Webinar highlights best practice blueprint for working with Covid

01 Jun 2021

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Construction and infrastructure professionals from around the globe gathered online on 1 June 2021 to discuss best business practices in a Covid world at the latest event in FIDIC’s ongoing committee webinar series, writes FIDIC communications advisor Andy Walker.

The latest webinar in the series, Best business practices in a post-Covid world, was attended by 291 people and shared insights into best practice in the Covid and post-Covid world that all those working in the construction and infrastructure sector are having to get used to. The webinar, organised by the FIDIC best business practice committee, also looked at the results of the committee’s recent work investigating the response of industry to the Covid pandemic. This work included a series of surveys to address new and evolved challenges faced by consulting engineering firms with respect to their staff and facilities, internal business cycle and external business environment.

The webinar was moderated by Andrew Read, managing director at Pedersen Read in New Zealand and also chair of the FIDIC best practice committee. Panellists included KyungSoo Jeon, managing director of Korea Expressway Corporation in South Korea, Kaoru Kariya, president of Tokyo Engineering Consultants in Japan, Chris Newcomb of Chris Newcomb Consulting in Canada, Catherine Karakatsanis, FIDIC board member and chief operating officer at Morrison Hershfield Group in Canada and Michele Kruger, head of advisory for water and wastewater at MPAMOT in South Africa. They were joined at the event by FIDIC president Bill Howard and chief executive Dr Nelson Ogunshakin.

Introducing the webinar, Andrew Read, chair of the FIDIC best practice committee, highlighted some of the recent work of his committee which included working on collating the industry’s experience of working under the pandemic through the regular industry bulletins that had been published by the committee. He reported that work was ongoing on the questionnaire for the fourth edition of the bulletin, which would be looking at the social employment impacts on the industry. Read also highlighted New Zealand’s experience of the pandemic, which he said had been less affected by Covid as a result of the government’s effective strategy of eliminating the virus through country-wide lockdowns.

The first speaker was Chris Newcomb of Chris Newcomb Consulting, who had spearheaded the development of the FIDIC Covid-19 Business Bulletin. He outlined the process that had been used to produce the bulletins and highlighted that three editions had been published to date. “We try to design questions that will provoke leaders into thinking about issues that they may not have considered before,” Newcomb said.  He also outlined how the members of the FIDIC best business practice committee had worked with their personal business networks to help increase the response rate to the surveys.

Catherine Karakatsanis, FIDIC board member and chief operating officer at Morrison Hershfield Group in Canada, gave an overview of the first FIDIC Covid business bulletin which focused on the new challenges facing firms regarding staff and the workplace as a result of the pandemic. “Most design firms were working from home during the Covid crisis, though in areas where the lockdowns were less severe the incidence of teleworking was less,” she said. Karakatsanis said according to the questionnaire results, many firms were likely to move to a hybrid working environment in future where many staff are given the opportunity to work from home for part of the time. This may have an impact on the amount of office space that would be needed in future, she said.

Karakatsanis also highlighted some of the communications challenges as a result of the pandemic and the way that firms had responded to keeping their staff informed about the business and also how staff appraising and management had been adapted over the past year. She also spoke about the effect on employees’ mental health due to remote working and staff isolation. This was an important area for consideration by the industry and all firms needed to be aware of it, she said.

KyungSoo Jeon, managing director of Korea Expressway Corporation in South Korea, highlighted some of the internal business cycle challenges that had been unearthed in the second FIDIC Covid bulletin, which had seen 54 senior global industry leaders respond to the committee’s survey. The second bulletin offered insights on business volume, profitability, staff recruitment and onboarding, project execution, client relationships and business-related best practices. With regard to client relationships, Jeon said that firms were divided on whether Covid has enhanced or degraded the quality of client progress meetings, technical discussions and reporting. Those with a favourable opinion noted that clients have been on a learning curve too, affording consulting engineers an additional opportunity to support and collaborate with their clients. They also observed that client progress meetings are now cheaper, less time-consuming and often more productive, he said.

Jeon ended by giving a brief overview of how South Korea had weathered the pandemic. “The Korean government had made an effort on digital investment and staff were now used to working remotely across the industry,” he said. The strategy of the government in its response to Covid had been crucial, said Jeon.

Michele Kruger, head of advisory for water and wastewater at MPAMOT in South Africa spoke about some of the highlights outlined in the third FIDIC Covid bulletin which looked at the external business environment challenges and best practices. Kruger said that 64 senior industry leaders in 34 countries representing firms ranging in size from less than 10 to over 10,000 employees had responded to the survey for bulletin number three, which was an increase on the previous edition. She said that just under half of firms said that they would change their approach to marketing in future as a result of the Covid crisis and several firms had mentioned their increasing interest and focus on social responsibility, sustainability, climate change adaptation and renewable energy. Some firms also plan to increase their capability to provide a range of advisory services to government and others to increase their focus on the health care market, she said.

Kruger was especially pleased to see that the survey had revealed that firms also planned to place a greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion in future, which she said was excellent for the long-term health of the industry. She also predicted “a huge hybrid model of working in future”, with increasing lockdowns and nervousness about returning to the office in many countries.

Kaoru Kariya, president of Tokyo Engineering Consultants in Japan highlighted some potential future topics to be covered in future FIDIC Covid bulletins. These included sub-consultant relationships, gender and care-giver impacts and the effect of working from home on young professionals. “We will survey the impact on young professionals of working during the pandemic,” Kariya said. He also said that the increasing use of digital and cloud technologies would also be surveyed by the FIDIC business practice committee and also appealed for attendees to send in their ideas for topics to explore so that the bulletins were as relevant as possible to the industry.

As ever, there were many questions in the chat from attendees on a range of issues. While all could not be addressed by the panellists for reasons of time, Andrew Read, chair of the FIDIC best practice committee said that all the points made and questions asked would be taken into account in the committee’s work going forward.

Summing up the webinar, FIDIC CEO Dr Nelson Ogunshakin said that increasingly FIDIC was using digital methods to improve its engagement with the industry and its members and this would likely continue as the world continued to emerge slowly from the pandemic. FIDIC president Bill Howard said: "The hybrid model of working will be with us for some time and I think that this will have some positive impacts to promore diversity and inclusion and that has to be a good thing."

The next FIDIC webinar is part of our Covid 2021 series and entitled, FIDIC contracts – the gold standard for projects, which takes place on Tuesday 8 June 2021 at 12 noon CET. Please register your place as soon as possible to secure your place at this free event.

Click here to book your free place at the FIDIC webinar, "FIDIC contracts – the gold standard for projects"

You can also watch a recording of the Covid best practice webinar below.

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