COVID-19 Has Challenged Us in Our Work and Reminded Us of our Humanity

By Andy Dalbom, Construction Scheduler, McCownGordon

Andy Dalbom, Construction Scheduler, McCownGordon
Andy Dalbom, Construction Scheduler, McCownGordon
In today’s construction environment, The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges that many of us never thought that we would face, and it has also magnified common ones. Along with these challenges, there have also been good things that have happened due to what we have faced in the last year.
When this pandemic began, we were facing an unknown danger, and everyone was trying to do whatever they could to get through it. Society scrambled to adapt to the “new normal”. Companies had to evaluate their ability to have large enough crews to maintain production. Construction sites had to implement multiple initiatives to keep their crews safe. Manufacturers were dealing with limited production due to social distancing and safety requirements.
In the construction world, current precautions are limiting jobsite visits, crew sizes, and causing difficulties in material procurement. In the past, your biggest concern with procurement was ordering materials on time to be ready for the on-site activities. Lead times for most of these items were usually consistent from project to project. Now, many contractors are tracking delays for material procurement and sometimes even site shutdowns due to COVID-19. The best way to deal with these impacts is still the same as it was before the pandemic. Thorough documentation and communication are the best tools to handle a difficult situation, and do not forget the most important tool, honesty. When everyone is up-front and open about the struggle that is at hand, we can all help each other get through it.
At the beginning of 2020, “social distancing” was not even a word in our vocabulary and is now commonplace. As the world began to adapt to this disease, little was known about it. Many people have been working from home since early last year, with no definite end in sight. We now have home offices where we spend hours each day on virtual meetings. In the last year, there have been many improvements made to help make these meetings easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable. While working from home, parents are juggling school, work, family, and lots of other variables. While challenging, this environment has forced a melding of work and home life, removing the separation of the two that was common before this began.
Virtual platforms are making life easier for many, but they are still not capable of eliminating the whole problem. While meetings have now become scheduled at our computers, we are still not truly connecting with others in the same way that we did before. There is a place for both types of meetings in the workplace, but when in-person interaction is extremely limited, we suffer. Many articles and studies have been produced that support this. A team who is working together in the same room gains the advantage of humanity. Seeing a video feed of your colleague as soon as the meeting starts is not as personal as sitting beside them talking about life, families, work, struggles, and all the things that make us more than just a video on a screen. It saddens me to reflect on the number of friends and coworkers whose relationships have weakened due to the lack of personal interaction.
There are currently 3 people on our scheduling team, and I am geographically separated from my teammates by a 3-hour drive. Many of our meetings would still have been virtual, but we all long for the days when we get to sit down together in a conference room and work on a project side-by-side. We are making sure to take advantage of weekly meetings, phone calls, and sometimes logging on to work together virtually, not really focused on a specific task but throwing ideas off of each other as they come up and just talking as friends do when their desks are side by side in the office. We were fortunate enough to be together in person to speak for a scheduling conference held virtually in September and that day reinforced my understanding of the difference between the virtual world and the real world. We are more than simply coworkers, we are family.
When this is all over and a greeting involves a handshake, not just a head nod, there are some good things that can come from our current challenges. This time will make us stronger. Right now, the industry is having to think on its feet and adapt quickly. Teams will learn new methods and efficiencies due to being forced to find creative solutions that we would not have discovered otherwise. Many families have become closer due to spending more time together. In a time where working from home and spending time on virtual meetings, our humanity has been exposed. We’ve seen the teammate step away from the meeting to help an elder that is living with them. We have supported those who have fought the virus firsthand. We’ve seen people’s babies and young children sitting on their lap during a meeting, reaching for the keyboard, clicking the mouse, or sleeping in their parent’s arms. This has revealed our vulnerability and reminded how truly amazing the people around us are. I hope that we don’t ever forget that.