13 August 2020

3 Ways HR can lead the reopening of construction operations

Construction workers working under sunset

Here are some of the HR best practices for the construction industry in the new norm.

The human resources department has a vital role in times of crisis. Before the COVID-19 pandemic affected businesses and paralyzed entire countries, HR largely enjoyed a supportive, but back-office role in construction. The focus was generally on attracting new talent, providing training to new hires, and improving the general health and well-being of employees. With the coronavirus crisis, however, the human resources department has been thrust into the limelight and had to step up to address its challenges.

The construction industry is one of the most impacted industries during this crisis as COVID-19 has disrupted the global supply chain and reduced the workforce to include only those who are deemed essential. The industry entered the year 2020 cautiously with a 1.3% drop in spending and the pandemic will cause it to decline further over the coming months.

Aside from operational challenges, construction businesses still need to face the health risks brought by COVID-19. At the time of writing this article, scientists and health professionals are yet to introduce a vaccine or cure. Businesses need to prepare the workplace by implementing strict social distancing and hygiene protocols.

The challenge of ensuring returning employees remain healthy lies in the COVID-19 response plan of the human resources department. Here are some of the HR best practices for the construction industry in the new norm.

1. Create a dedicated Covid-19 response team

This unprecedented situation calls for managers and employees to go beyond their day-to-day roles and be part of their company’s COVID-19 strategy. The HR department is responsible for creating a dedicated COVID-19 response team composed of people from different departments.

The team will be responsible for formulating the company’s COVID-19 strategy and communicating this information to the entire workforce. They are also tasked with safeguarding the health and safety of all construction employees as they perform their work on-site or remotely. They are also responsible for scenario planning and ensuring the company is stable enough to handle the crisis. Payment issues will likely persist and intensify for the duration of the crisis so it is crucial that the business stays on top of its finances, filing any necessary paperwork like preliminary notices to not lose lien rights in case of payment disputes down the line.

Finally, every decision the team makes should be communicated to the rest of the workforce. The HR department should ensure transparency and disclose any case of COVID-19 or any financial problems that the company experiences.

2. Take a multi-channel approach to communication 

One aspect that the human resources department needs to focus on is how to communicate with employees. A few months into the crisis, there is still no telling how the situation will change. That is why it is important that the HR department communicate more often than usual with employees.

Employees will likely be scattered across multiple locations such as the office, construction sites, and their respective homes. You need to consider that the workforce is composed of older employees who may prefer traditional communication channels such as landline phones, and younger ones, who may want to receive messages through SMS, IMs, and email. Because of this, the HR department needs to maximize reach by taking a multi-channel approach to communication.

3. Promote safety steps in the workplace

Construction employees are used to facing dangers on a construction site but COVID-19 poses a different type of risk to the workforce. In order to address these new safety challenges, the HR department needs to stay updated with the latest COVID-19 information. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevent has dedicated pages for business owners while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration published guidelines on how to prepare construction sites.

These safety steps can be effective only if they are properly communicated to the rest of the workforce. The HR department needs to be proactive in promoting and disseminating this workplace safety information. For instance, you can put up posters around the site and send email memos to remind workers of social distancing and worksite cleanliness. You can also create an FAQ page on your website and share links to reliable COVID-19 pages that employees can access for information.

A few months after the first recorded case in the country, the construction industry is stirring back to life. However, it will take time for businesses to adjust to the new routine. It is up to the human resources department to take the initiative and steer the company forward.

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