The remote working that came as a result of the pandemic is here to stay

The industry moved very early during the pandemic, even before the lockdown, to manage the issue of Covid-19, says Donal McCarthy, Chief Operating Officer for Ireland and Europe at John Sisk & Son.

14th September, 2020
The remote working that came as a result of the pandemic is here to stay

What's your name and what position do you hold?

Donal McCarthy and I am Chief Operating Officer for Ireland and Europe at John Sisk & Son.

What are your day to day responsibilities?

I am responsible for leading our construction business in Ireland and Europe across a range of sectors including commercial, data centres, high rise residential, life sciences, advanced manufacturing and ICT.

What is your professional background?

I joined Sisk in 1990 and worked as a graduate engineer. After a number of years I went to the US and spent eight years working in the construction industry in New York before I re-joined Sisk in 2002 and have held numerous positions including Managing Director of Ireland East, before also being appointed as COO in 2019.

How do you think the industry is coping with the Covid-19 crisis? What lasting impact do you see on the sector?

The industry moved very early during the pandemic, even before the lockdown, to manage the issue of Covid-19. We collaborated well and were supported effectively by the CIF in preparing the Covid-19 Standard Operating Procedures, online induction, remote working guide and training materials and detailed information and guidance notes for all the stakeholders which allowed us return to sites safely from the 18th May. At Sisk we have been able to get back to the levels of productivity before the lockdown, or very close to that, on most of our projects.

As a result of moving early we were pleased to be among the first industries in Ireland to reopen and stay open and that is a testament to all the good work done by our committed people. As always health and safety is core to what we do and we have very strong protection measures in place on our sites and in our offices to ensure our people are safe and well at work.

We have had a small number of isolated cases of Covid-19 on a few projects and have worked well with the HSE to implement their guidance on contact tracing and testing.

We are continuing to take a very cautious approach to how we manage our projects during this pandemic and as an industry our commitment to health and safety has stood to us in these challenging times.

There will be positive as well as negative impacts on construction across the different sectors we operate in. There will no doubt be impacts on the type, scale and volume of work we are doing as the economy feels the ongoing impact. We are confident in the pipeline we have but of course there is added uncertainty beyond 2021.

How do you see tech innovation transforming this industry? What do you think will be the major breakthroughs over the next 5–10 years?

The remote working that came as a result of the pandemic is here to stay in some form and communication technology has been a key enabler of that. Keeping the channels open with stakeholders across the business as well as with clients, designers and subcontractors has been a key focus area and the pandemic has accelerated the changes that were coming already. The use of drone footage in running sites and cameras for virtual site walks are ways in which technology is keeping numbers on sites down to minimise risk of spread of Covid-19 but also making us work more efficiently.

Our Digital Project Delivery (DPD) approach is embedded into our overall business strategy. Over the next five years we will be investing in digital construction to support the transformation across a range of areas such as collaboration platforms, BIM design and engineering, information management, data analytics, mobile and wearable technology, drones and time-lapse cameras for progress reporting, reality capture and a Digital Centre of Excellence to showcase our approach to our client and supply partners.

BIM and Information Management offer real benefits to our project delivery, providing certainty on time and cost. We are now investing in digital construction to embrace the power of technology to continuously serve our clients, partners and our people to be the best in providing certainty of delivery.

What will be the leading trends in the construction industry in coming years and how will businesses need to adapt?

As mentioned above the use of technology will continue to drive change and innovation in our industry.

Lean construction is a key trend that will be accelerated by Covid and specifically the use of off-site construction and modular building methods will grow both in scale and across different sectors. As a business we use off-site and modular construction methods across a range of projects and the Vision Built business we acquired in Galway in a key provider in this sector.

The industry as a whole needs to understand and embrace this approach. Clients, architects, designers, engineers and contractors need to have a common understanding of how we can all work to improve productivity while delivering better buildings and places to live and work that meet the needs of society.

The sustainability agenda will continue to drive change in our industry and while we have made great strides in areas such as the use of electric vehicles and energy management, we recognise the road we have yet to travel. We will be publishing a long term vision for Sisk in the coming months which will set out our ten year ambition in this area.

Flexibility in working arrangements is another key trend which had been emerging and has now been accelerated by the pandemic. We see technology as an enabler of this but also as a business with a strong sense of commitment to our people we believe we will be able to work together to find solutions which offer people flexibility and allow us to continue to deliver the great quality projects that our clients expect.

Donal will be speaking at the CIF Annual Conference on October 1st 2020, online.

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