What does a ‘return to work’ mean for the demolition industry?

Richard Vann recently penned some thoughts – in his regular column with Demolition and Recycling International – on what the easing of Covid-19 restrictions could mean for an industry that fought to adapt during the UK’s lockdowns.

If you missed it, you can catch up on the full article below:

Richard Vann, RVA Group’s managing director and D&RI columnist, explores what the easing of Covid-19 restrictions means for an industry that fought to adapt during the UK’s multiple lockdowns…

On the whole, the demolition industry – like many construction-related disciplines – reacted quickly and well, to the ever-changing challenges thrown up by Covid-19.

Teams nationwide replanned site schedules, revised working practices, redesigned access and egress protocols, reconfigured facilities to accommodate only limited personnel, further improved hygiene regimes, restricted movements on site to minimise social interaction and, naturally, ensured all task related and COVID-19 specific PPE was readily available.

Colleagues – from the boardroom to the boots on the ground – were trained, and rapidly, to ensure this albeit colossal health and safety challenge could be navigated compliantly, efficiently and with maximum respect for the protection of everyone. Just like any other EHS hurdle demolition engineers ordinarily have to mitigate, I suppose.

Because that’s what this industry does. We accept and accommodate change. We adapt and adjust. We manage the challenges thrown our way, move forward with positivity, and get on with it.

All those decades of being the underdog – the runt of the litter almost, certainly in the eyes of others – has taught us this. It’s taught us how to fight for survival.

I can only speak from personal experience of course, but most people I have talked to, had reopened the majority of their sites – safely and compliantly – within a few weeks of the initial lockdown.

The speed with which the world of demolition got to work again, means that the symptoms associated with extended periods away from work, have on the whole hopefully been avoided – certainly when compared with many industries whose colleagues have been on long-term furlough.

But even for organisations that haven’t really experienced any loss of momentum, now is not the time for assumptions. Some colleagues may still be feeling anxious at the thought of site restrictions easing. Some may even be concerned about a return of social interaction that they’ve lived without for so long, and that feeling of unease may spill over into the workplace. If in doubt, talk to people.

I spoke many months ago about the need for communication, and that theme has remained prevalent as the pandemic has unfolded. From corporate team sessions through to more relaxed and bite-sized dialogue, keeping colleagues informed and connected has been crucial. It shouldn’t only be considered as part of an employer’s duty of care, but as a crucial component to upholding high spirits too.

For organisations that haven’t maintained these lines of regular communication throughout, all is not lost. But in these instances, it may be wise to treat employees almost as new starters. This is not to patronise them, and it doesn’t mean their skill-sets have been depleted. However, they will undoubtedly benefit from some refresher training – we held reboot sessions for our colleagues and most had been away for less than three weeks!

Elsewhere, we should be wary that teams may have lost their community feel. Individuals may be feeling demotivated, disengaged and restless – humans are creatures of habit after all. Managers need to remember just how much they owe to their people. If anyone is feeling close to the edge, it is our duty to help bring them back and provide a ‘safety net’ in times of difficulty.

Industry leaders who continue to look forward, will set a new baseline. Because as is usually the case in a crisis, good can be borne out of it.

Some of the imposed changes to working practices will be beneficial, longer term, for example. People will travel less, if their roles are suited to some remote working, which could bring about environmental savings while making us more efficient, and maybe even more fulfilled.

People will hopefully be more respectful of individuals’ personal circumstances and the work-life balance that so many struggle to juggle. But on the other hand, we’ll appreciate the opportunity to go into work and be around our colleagues, far more than we did before new protocols were enforced upon us.

It won’t be plain sailing moving forward of course. Many demolition teams will struggle to compete on international projects, for instance, certainly if they can’t guarantee when on-site resources will be available. But the industry innovates, remember. Watch this space…