Construction project management during COVID-19: 3 tips for PMs

Businesses around the world have been caught off-guard by the COVID-19 crisis. Despite many states easing movement restrictions, the current business climate is still volatile and constantly changing.

A lot of companies are still struggling with the challenges and issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. With some areas still in total or partial lockdowns, the supply chain has significantly slowed down. Business owners need to consider the speed and flow of materials being transported from one state to another when making business decisions. For areas with stay-at-home orders, business owners will also have to deal with workforce limitations.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Construction Projects

The construction industry is one of the most impacted industries by the COVID-19 crisis. The industry is significantly affected by large economic downturns like those seen during the 2008 global recession. Even before the pandemic hit construction operations, the industry’s spending had already dropped by 1.3% and is expected to decline further over the coming months.

However, the current crisis is unprecedented and poses unique challenges to construction project managers. With the global supply chain disrupted and the workforce stripped down to include only those who are deemed essential, project managers will see longer completion time for projects, or worse,  total stoppage of construction operations.

In addition, the health risks brought by COVID-19 make it necessary to implement strict social distancing and hygiene protocols in the construction site. Unfortunately, these safety measures will affect employee productivity and even availability. Construction team members will have to distance themselves from one another as they work on the field.

How Project Managers Can Manage COVID-19

Construction project managers are no strangers to crises. There are plenty of factors that can affect the delivery of a construction project on time and within budget. Project managers need to be able to manage these factors using specialized construction project management techniques to oversee the planning, design, communication, scheduling, and delegation of tasks within a project.

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The COVID-19 crisis is a project management issue too. Conquering COVID-19 can happen only through a thorough assessment of its impact on operations, effective coordination between multiple project stakeholders, and an in-depth response plan for issues rising from the pandemic. Here are some tips on how project managers can perform their duties effectively during the  COVID-19 pandemic.

Analyze projects’ financial standing

1. Analyze projects’ financial standing

One of the first things that you need to do is to take a step back and analyze the current financial standing of a construction project. The project’s labor and materials requirements and schedule have a direct impact on expenses so it makes sense to consider how problems in these areas can affect your finances.

Consider the amount of cash you have in your reserves and assess how long it will take before your fixed and variable expenses can take over your cash cushion. With expected supply chain delays and limited work capacity, continuing to insist on a strict completion schedule is not viable as the project goes on. This can even result in additional premiums and overtime pay.

Cash flow is going to be tight over the next few months. It is good practice to look for financing options that can enable you to continue your operations in case of cash emergencies and to ensure that necessary preliminary notices are filed in case payment issues arise and lien filing is needed.

A multi-channel approach to communication

2. Take a multi-channel approach to communication

One aspect of construction project management that you need to establish early on is how you communicate with all project stakeholders. During this time where the situation is volatile and changing almost daily, it is important that all the parties of a project—owners, lenders, contractors, suppliers, and even employees—communicate more often than normal.

All of these project participants are scattered across multiple locations such as the construction site or their respective homes. In order to maximize the reach of your communication, you need to reach everyone through the channels they prefer.

For instance, a lot of people in the construction industry, especially the more senior ones, may not do well with technology and prefer more traditional channels of communication such as phone calls. On the other hand, their younger counterparts who are always on the move may prefer quick messages through SMS, IMs, and email. By taking a multi-channel approach to communication, you can ensure that all project stakeholders are updated no matter where they are.

Leverage new technology to manage tasks

3. Leverage new technology to manage tasks

The construction industry is one of the least digitized sectors in the world, second only to agriculture. Many construction business owners are slow to adopt new construction technology. After all, if the current methods are working, why fix what isn’t broken? Unfortunately, this mindset needs to change in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The issues that arise from the pandemic—supply chain disruptions, workforce limitations, operational slowdowns—are near impossible to overcome without the aid of technology.

For project managers, the best piece of technology to have is an integrated project management and task tracking software. As many project participants are working at home, project managers need to be able to track job progress to ensure the delivery of the project on time. Being able to assign tasks to the right people and set due dates will help project managers keep the project on track and adjust timelines if necessary. Finally, being able to communicate with other project participants using the software makes collaboration and coordination continuous with no danger of being disrupted.

Having a convoluted workflow and task schedule should be the least of a project manager’s worries during this time of crisis. Having an integrated construction project management platform will make managing this crisis much easier.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented changes to construction project management. Project managers have been knocked out from the comfort of familiarity with construction risks and were forced to reevaluate some of the aspects of the business. During this crisis, the number of construction activities to be coordinated can be overwhelming. But with proper planning, effective communication, and the ability to react to rapid changes, project managers will be able to overcome this challenge.

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