Nejeeb Khan from Katerra on the workplace trends and changes post covid

Nejeeb Khan from Katerra on the workplace trends and changes post covid

The Covid-19 pandemic and consequential lockdown have led to 2-3 months of production or operational loss across varied industries. Even as we resume and open up, most sites and construction projects are running at 60-70% operational capacity. Several construction companies are facing financial stress, shrinking orders, and tight working capital. Productivity has stagnated, project delays and inefficiencies are widespread, and in some cases, projects have even come to a complete halt. Overall, businesses have taken a substantial hit.

In such a scenario, the construction industry must take proactive steps to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 restrictions. Currently, the need is to make up for the lost time and deliver cost-controlled, quality infrastructure with speed. Globally recognized offsite, precast concrete construction can reduce construction time by 50%. In the current scenario, it seems to be the most viable option to meet project deadlines.

In offsite construction, building components such as rooms, bathrooms, beams, slabs, columns, and walls are assembly-line manufactured in a factory using advanced machinery. Finished elements are delivered onsite and assembled at the site based on the customer's design. As the bulk of the work occurs at an offsite factory, it has less labor and weather dependencies; it increases construction speed, ensures consistent quality, and reduces wastage. Every component of a building, right from windows, wall panels, and staircases to ceiling slabs, rooftops can be value-engineered and assembly line manufactured.

While the current situation seems challenging, nevertheless, there could not be a better time to adopt construction technology - primarily offsite factory manufactured precast buildings.

Covid-19 has challenged the status-quo across many aspects of corporate culture and working styles. As companies transition back, they will look at carving a new way forward, likely a mix of pre-pandemic and pandemic practices. Technology and digital practices in all forms will now become more critical than ever.

There will also be a significant focus on employee health and well-being.

The new guideline by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on reopening offices provides much-needed direction to corporates on employee safety measures to check further spread of the virus.

Safety Training has always been a critical aspect in construction, this will become more rigorous, and the role of the OHSE teams will be vital.
Communication and digital intervention will play a pivotal role in enhancing employee safety.

Advanced technology solutions from touchless doors/elevators, contactless access control, automated thermal cameras for temperature screening, to real-time people counting solutions will gain prominence in our post-pandemic world.

At Katerra, since they’ve been early adopters of technology, the pandemic has been easier to manage. Offsite construction, in general, is less labor dependent, making maintaining social-distancing more manageable. All the firm’s sites and factories are also connected with cameras, and monitoring remotely has been seamless. Construction technology, including construction software, autonomous heavy equipment, robotic building, and technology-led offsite construction factories, offers builders a host of solutions. Companies that have implemented construction technologies are better able to manage projects, customer relations, people management, and safety. For customers, too, this results in benefits such as greater transparency, faster and more efficient construction processes, better trends and insights, and enhanced user experience.

In a nutshell, technological innovations can help the construction sector grapple with delayed project deliveries, making it more efficient and attractive. Construction companies that adopt technology will be the real future game-changers.

In general, office buildings are susceptible to becoming hotspots for diseases like COVID, due to sheer volume and variety of daily foot traffic. Common touchpoints like entry and exit ways, shared spaces like lobbies, security checkpoints, elevators, meeting rooms, and canteens are also high trigger areas.

As people, prep to get back to offices in the 'New Normal' world, additional safety protocol measures will be in place at most offices like masks, social-distancing, staggered workdays, sanitizing protocols, etc.

In the long run, we will see a change an employee-centric space-planning gain prominence. For instance, new offices will prefer 6-10 feet space per employee, meeting rooms with video conferencing facilities, and open office designs that adapt to social distancing. There will also be a preference for designs that allow natural daylight, better ventilation systems, and anti-microbial finishes, which are currently predominantly used in the healthcare sector. Offices will also go more digital and contactless installing sensors, motion, and app-based technologies in lighting, lifts, doors, and windows to minimize contact will be the new norm.

It will also push developers and operators to improve the overall design and build of commercial spaces. For example, post-COVID-19 offices will prefer dedicating more space per employee while not adding to costs. Katerra is solving this challenge by improving building design. Conventionally buildings have pillars at regular intervals for stability and reinforcement, but this occupies vital space. The firm has designed a 60m span commercial building with no columns and clear spaces by improving the structural design, building connections, and using offsite precast elements.

There is no doubt that the onset of Coronavirus has pushed the entire industry under crisis. However, it has also driven our industry to introspect, reorient, and reshape by implementing construction technologies.

The Indian real estate and infrastructure sector has been constantly struggling to deliver quality projects in given timelines. Given this, Nejeeb Khan strongly believes DfMA (design for manufacturing and assembly) and offsite construction driven by technology can be the right solution to fight this crisis. Countries like China, UK, Europe, and the Middle East, have successfully used these solutions to build hospitals, homes, office buildings, and entire cities.

Offsite factories use robotics and machinery to construct prefabricated elements with inbuilt MEP and finishes. Assembly line production ensures quality because it is not dependent on manual skills. It also stops material wastage common in traditional construction due to manual errors. Today we also have software solutions for space planning, managing design clashes, material management, workforce planning, project progress, and customer management.

Construction software solutions enable developers and property owners to remotely monitor and manage projects at every stage, enhancing transparency, construction productivity, and delivery. The use of technology for web-based applications and digital solutions 3D walkthroughs are also playing a significant role in improving consumer experiences. In India, companies like Infosys and Microsoft are building offices using the concept of Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) because it delivers better quality, speeds up delivery by 50%, and is more sustainable.

Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) and modular construction also ensures that investors, developers, and property-owners get building products that are value-engineered and designed to get them the best return on investment.
The need for office spaces will remain and grow. The challenge will be to manage cost sensitiveness around office rentals and operations while ensuring we are future proof in case of pandemics and other crises.

The industry which has generally been tech-averse will see strong adoption in technology. The challenge will be for providers to balance cost competitiveness with value.

At Katerra, the teams are focusing on overcoming these challenges by introducing new productivised designs like the 60m-span office and providing their clients with end-to-end design and construction services, all connected through robust technology systems.

The firm is also incorporating more digital and contactless systems in their design, changing the way ventilations works across buildings. They are constantly looking at best practices and materials in healthcare and evaluating how these can be implemented in new office and commercial designs.

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