COVID-19 dealt most business owners a hand they did not expect. Some industries have been significantly impacted for the foreseeable future. Many quality companies could be gone forever. Those stories have been painful for us to hear, and our heart goes out to business owners who are at risk of losing their dreams, and to employees who have lost their jobs or careers in this time of economic adversity.
Construction during COVID
The construction industry, fortunately, has fared better than most. Our work was designated as “essential” under Denver’s stay-at-home orders along with the directives of most major cities around the country.
Still, there have been significant challenges for our company and others in the commercial construction industry – supply chain issues, liability questions, worksite restrictions, and workforce availability. But while some projects have been delayed or extended, few have been cancelled outright. We are indebted to all the local construction trades and employees who, while taking precautions, are still facing increased health risks as they work with us to provide necessary commercial and residential space.
The buzzwords become real
In addition to worksite protocols, the pandemic has also changed the way we work in a more fundamental way. It has reinforced the importance of teamwork and cooperation among project partners. We have seen an impressive level of mutual support. We are in this together and we all need to empathize with the unique situations of owners, architects, contractors, and trade partners.
Partnership. Trust. Collaboration. These principles have always been important to the success of commercial construction projects and effective partnerships. Now they are critical. We are seeing all the stakeholders in our construction projects pull together and coordinate like never before, especially in areas like scheduling, financing, and, of course, site access.
Communication is the key
What is the common element behind all those ideals and principles? It is communication, broadly defined. Communication that goes beyond the normal coordination of schedules and onsite work to honestly communicate uncertainties, ask for and offer accommodation, and suggest creative solutions.
The pandemic underscored the importance of this approach. More than ever, successful projects call for close and honest communication. Being willing to say, “Here’s what we can do,” while asking “How can I help?” These sentiments are more than niceties, they are necessities. Fortunately, this priority for open communication is widely shared in our industry, as was demonstrated by the companies (including MPC) represented in this webinar from earlier this year.
In fact, we have seen three specific benefits from this higher level of communication.
1. Everyone is better informed about project expectations and status.
Cory Palmeiro, President of MPC, recently discussed this higher level of communication in the context of the general contractor and the owner: “We make it a point to have conversations with clients regarding how much risk they might want to take when it comes to bids. Once we determine the project cost, we discuss how we can minimize their potential risk and how much protection they may want to incorporate within the bids.”
It is especially important to communicate in times of fluid schedules. We are making it a priority to document schedule changes and delays and wherever possible making up that time later to avoid overall project delays. If the overall schedule must necessarily be extended, we make it a point to be completely upfront about the exposure.
2. Our clients can be confident in an environment of uncertainty.
Silence leads to uncertainty, so we proactively communicate about progress, challenges, and the status of project goals. As a general contractor, our job is to present all available information to the project team – architects, developers, and trade partners.
This type of communication does not stop with status reports. It requires an open book approach and transparency, along with guidance, solutions, and recommendations on steps or alternatives that can keep projects moving forward.
3. New levels of trust are formed.
Often the strongest relationships are formed while achieving a shared goal … when there is alignment among project team members, it promotes an environment where everyone is relating with each other in a state of vulnerability and genuineness.
In the post-pandemic world, we will share these accomplishments and carry forward a higher level of communication and mutual trust. We are looking forward to that!
Communication is Here to Stay
Early this year, we shared our perspective on collaboration – the lynchpin of successful commercial construction projects. Collaboration is more than a smooth handoff of projects at key stages. It begins early in the planning process when we obtain collective input about critical-path items that warrant a broad perspective. It lasts throughout the life of the project with collective troubleshooting and coordination all along the way.
Looking into 2021, let’s hope that the “new normal” in commercial construction will always include the lessons and practices we learned this year that led to successful projects in these unprecedented times. This includes, first and foremost, the benefits of open, collaborative communication.