Across the globe, RICS members are coming to terms with the ‘new normal’ in the wake of COVID-19 and delivering resilient responses to meet the challenges ahead.
We are delighted to show case specific examples here, and will be adding more in the coming weeks.
Construction schedule assurance tool developed in New York
As COVID-19 began to take its toll on clients’ construction programmes, Turner & Townsend New York Infrastructure team produced a new scheduling tool to help their clients make better informed decisions on its likely impacts.
The start of the pandemic highlighted significant underdevelopment, and often a lack of both quality and detail in many schedules. “At this time, more than ever, it proved essential to address this, with greater focus placed on ascertaining the validity, integrity and logic of their project schedule” explained David Green, Director at Turner & Townsend.
Their solution was to create an industry standardised schedule assurance tool to provide clear insight, highlighting areas for improvement to drive efficiencies and upskill the supply chain.
“Needless to say, COVID-19 has caused significant delays in construction projects whether this be as a result of social distancing, loss of productivity, or the wider far-reaching consequences” Green explained.
“We believe observation, assessment and analysis is crucial to truly understanding these impacts. Our tool is about putting clients in a position of confidence that will enable them to not only assess schedule impacts but also develop possible mitigations and solutions moving forward”
Automations built into the tool enabled faster reviewing times, the ability to benchmark different projects within a portfolio or sector, and track trends over time to predict future risks by using historical data.
“In our experience, when schedule management has been prioritised, there has been substantial improvements in schedule quality, which in-turn has a positive impact on the predictability of completing programs on time with no unexpected surprises,” Green added.
Bluetooth technology enables workplace distancing
As social distancing requirements remain key to business operations, the global organisation RIB Software developed a smart monitoring technology, helping organisations to track physical distancing in the workplace.
The company, an RICS Tech Affiliate Programme Partner, primarily provides construction estimating and design integration software for clients, including RICS professionals, worldwide.
“It came about following observations of the early days of interaction between employees, once workplace distancing was enacted. It was clear to me that social distancing isn’t always easy to follow, depending on the nature of our roles in the workplace,” explained Paul Laycock, Senior VP at RIB Software.
The technology, named iTWO safe, allows users to download a mobile app and connect this with a Bluetooth wristband developed by RIB Software. Once enabled, businesses can setup alerts for when distance requirements are breached to help enable safe practices.
“This technology provides users and businesses with actionable data to help inform their workflows, which can be particularly helpful on large construction worksites or in factories. While it was originally created with these industries in mind, the device has broader applications in offices and similar workspaces.” Paul continued.
Key learning – consider every possibility with workplace distancing
“For those seeking to develop workplace distancing plans, I think it’s vital to consider every possible workplace scenario before enacting your proposals,” Paul added.
“While safety should always be the highest priority, practicality and simplicity are also important considerations. I would encourage those tasked with making plans to consider every available opinion during the research process.”
Facilities Management: Leading the response to COVID-19 in Nigeria
As a facilities management specialist and entrepreneur, Adejumoke Akure MRICS has been on the frontline of the COVID-19 response in Lagos, Nigeria.
With over ten thousand confirmed COVID-19 cases, Lagos has been under lockdown. Professionals like Adejumoke have stepped in to provide the support necessary to help those infected isolate and recover from the disease.
“I worked with teams in Lagos state to set up an isolation & treatment centre, offering strategic facilities and operations management advice” she told our Modus team. “Cleaning and infection control protocols are key, and are a strategic mandate in effective healthcare-centre management” she added.
Adejumoke believes the lessons learned in the pandemic will reshape facilities management in the future. Not least, the wider adoption of integrated systems used to fight COVID-19: “the industry will need to keep adapting to artificial intelligence, the internet of things, smart living and more – as managers we have to be quick on our feet and nimble.”
Key learning: Focussing on the end user’s experience
“While these were extraordinary times, I knew that 80% of our patients would be asymptomatic, so there was a need to manage their treatment period with some sense of humanity.
“From the start we created a facility layout that featured vibrant open areas with murals where patients could sit out, play board games as well as areas for them to take tea and coffee by themselves without feeling incapacitated. These simple ideas to “do things by themselves” made it easier for the clinical team to manage their care as the patients were empowered and did not feel hopelessly dependent.”
Key learning: Don’t overlook small details in service delivery
“It’s the little things that matter to our service users – I remember helping a woman who accompanied her COVID-19 positive husband to my centre. She was scared and anxious and refused to leave until she met her husband’s care giver. Understanding her anxiety, I personally arranged for the duty nurse to establish a line of communication between the wife and the colleagues who would be looking after her husband which resulted in a traumatic situation being handled appropriately up until he was successfully discharged.”
Big data and technology helps valuers to support lenders and clients during lockdowns
When the COVID-19 outbreak disrupted the ability for valuers to carry out physical inspections, some RICS professionals from around the world were able to adapt to continue serving clients by using big data and technology to carry out ‘desktop’ valuations where this was feasible on specific properties.
Utilising big data for real-time residential valuation figures in China
Appraisal company, Beijing Shoujia Consulting, leveraged big data to launch an online valuation service for apartment units. Mr.Gao Xishan, President of Beijing Shoujia Consulting explained:
“Our new online platform allowed clients to obtain real-time valuation figures and electronic reports. We also worked with our clients to conduct online remote inspections utilising the video function of [social media platform] Wechat, drone content, and VR live cameras as the reporting elements in the valuation files. Importantly, we’ve ensured that all online valuation services and remote inspection conditions were clearly stated in both the terms of engagement and report”
Key learning: “Only by promoting reform and innovation with an open and inclusive attitude can we turn the "crisis" into an "opportunity".
New valuation app to help lenders in India
One of India’s largest valuation advisory services firms, Adroit Valuation, partnered with a search engine giant to gather market-level intelligence and launch their new valuation app which served lenders with a turnaround time of less than four hours.
Puneet Tyagi MRICS, Founder & Group CEO of Adroit Group said: “Using a web and mobile-based app, clients could input the address and review real-time images of the key areas of the property. The app then precisely captured the geo-coordinates, and AI meticulously located the property with over 95% efficiency. These location coordinates were then used to create a location profile and the data was compared with databases gathered from various transaction web portals to determine the estimated market value of the property. Before launch, tests carried out on over 10,000 properties returned an accuracy rate of 98% compared with conventional valuation techniques.”
Key learning: “A technology-driven valuation mechanism cannot fully replace conventional valuation methods, especially in developing countries like India, however, our solution has provided some comfort to users of valuation services during the pandemic.”
Agile working practices in the UK
Before the UK went into lockdown, Countrywide Surveying Services had nearly 500 surveyors entering residential properties every day to conduct surveying and valuation services.
Matthew Cumber, Managing Director for Countrywide noted: “Prioritising the safety of colleagues and clients, we quickly made the decision to pause in-person services and shift to desktop valuations. Within a few days of lockdown, our business transformed from conducting approximately 2% desktop valuation services to 100%.
Key learning: “Our ability to be innovative and agile through a period of significant change”
How have you maintained continuity of client services during lockdown? This is a conversation topic on the RICS Insight Community – please email firstname.lastname@example.org to join.
The need for valuers to assess risk and ensure adherence to RICS standards and guidance is greater than ever, view the latest guidance here.
Leveraging technology to keep essential workers safe in the US
In most states of the US, construction was identified as an essential business, meaning sites remained open and operational throughout the lockdown so that contractors could continue to meet their obligations. But it also meant that workers were potentially exposed to conditions where they risked catching COVID-19. HammerTech, a collaborative Software as a Service (SaaS) platform for safety and quality operations, focused on innovating their cloud-based platform to help reduce transmission risks among construction workers.
The team at HammerTech consulted with the construction industry to rapidly develop new contact tracing and touchless sign-on functionality, adding this new technology to its platform within two weeks. Workers use it to complete digital orientations, submit forms and paperwork electronically, and sign-in to reach their workstations. Site managers also used the app to divide sites into zones to avoid overcrowding. Innovating to transfer these tasks to a digital platform helped to promote social distancing and reduce transmission risks.
“Users can sometimes take months to adopt new functionality in the application,” explains Georgia Bergers MRICS, US partnership and field marketing lead, HammerTech. “Take-up of the coronavirus update was almost universal within days. That is how essential it was.” Over 50 general contractors are using the functionality and since its introduction over 100,000 workers have used the touchless features to gain access to their jobsites, confirm meeting attendance and/or complete their digital orientation.
Adapting to serve users of co-working offices in India
As national lockdowns have forced people to work remotely from home, businesses who usually use flexible co-working offices have found themselves immediately without the facilities they rely on. India based co-working space provider AWFIS responded by adapting to continue serving clients through the disruption, by providing at-home support and keeping their spaces operational throughout the lockdown for essential services clients.
Many firms and start-ups in India rely on the use of flexible co-working spaces, with the market growing over the past five years. AWFIS, which runs India’s largest network of co-working centres over 67 locations and ten cities, stepped in to serve its firms and professionals by extending infrastructural and technology support. This included audio and video conferencing and other collaboration tools, so people can seamlessly work from home. AWFIS recently launched its new offering, ‘AWFIS@Home’ to provide adequate support for remote working. As part of this, they also helped organisations to evaluate their work from home readiness, provided smart desks, ergonomic chairs, data security, and IT troubleshooting. To enable their essential services clients to work safely during lockdown, AWFIS redesigned its workspaces to be further apart.
As countries emerge out of lockdown, AWFIS is taking steps to facilitate a smooth transition back to its offices by working with their clients to establish mutually agreed upon return to work protocols, increasing cleaning measures and implementing mechanisms for touch-free access to its centres.
AWFIS founder and CEO Amit Ramani MRICS remains confident about the outlook for co-working spaces and the firm’s ability to respond to changing market dynamics, commenting: “Cost optimization and increased flexibility will become major areas of concern for all businesses, driving even the most conventional players to shared workspaces to enable them to upsize or downsize in an agile manner. ‘Work near home’ will become a key trend and companies will adopt models to facilitate de-densification. Our large network of locations throughout India means that AWFIS will be able to help our members set up smaller offices in multiple locations across cities.”
Converting two halls in three days in Singapore
The urgency of the COVID-19 health crisis has forced organisations to mobilise quickly to convert buildings into COVID-19 care facilities to meet growing patient needs. Surbana Jurong, an Asia-based urban and infrastructure consulting firm, worked at record speed for their client, the Ministry of Health, to convert the exhibition halls of the Singapore Expo Convention Centre into a temporary community care facility to house two types of COVID-19 patients – recovering patients and patients with mild symptoms who are sent directly to the community care facility upon diagnosis.
Surbana Jurong assembled a team of 50 to work on the design, material procurement, infrastructure provision and construction supervision. Design consultants prioritised safety, while also considering the needs of patients who could be isolated for a long duration. Each patient cubicle contained a bed, a cabinet, a desk lamp, a chair and charging ports for electrical devices. Additionally, the hall was equipped with Wi-Fi. Within three days, Surbana Jurong completed the conversion of the first two halls providing the capacity for 960 patient beds.
The timeline for the conversion was unprecedented. “Initially we were challenged by the short time frame, supply chain disruptions and suspension of workplace activities,” commented Mr. Wong Heang Fine, Group CEO, Surbana Jurong. “But that was quickly overcome with the cooperation and hard work of the authorities, suppliers and contractors. By tackling issues on the ground together, we were able to set up the community care facility over a weekend. This is what I love about this profession. It’s in our DNA to solve problems and in times of crisis, find solutions in unity.”
Building a dedicated COVID-19 hospital in China
The city of Wuhan was the first impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and people from across the profession in China worked to support the health crisis by constructing hospitals dedicated to COVID-19 patients. The construction of Leishenshan Hospital in Wuhan brought together thousands of professionals working day and night to support project design and construction, facilities management and medical equipment installation.
The hospital was delivered in ten days, providing 1,600 patient beds.
Wuhan native, Deng Xiaoqin MRICS, Head of Construction Intelligence Division at China Construction Engineering Fourth Bureau Installation Engineering Company, was one of the first professionals at the Leishenshan Hospital construction site. She oversaw the installation of fire safety facilities, water supply, electric wiring, and heating systems in 25 wards of the hospital. Deng Xiaoqin and her team worked tirelessly to successfully complete the installation work over three days.
“Participating in the construction of Leishenshan Hospital and witnessing the delivery of this grand project is an unforgettable moment of my life,” said Deng Xiaoqin. “Every day 20,000 people worked together on site at the same time. Teamwork was paramount.”
Zonghua Huang MRICS, Deputy General Manager, First Construction Engineering Co., Ltd. Under China Construction Engineering Third Bureau, rushed from Guangzhou to Wuhan to participate in the construction of the Leishenshan Hospital. As a prefabricated temporary construction project, Leishenshan Hospital was divided by ward area, medical care area, rest area, and medical technology area. An expert in Building Information Modelling, Zonghua Huang led his team over five days and nights to complete the construction and installation of the electromechanical system in the hospital’s medical technology area.
He commented, “I am proud to be a part of this infrastructure miracle by contributing my professional skills to help fight against the virus. Leishenshan Hospital admitted more than 2,000 critically ill patients and successfully discharged 1,900 people.”
Helping key workers continue to deliver
During these unprecedented times, it is crucial that key workers can safely commute to their place of work so that they can continue delivering their essential services.
Mitie’s cleaning teams are supporting Network Rail to help ensure the UK’s railways continue to operate, while prioritising passenger safety. Network Rail owns, operates, and develops Britain’s railway infrastructure – 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels, and viaducts, as well as thousands of signals, level crossings and stations, as well as managing 20 of the UK’s largest stations.
Mitie’s support during the pandemic includes providing integrated facilities management services to approximately 150 sites across the UK, including Route Operating Centre and Signalling Centres, which are designated critical infrastructure and essential to the safe operation of the UK railway network.
To keep travelers safe, Mitie has amended Stand Operating Procedures, increasing focus on sanitising touch points, such as door handles and push pads, to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.
James Gilding, Managing Director, Cleaning and Environmental Services at Mitie said:
“Our collaborative approach with Network Rail has been fundamental to ensuring a safe, swift and effective response to these unprecedented challenges. Our facilities management teams help to keep the railways operational, meaning key workers can get to work and continue to deliver important services to keep the UK running. We are immensely proud of all our frontline colleagues who are providing vital services on behalf of Network Rail.”
Technology of the future making a difference today
The surveying profession may be over 150 years old, but small businesses like Severn Partnership are keeping it at the cutting edge of technology innovation that brings benefits during the COVID-19 lockdown. The Shropshire, UK based land surveying firm is using mobile data capture of buildings and infrastructure to create a ‘digital twin’ that means work to develop and maintain the built environment does not stop because people are not on-site.
The specialist digital measuring, modelling and mapping method uses a moving vehicle on land, sea or rail and involves less time and people than conventional methods. It also provides survey grade accuracy and a realistic visualisation of spaces so people can have the confidence to make decisions offsite.
“Our technology brings the spaces that people are building and maintaining to life virtually”, comments Managing Director Jamie Price. “This enables a wide range of essential work to be planned remotely and decisions to be made from the desk – even if those desks are now at home.”
The firm is also using the lockdown period to safely access sites that are now empty, having recently completed 3D laser scanning of a school so that development work can have a good chance of completing ahead of the Autumn term. “Because the technology means we can capture spaces above and below the ground with less people in less time, there is less risk”, said Jamie Price.
A rapid response in China to get labour back on construction sites
The lockdown in China shut down construction sites overnight, bringing projects to a standstill with little notice. Through this challenge and uncertainty, Turner & Townsend focused on what they could control. They used their expertise in managing complex building programmes to prepare to be ‘first out the traps’ after the lockdown and keep projects moving.
Their approach meant they were able to minimise delays and restart projects immediately after the restrictions were lifted, with 80-90% of staff being back on construction sites for some projects by the end of March.
They introduced innovative ways of working to achieve this, splitting their teams into those that managed the shut down and those that prepared to get projects moving right after the recovery. They made good use of the ‘down time’ to carry out risk reviews, testing of supply chains and assessing inventories and availability of labour and materials. Some decision-making teams even shifted their work patterns to effectively work nights instead of days.
As well as keeping construction projects moving in China, Turner & Townsend also worked to avoid legal action related to the delays. Brian Shuptrine, Managing Director South East Asia, commented, “If we are to make sure that our periods of delay are short term, it’s essential to keep relationships intact. Understanding contractual positions, risks and liabilities is important, but our experience in Asia is that it hasn’t been necessary to enforce terms or resort to legal action: it has very much been a case that we are all in this together.”