Looking Towards 202ONE

January 4, 2021 | Kai Goodrich

For the first time since I can remember, the consensus to not look back on a year with fondest joys and triumphs has never been more prevalent than this one. The numerous issues, challenges, and obstacles that have consumed our way of life in all aspects resulting in suffocation and recalibration of any normalness as we have been accustomed to in both our homes and businesses was endless.

Where have we been? The wild rollercoaster ride of 2020 has delivered beyond any predictions from the likes of Nostradamus or a blockbuster Hollywood script could present. The first major event of 2020 was the public health crisis from the COVID-19 virus. The virus hit our country by storm and the casualties along the way are still growing in epic numbers for those who have been infected or submitted by it. The virus impacts have not stopped and continue to spread affecting business schedules, manpower resources, factory and manufacturing delays or closings, how we function as the construction industry, and the industry supply chains disrupted causing a ripple with a similar resemblance to the Great Depression. These restrictions and mandates by the CDC and many state governments transferred to our market sector assembly lines and factories, material distribution centers, travel delivery functions affected by the reduction personnel due to social distancing requirements to slow the spread. The results of these restrictions, shutdowns, and closings have burdened the economy and impacted millions of households in our country.

What have we experienced? Families make unparalleled decisions on how to cope with students being removed and out of schools at all levels. The home office set up for one or both parents are dynamically changed, and sharing the WiFi bandwidth, like the TV remote, is the new corporate wrestling match. Restrictions or lockdowns on any activities from professional sports, movie theaters, restaurants and bars, churches and religious congregations or concerts where any type of public mass gatherings are reduced to a handful or none in most venues and establishments is now the new normal. The cause and effect for our households have forced creative inventions to transform and supplement many of the events and activities we were accustomed to outside, which now increases stresses and new types of health issues and constraints not previously considered or encountered.

Coupled with the COVID-19 Virus and families impacted with restrictions that ripple into our construction industry, the public unrest and final straw regarding discrimination, equal justice, and civil matters of human treatment have reached volcanic explosive levels. The toxic environment in our country and businesses reached its breaking point creating another challenge for construction managers to contend with in our diversely staffed main offices and construction job sites. Companies and construction managers are now faced with having to adapt and re-tool creating new policies and procedures addressing these matters with an open mind, listening to their personnel, in formats like virtual Town Halls, providing boulevards for communication and support.

Not to pile on the status quo of events and challenges, but another major impeding event affecting our construction industry was the Presidential election, which was like no other in our countries history. With government spending reduced, not approved, or existing funding reallocated to support other personal or political agendas, created a huge strain on the construction industry market sector. Many construction management businesses, both large and small, already were under tremendous pressures to make ends meet, unfortunately, experienced cutbacks with projects that were either canceled/dropped or delayed because of funding streams that were changed or modified. These industry changes regrettably resulted in construction firms having to reduce staff with layoffs during an already difficult and troubling time. Funding cuts also reduced construction managers’ staff sizes, but the workload did not differ, only increased due to the teleworking landscape of the construction industry as the work progressed with smaller teams on job sites. Employee burn-out and added stress are byproducts of these working conditions affecting the judgment and decision-making process of the construction manager and their respective teams.

Oh, and let’s not forget about the record number of hurricanes impacting our nation’s coastlines. Businesses boarded up in preparation for these climactic weather events, leaving both industries and people trapped in more ways than one during the pandemic. Once again, our construction industry is burdened and pushed to rebuild communities hit with these terrible results from the storm’s aftermath. Many valuable resources and materials were being directed to resolve these crisis’s which reduced the availability of ongoing construction projects and furthered the strain on maintaining project schedules.

What have we discovered about the U.S. and us? The resiliency of our industry despite the pandemic, political craziness and insanity, and business impacts on all levels, we have not surrendered and continue to look forward to turning the corner and finding ways to band together. Our ability to adapt creatively discovering pathways to move forward with the work, both at home and in the field also has benefited. Utilizing audio/video technology tools to connect construction teams like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Facetime, and GoToMeeting platforms are becoming industry standards and practices. The newest member attending many of our virtual OAC Meetings are the kids in the background, dogs barking, cats walking across the keyboard, or Amazon deliveries.

We would not be Americans without some level or magnitude of stubbornness to strive for the “old normal” due to our own internal issues of change all the while gripping the freedoms afforded to us. Even a look back into our history from the 1918 influenza pandemic has not given any insights on resolutions on today’s present crisis. Businesses re-opened to soon, public outcry to drop the wearing of masks, and resuming everyday activities as though no pandemic existed, proved to be a fatal decision…sounds very similar to our current situation. Another big factor we have wrestled with is trust. The American people, in general, have lost trust in many aspects of the American way of life, led by the distrust in our leaders, media, politicians, businesses, co-workers, families, and friends. Who do you or can you trust today? Not being a complete ‘Debbie Downer, the reality of what we are facing today has provided a means and methods to pare down wants and focus on needs in our fragile circumstances. The duties of the construction manager are now expanded to virtual meetings, teleworking managers, pandemic countermeasures, and diversity issues. Due to the expanded roles and responsibilities, our very own built-in coping tools will need to harness more patience and endurance. Construction managers have always found ways despite the multiple challenges surrounding the industry to survive and thrive in harsh times. The construction manager will need more than ever patience and endurance to persevere through the pandemic effects, political unrest, uncertainty, and economic impacts to move forward are testaments to our construction DNA as we all are faced with problems and adversities on and off the project job sites.

What compass setting can we expect in 2021? First and foremost, this should be an opportunity where we (US) take the time and opportunity to do a 2021 New Year’s Reset. Looking at history and recent matters, while applying a good dose of common sense with practical needs is a good start. But don’t stop there, recognize that remote working and teleworking is the future, and acceptance is a major step in moving forwards in new directions with our construction management skills, styles, and workforces.

There will be new issues to contend with like telework burn out, COVID overload, training of staff, retention of employees, media drain of information, new medical issues due to working conditions like ergonomics, or vision issues with lighting and computers in unusual home office environments. Technology impacts and improvements to construction management moving forward where we apply the most cost-effective hardware and software devices to re-align our vision and focus on primary concerns of all the stakeholders through the use of new tools in our construction manager arsenal in the new world.

Other things to incorporate into our construction manager toolbelt is the human and technical bandwidth factor. To not overload or trip the brain’s main breaker switch, recommendations are to sit down with your teams and individuals to establish new goals. Collectively and collaboratively determine these goals are reasonable and fair, with milestone marks to strive for to achieve. Set the company, department, staff, or personal goals and expectations with a sliding flexible scale to consider more uncertainty in our future and incorporate more frequent huddle-up sessions to revisit the goals and adjust accordingly. Provide the proper tools for implementation in assisting the effort for employees to rise up above the 2020 dumpster fire, and feel good about themselves for what, how, when, and why they are looking down the road of construction with a sense of pride and purpose.

Keeping an open and respectful mindset on all aspects will be difficult maintaining an even keel to steer the boat through the ongoing pandemic, civil unrest, economic impacts, and individual employee needs as a construction manager. There is no book, webinar, manual, or seminar to get a certificate from to contend with these unprecedented times. Embracing the “New World” and applying technologies, fresh tactics, and ideas, adapting with all factors to consider for a varied staff. Looking to the future as construction managers will provide new encounters to contend with and test the skill sets to ensure a safe, quality and productive future in our construction industry. Do we, as construction managers, have enough patience and constitution to continue at this pace and successfully lead our teams and firms into the new year? What are the new issues and controversies we need to implement better innovations to prepare for as construction managers ensuring future success changing the news headlines and main cover stories?

202ONE is going to be an opportunity to look forward to new discoveries for all of us to produce proficient construction managers who will lead new formations of teams to successfully navigate what lies ahead in the construction industry. Set the compass and let’s go places!

About the Authors

Kai Goodrich, CCM, LEED AP, CHC, Vice President for AFG, brings over 30 years of experience in the construction industry and oversees the GSA St. Elizabeths Campus West Phase II Program. He is also responsible for the delivery of other key federal government projects throughout the Washington DC Metro Area, and has completed projects within GSA Regions 3, 4, 6, and 11. Under Kai’s leadership, his project teams have won three Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) awards, including a national Project of the Year Award in 2018 for the GSA Sydney Yates Federal Building Exterior Restoration Project in Washington, D.C.

About AFG Group, Inc.

AFG Group, Inc. is a woman-­owned firm focused on multi-­disciplined program, construction, and relocation management, with a national portfolio of work in healthcare, laboratories, courthouses, educational facilities, and government buildings. With 30 years of business acumen, AFG has earned a reputation for providing strong expertise, responsiveness, and project execution that helps owners navigate through complex design, procurement, construction, and activation processes.