Engineering the future of the ‘new normal’

03 Jun 2020

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The 15th FIDIC Covid-19 webinar took place on Wednesday 3 June 2020 with an event looking at what the construction and infrastructure sector will look like in the new normal and what areas of social and business issues may have changed forever as societies and businesses grapple with the 'new normal', writes FIDIC communications advisor Andy Walker.

“Coming out of Covid - what will the 'new normal' look like and how will we get there?” was attended by 350 attendees and highlighted that in the wake of lockdown controls being released around the globe, economies, businesses and individuals are unlikely simply overnight to go back to business as usual.

Moderated by FIDIC CEO Dr Nelson Ogunshakin, the speakers at the event included FIDIC president Bill Howard, FIDIC board member Tony Barry, Karin Sluis, CEO of Witteveen+Bos and Catherine Karakatsanis, chief operating officer of Morrison Hershfield Group. Also joining the panel were FIDIC’s head of economic and strategic policy Graham Pontin and FIDIC communications advisor, Andy Walker.

Kicking off the event, FIDIC board member Tony Barry said that after months of lockdown and restrictions on movement, people now wanted to talk about economic recovery. However, companies would not be working in the same way in the ‘new normal’, he said, as firms will have to deal with social distancing in the workplace and limited numbers in offices. This would be challenging. Barry said that he thought there would be investment needed in housing and broadband infrastructure which would enable the construction sector and other industries to generate jobs. He made the point that there was still plenty of money in the economic system and it was vital that the infrastructure industry was involved with discussions with government about the priorities going forward. This was crucial, he said.

Witteveen+Bos CEO Karin Sluis said that she was convinced that workers will be “partly working from home for ever,” so investment in digital would be crucial for nations going forward. She said that Europe was looking to “set the example” in a range of areas in the recovery from the Covid pandemic. Sluis highlighted digital, diversity and inclusion and sustainability as key areas where the EU was seeking to take a lead. This would have implications for the infrastructure industry, she said, and the sector needed to be part of the debate on what was required going forward, especially around sustainable design that involved all stakeholders. “We should engineer the future and create more value for less money and in doing so create more jobs, more housing and more prosperity for society,” she said.

Catherine Karakatsanis, chief operating officer of Morrison Hershfield Group, said that Covid and the threat of it would be with society for the foreseeable future and companies would have to get used to working with that threat in the ‘new normal’. There were big staff concerns about travelling and social distancing so there was a balance to be struck between productivity and safety, she said. “The employee experience is going to have to be replicated in a more digital way and so far, people have already adapted to this new way or working,” said Karakatsanis.  She also talked about the response of governments and how they were working with industry organisations in framing their response to the crisis and praised the important work being done by ACEC in Canada for making a difference in this area.

FIDIC’s head of economic and strategic policy Graham Pontin warned against technology being seen as a panacea in the new normal. There were a multiplicity of issues for business and society to deal with, he said, including new working practices, transport restrictions, curbs on public movement and events and most importantly, answering the thorny question of “who is going to pay for everything going forward?”

The panel discussed a very wide range of issues including just how will governments, industries and companies practically deal with the new circumstances in which we find ourselves as a result of the Covid crisis. “Collaboration across the board is absolutely key for business and society going forward and we need to leave nobody behind,” said Karin Sluis. Tony Barry highlighted the importance of good governance and structure in attracting investment, something that would be even more important in the future, he said. A number of the questions from attendees focused on the question of the future funding of infrastructure and the role of governments and the private sector working together. There is clearly much to be done in this area, especially around the area of fair partnerships and risk allocation and FIDIC would have a key role to play in influencing the debate on this issue.

Closing the webinar, FIDIC president Bill Howard said that the opportunity and the need for organisations like FIDIC and its member associations to engage with governments to influence change has never been greater and the industry needed to exert that influence in a positive way that highlighted the benefits to society of properly structured and funded infrastructure.

The next FIDIC webinar in the series is “Learning lessons from how countries and governments have dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic” which takes place on Thursday 4 June at 12 noon CET. Please register your place today as we expect another large turnout for this event.

Click here to book your place on the ‘Learning lessons from countries…’ webinar.

Details of the other remaining two webinars in our series are listed below.

How can the infrastructure industry improve its resilience to deal with future global pandemics?
Should designs, operations, companies and infrastructure be better structured in the future to avoid total lockdown? This webinar will reflect on how the infrastructure industry can be ready to lead the way by becoming more resilient and better able to deal with future crises.
Click here to book a place on this webinar.

A pandemic that changed the world - lessons to be learned by the global infrastructure sector
This final webinar in FIDIC's popular Covid-19 series will reflect on all the lessons that have been learnt over the previous 18 events that have attracted thousands of attendees from around the world. This webinar is a must-attend for anyone working in the construction and infrastructure sector.
Click here to book a place on this webinar.

Click below to view a recording of the 'new normal' webinar

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