Dan Bailey, partner at Notinghamshire-based civil and structural engineers Howard Wards Associates provides an insight into how his team and his industry have been adapting to the new normal.
How has the public health pandemic affected HWA?
As these are unprecedented times for businesses across all sectors, it was important that we initially took a step back to evaluate the sectors we work in, and examine which ones were slowing down and which were maintaining momentum. From the outset we wanted to be on the front foot and adjust our business strategy accordingly. As business-owners we are all used to managing and adapting to change.
We then acted quickly to equip our team with what they needed to work from home, so when government guidelines came into force, we were ready.
Since then we are lucky that we remain mostly busy and our services continue to be needed. Like many businesses, we have had to place some of our team on Furlough Leave due to some sector work being placed on hold, but we are as confident as we can be in the current situation that this is a short-term measure.
The key is to keep looking forward and those businesses who plan and prepare for post lockdown will reap the rewards. As a team we remain positive and think that that business will catch up as movement increases when government restrictions are lifted, which we believe will be gradual. We will continue to be agile in our approach as we navigate the current crisis.
Are your construction sites largely still active?
Like many businesses, we did experience a quiet period whilst sites adapted to the new social distancing and hygiene measure, however for the majority of our active sites, work is progressing.
Construction material supplies have been the most challenging aspect to contend with during this time, but contractors do seem to be working through solutions well and supply is increasing with time, which will benefit the whole supply chain.
We are fortunate to have a number of substantial projects in pre-construction phases that are continuing through this, and are largely unaffected as various distance meeting and collaboration tools have been used to keep momentum going, and this has really helped us as a business.
How have you and the team adapted – home working/virtual calls/interaction with clients etc.?
We are a close team so from the outset we wanted to ensure that we remained in regular contact, not just for project work but also morale. We use Microsoft Teams for communication with the team and our clients so maintaining regular internal and external communications has been fairly seamless. I do wonder post lockdown how many shorter meetings will become virtual now we are all so comfortable with it.
Some of our virtual video meetings with the team have given us some light entertainment – with many of us juggling work, parenting and home schooling! It’s a welcome distraction, not to mention the impact lockdown has had on hair styles!
We have been proactively seeking and attending online networking events to maintain and build new professional relationships and look forward to when we can do these again face to face.
How are you preparing for when the lockdown restrictions are lifted?
In terms of HWA, the senior team are always looking ahead and planning our strategies for the future. While business plans have had to adjust or be paused during the COVID-19 pandemic, we know who we are as a business and where we want to be in the next 2-5 year. This extra time has enabled us to further fine-tune those strategies.
In terms of projects, our preparation for post-lockdown involves keeping a close eye on our sectors, and keeping open and regular communication with our team members, clients and supply chain partners, so we are ready to move swiftly when restrictions are lifted.
It is difficult to predict exactly what the landscape will look like for our industry in the coming months, but we believe that we will move past it, with a flexible and adaptable attitude. We look forward to returning to the office, seeing familiar faces, networking and of course the office banter, which has been terribly missed!
How do you think this will affect the construction industry over the next 6 to 12 months and beyond?
The construction industry is especially good at adapting to challenges. After a month or so of things slowing down, the industry seems to be gaining pace again.
We think the biggest impact will potentially be the length of time that attitudes to investment are affected in the private development sector. Public sector procurement doesn’t seem to be significantly affected at present in comparison.
We hope that the sourcing of materials and products in the UK will see a positive boost, as a result of any challenges this situation presents for importing goods from overseas.
6. What are you missing most both professionally and personally during the lockdown?
Professionally, I am missing the networking side of the business – getting out there and making valuable connections in the industry. I am of course missing the team, the office energy and working life.
Personally, I really miss caramel donuts and holidays!
Any positives for you and HWA that have come during these challenging times?
As a team we’ve experienced first-hand some of the benefits of remote working, and this is something we will likely integrate into our working routines moving forward for the benefit of the business and staff. It’s also shown us that we can certainly adapt and be flexible and that we are resilient in times of uncertainty, which will only make use stronger as a business and a team.
This new pattern of working has given me and my follow directors more opportunity to reflect on the business and to make plans for the future.
For me individually, more time spent together as a family has been really nice and my back garden looks a lot better than it normally does! I’m also liking how we are seeing more of our neighbours than we would usually do.