the pandemic would have on the business. 

The figures to date paint a picture that the impact encountered has had a negligible negative effect on the utilisation of our staff throughout the pandemic – in fact the opposite has been seen trending, in that utilisation figures have increased. 

This led the proactive senior management team to issue a general ‘stay at home’ directive, which has been extremely well received by the staff. 

The business has been providing regular updates to all members of staff, explaining the situation, and the forward plans. We are currently preparing offices for staff that would like, or need, to return – albeit the general message remains “If you can stay at home, then please do so.” 

The business uses Microsoft Teams, which has seen the continuation of business effortlessly. Digital modelling and file-sharing collaborative processes have minimised any potential impact on performance. An added benefit is the significant reduction in photocopying and printing. This can only be a longer-term benefit for the wider environment.

I feel that this is the chance to make a seismic shift in working patterns, the like of which we won’t see again in our lifetimes. This is an opportunity for those that can work from home to do so. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to drag the image of the construction industry from being a last resort for the young, to show the world that you can have a real work/life balance, spending quality time with your family and loved ones. 

Now is the time to be strong as an industry, change our approach and ensure we don’t fall back into historic working practices which challenge the work/life balance on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.

Iain Thomas FCIOB is programme manager (Energy) for SYSTRA.