By Mark Buckshon
As the New Year’s days gradually get longer, I think like most of us we are looking forward to the end of the COVID-19 winter and the return to a more normal routines later this year. However, the question is: What changes will be permanent after this pandemic ends, and what do the changes mean for the construction industry?
The biggest question, to me, is whether the forced decentralization and work-from-home business model will become the norm, or at least, represent a much greater percentage of our workforce. It is a model that many workers and companies (in Ottawa, think Shopify) have found cost-effective and morale boosting.
Our business has operated with the remote-work model for about five years, so the pandemic caused virtually no disruption in our processes. Probably we are the ideal size for this sort of business model – with five Canadian employees and a modest network of offshore contractors. (We use offshore services for some administrative support and information technology tasks, while editorial, design and production, sales and management are all handled within the region.)
Clearly site-work construction will continue and the reported trend towards factory/modular construction is probably proceeding slower than before. I expect professional and administrative services (design/architecture and engineering) may allow employees more “work from home” options, but the industry won’t change that much in the post-pandemic environment.
However, the question is will the market shift away from high-rise offices in central business districts, requiring mass transit systems and other infrastructure – to a much more decentralized and low-density environment? Will the trend from retail malls to mixed-use residential development projects continue?
I don’t know – but imagine that even a 10 per cent shift in work and commuting routines will disrupt budgets and processes sufficiently to force some painful realignments as new opportunities are created.
Still, I’m optimistic. While many businesses and individuals have suffered during the pandemic, others benefited from various government stimulus programs as they saved money on travel and discretionary expenses. Much of that money has gone to savings, and can be redeployed fairly quickly. And I believe the governments will continue to put priority on infrastructure investments, creating solid, multi-year opportunities for the industry.
The year 2021 looks like it will be very good, indeed.
Mark Buckshon is president of the Construction News and Report Group of Companies. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 627-8717 ext 224.