With the end of the pandemic potentially in sight, remote working capabilities may remain, even after social distancing restrictions are eased. Andrew Richardson from Mobile Mini explains why safely accommodating as many workers as possible back onto sites and in offices may be the saving factor for the construction and the roofing sector.
The past year has been difficult for construction workers. Between the first national lockdown and increasing social distancing regulations, construction output has been hit dramatically. In fact, the fall in output was the largest since records began in January 2010.
Construction work has been allowed to continue in the following national lockdowns in Scotland and England, however, while some workers are required to be on-site to complete work, other key roles in construction could work remotely.
But while this has allowed a recovery in the general construction sector, specific industries, such as roofing, are still struggling. The industry currently employs over 36,000 workers with a market value of £5 billion in the UK. Estimates suggest that the sector could shrink by 5.1% between 2020 and 2025.
The government has deemed repair, maintenance and replacement (RMI) services afforded by roofing contractors to be critical work. However, there is a clear prioritisation of new construction and low confidence in the sector’s performance beyond COVID. There must be confidence across the whole construction sector to allow the roofing industry to recover and grow.
As the end of the pandemic appears to be in sight, some industry leaders worry that the remote working abilities of many in construction industries may withhold an efficient recovery for the sector. Below, I take a look at why all construction workers must eventually return to the site to help the roofing sector recover, and how this can be achieved safely.
The suitability of remote working in construction
According to one employee experience index, 49% of people working in UK construction and engineering had no experience of working from home before the pandemic. Furthermore, 91% of those who have remote working experience would usually work from home for only one day or less per week.
Add this to the fact that only 32% of home-workers have a dedicated working space at home, the evidence creates a clear determination: the construction industry is not suitable for remote working conditions.
While the industry evaded the compulsory closing of non-essential businesses during the second and third national lockdown in England, social distancing regulations and expectations of who can work on-site remain. The guidance prioritises those who cannot work from home. In construction and engineering, this may be limited to labourers and infrequent visits from engineers when on-site reviews must be completed.
However, while working from home has been possible during the pandemic, there is little motivation to maintain this culture. Construction must remain focussed on safety and quality, which can only be achieved through in-person assessment.
Making space a priority
Despite the vaccine rollout, experts agree that social distancing will continue for the majority of 2021. However, as construction workers continue to return to sites, these regulations must be adhered to. As a consequence, additional working space is essential.
While this space can be employed as a temporary measure, site managers may look for a storage container for sale to create a portable and easy shelter for workers. As an office, the space is versatile, allowing engineers to review plans and make appropriate amendments in the vicinity of the construction work.
Office spaces are valuable for collaboration, and with a variety of roles in construction, office space is central in curating innovative decisions which can help improve the quality of work, regulate safety on-site, and help reduce costs.
Roofers are one of the most valuable jobs in the construction sector, as they rely on collaborative efforts, understanding structural integrity and working around different sectors on-site. Unsurprisingly, reports suggest they have the highest average wage compared to all tradespeople, at over £65,000 per year.
Allowing other tradespeople to continue working from home prevents this collaborative effort. While objectives such as CAD and steel detailing may be compatible with remote working, doing this in isolation prevents roofers and workers from other departments from contributing to the planning stage. After all, a roof is one of the final considerations on a building — but they rely on understanding the full structure to complete their job.
Recovering the work
There is a consensus among construction workers that normal working circumstances should return as soon as possible to help the sector recover. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) states that while construction output has achieved a seventh consecutive month of growth, and has finally recovered to meet pre-pandemic levels, aspects of the sector such as new work is still 3.1% below output in February 2020. This represents £282 million of output in the sector.
New public housing construction, which requires efficient processes, is still 22.1% below its pre-pandemic level. This is a section of the sector on which the roofing industry relies on. There is a clear need for normal work processes to resume.
Continuing into 2021, a clear majority of construction businesses do not intend to maintain remote working capabilities. According to the ONS, only 5.5% of construction businesses want a permanent increase of home working, as opposed to 83.5% who do not want remote working to increase after the pandemic. Eleven percent of businesses were not sure.
While the construction sector makes it clear that remote working should be avoided in the future, only one in five businesses show any real desire to increase these capabilities. Business leaders have proved that attending the workplace is best for productivity and output.
While all industries have taken a hit during the past year, confidence in construction is at risk of not returning to its full potential unless appropriate action is taken. This is essential for the roofing sector.
Resuming normal working conditions across all of the construction sector is essential, and doing this while adhering to social distancing and health guidelines is important.
Accommodating as many workers as possible back into construction sites and offices may be the saving factor for the construction and the roofing sector.