Remote working technology keeps projects rising safely from the ground

3 min read

Investment in remote working technology has become a vital differentiator in the ability to progress building works safely onsite in ‘the new normal’.

The Covid-19 crisis has propelled a digital transformation in the construction industry that under normal circumstances may have taken years to bring about.

Needless to say our industry has not been at the forefront of digital adoption. Many construction firms still operate the same way that they did decades ago and some contractors have been resistant to change.

Granted we had seen continued improvement with cutting-edge technology, such as drones, Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Augmented Reality software (AR) in the pre-Covid world, but its usage for project delivery took on heightened importance once social distancing and labour shortage became common place.

Office-based staff have turned to software like Teams and Zoom, and work on building sites have continued to progress safely with the use of action camera technology.

Lessons from the Middle East

As the coronavirus pandemic spread across the Middle East, many projects were able to remain open for work under government rules, but faced challenges ensuring that their workforce was able to safely access the site itself. 

Faced with the resulting shortages of labour availability and the production impact of social distancing measures construction firms were prompted to explore the wider adoption of alternative ways of working. Accelerating the uptake of technology for collecting, managing and remotely visualising data has become a saving grace in moving construction projects forward.

At several of Mace’s iconic developments in the UAE, inspectors with body cameras carry out site quality, progress and safety inspections, replacing the full site inspection team attending site, as colleagues support the walk-through from remote offices in real-time, using meeting software such as MS Teams and through collaboration around a digital twin model. This approach allows the projects to continue to run safely during the pandemic.

The adaption to using body cameras goes beyond showcasing how technology can be implemented to progress work on-site. On a broader scale, it shows that technology can be applied to difficult and unprecedented working conditions quickly and contribute to fuelling innovative ideas for how construction services can be further adapted and future-proofed.

By swiftly rolling out the use of body camera technology, we know that speed of digital mobilisation directly correlates with the ability to progress construction work onsite. In an industry traditionally reluctant to embrace change, the crisis has shown the need for investment in remote technology to improve safety and enable consistent delivery.

Investing in tech and minds

Embracing digital technology involves more than equipping workers with the latest gadgets. As an industry we need to invest in upskilling and reskilling of staff to match the requirements in the use of data-gathering equipment and hardware. This investment will not just provide the effective and safe use of the technology, but it will also future-proof business, boost productivity and improve the quality of service.

On an individual level, technological advancements call for on-the-job training which provides an opportunity for construction workers to upgrade their competency and offer them a chance to learn marketable new skills. Those who have knowledge of software and devices will find adapting to new technology easier. This will be a challenge for the industry to collectively address and overcome, with particular efforts required in developing countries.

Covid-19 has shown us that a focus on innovation and proactive management need to be embedded in company plans for technology adoption as essential ingredients for successful digital reinvention. The pandemic prompted accelerated usage of technology to mitigate against site closures and keep workers safe.

Moving forward there is a greater impetus for construction companies to mobilise quickly and abandon the traditional approach in favour of one that is digital and automated. Over time, the associated cost will decrease as the human experience around using the technology deepens. The investment must be made in hardware and digital equipment, and in the knowledge required to use it.