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Jean Karim Dangou

The Future of Project Management in a Post Pandemic Era

January 22, 2021

“COVID-19 was a wake-up call”, a sentiment shared by a lot of people in the construction industry where the current pandemic has halted or slowed down the progress of a lot of construction projects across the globe.

Lockdowns and restrictions continue to bring large losses to the varying sectors and economic and policy uncertainties. In the global construction industry alone, a sharp decline from USD 11,217.4 Billion to USD 10,566.8 Billion is projected in early 2021. However, data also shows that it will reach a market size of USD 11,496.7 billion, projecting a CAGR of 1.2% between 2019 and 2021, where the residential is the primary construction sector. These figures are a part of the Construction Market Report by a research firm Markets and Markets.

Construction Impacts – Globally

Among construction sectors that were totally put off during the lockdown are the hospitality and retail projects which are deemed unessential in most published guidelines. Others are in slow progress if not put-on hold, where 27% of construction firms laid off clients and 59% have a variety of problems. If there are continuing construction activity these are mostly covering residential and health construction sectors.

The added extra costs, balancing inflation productivity, and deflationary market conditions are other hurdles for contractors especially for smaller firms.

Aside from the issues on capital liquidity, the blocked cash flow from developers equates to reduced investments. The degree of this crippling varies in the locality, the legalities and implementations of each region. In retrospect, the impact of COVID-19 in the construction industry is inconsistent and evolving.

A Silver Lining – Positive Inclination 

Though amidst the continuing economic and policy uncertainties, an overview of the data projections sees that the construction industry will pick up the pace once the easement on restrictions starts. As early as September 2020, there are 26000 construction jobs added, and the construction industry has recovered approximately 64% of the jobs lost since the start of the pandemic.

A Catalyst for Change – A unique form to reform and innovate 

Project Management Leveraging on Experience 

According to a survey of project managers across North America, 89% of states and provinces deemed construction an essential service. This presents a need for national governments to provide flexible guidelines that allow construction projects to continue to operate. Though some construction sectors were allowed to continue an operation that is with some restrictions, project managers experienced furniture delays, supply chain delays, decreased labor abilities and permitting delays.

As projects vary in scope and from region to region, OSHA’s Pandemic Flu Guidelines, released way back in February 2007 is a sensible guideline to be adapted when creating risk management plans for construction projects. With the onset of the pandemic, it is evident that the front liners from the safety and health departments on a project site are crucial in the implementation of existing risk management programs. Health and safety departments on-site together with the project management team are likely to be more active in developing counter-measures in anticipation of any similar project risks.

Update Skillset and Learn New Skills

The current pandemic poses unique challenges making it essential for the project managers to do an upgrade or upskill. New skills will need to be learned, primarily in the world of digitization. These new skills will include communication tools, creating emergency plans, and working with software and data. At this point, it is no longer an option but a requirement to acquire a variety of skill-based opportunities.

Adjustments will have to be made in terms of project management and standard operating procedures (SOP). The need to break away from traditional construction policies and systems is a must, to be able to mitigate any risks of budget, schedule, and scope will improve.

Flexible and Long-term Solutions are Keys  

The pandemic situation has certainly forced a majority of employees and even employers to work at home, leading to the realization that some departments can operate remotely. The industry has seen an unprecedented change in how work is done since flexible work schedules can be implemented this way. Furthermore, there is a huge saving in fuel costs and time. There’s a great chance that many organizations and firms might consider continuing to some degree when it comes to the remote working of their employees.

Now, this is not to say the shift is resulting in pure benefits like increased productivity. Certain tasks that require spontaneous collaboration is more difficult to manage. A group of people that are connected remotely will have to throw ideas at one another while facing potential technical difficulties. This will certainly bring a new challenge to the management.

Predictions and Possible Trends that will Stay 

Lockdown will accelerate a lot of trends, moving away from traditional systems. Though, before lockdown, a lot has already been established. Such as cashless payments and delivery services.

    • A lot of businesses now realize that they can operate without an office space.
    • Flexibility-off downsizing pipeline of office undersupply.
    • Priority investment in the design and construction of healthcare facilities. (Government).
    • Hospitality will bounce back fast.
    • The decline of flat or apartment sales in favor of rural areas.
    • Establishing or Revising Government and Building Policies in an event of a pandemic.
    • Flexible building codes that can be adapted during a pandemic.
    • A lot of construction companies are stepping up into the digital age. Upgrade of systems.

Keeping construction projects going is essential in the economy, in so many ways. The construction industry is a significant driver for economic growth. On a global scale, construction is more than USD 11 trillion industry with residential as the largest sector and 13 percent of the global GDP. Moreover, it is essential in providing employment, building the economy, and just recently held an important role in providing the essential infrastructure for health and safety. With these, project management after the pandemic has actually gained an invaluable lesson and pointed out adjustments and much-needed improvements within the industry that are essential in being prepared in such similar situations in the future.