A Spotlight on Resiliency: How the Construction Industry Models Pandemic Flexibility

The very nature of a global pandemic means literally everyone in the world is coping with its impact. That said, managing through COVID at Shell McElroy is a unique challenge that Billy and I take seriously and very personally. Our priority has always been ensuring each member of the Shell McElroy family returns home at the end of the day safely and as healthy as when they arrived that day. To that end, for nearly two years we at Shell McElroy, like so many others in the construction industry, have adapted the way we do business in the field and in the office.

Industries across the board implemented changes such as work from home or hybrid models whenever possible, and the construction industry quickly pivoted to the remote-work model wherever possible for functions such as accounting, estimating, and marketing. We have all recognized that work still gets done using this remote model, in some cases more efficiently. Employees now expect that kind of flexibility so we can anticipate the fully remote or hybrid work models are here to stay.

However, you can’t manage safety, quality or concrete pours via Zoom or Microsoft teams. We must be out on the jobsite in proximity to one another to get the work done. Luckily, the construction industry was in a better position than many others because we are so heavily regulated from a safety standpoint. Hardhats, safety glasses, gloves, ear protection, fall protection, controlled access and security on jobsites are standard operating procedure. Adding masks, temperature checks, and soap-and-water sanitizing stations was not a big stretch and incorporating COVID protocols has been relatively seamless and effective. Additionally, we have been able to coordinate trades in shifts to minimize multiple trades working in the same spaces, thus reducing potential exposure, and enhancing the ability to conduct contact tracing if necessary.

The bigger industry challenges have come from supply chain disruptions, cost control in a volatile market, and labor shortages. Consequently, at Shell McElroy we have taken a more collaborative approach with our clients to mitigate surprises in project costs and schedules. For example, we present options for specified materials if they are imported and at risk of delivery delays due to supply chain and logistics issues. This enables us to better protect the schedule and manage project costs. The last thing we want to have to tell a client is their project will be delayed while their Italian marble countertops sit in a container off the Savannah coast. Simply put, clear, constant communication with the project owners to ensure a complete understanding of how long-lead items, labor availability and COVID management could impact their project allows the whole team to make better decisions. The construction industry has also accelerated the use of existing tools and strategies such as prefabrication, and can leverage technology to conduct live, virtual jobsite tours to protect team health while staying on schedule.

Ultimately, there is no crystal ball, and nobody can accurately predict how COVID, or some other health threat in the future, will impact the industry. We thought we saw light at the end of the tunnel, then the Delta Variant emerged forcing us to reactivate more stringent protocols. The good news is the construction industry has established successful, effective management strategies that allow us to keep work moving. What COVID has taught us is to be flexible, creative, strategic, and vigilant so we can continue to buil