Large general contractors, like Sellen Construction based out of Seattle, Washington, have had to shift their processes due to construction being restricted and projects being delayed.
Sellen predominantly works in the Seattle and Puget Sound region of Washington. They handle around $500 million dollars worth of work in a given year. A lot of their work is self-performed work, although they subcontract out about 80% to 85% of their work. Sellen’s projects vary in terms of the type of work they handle – from large shell and core projects, to higher education, healthcare, and high tech or commercial spaces.
Bridgit’s CEO and Co-Founder, Mallorie Brodie, sat down with Jason Harrison, Vice President and Director of Project Management at Sellen for a Q&A session. They discussed the challenges facing the construction industry due to COVID-19, technology enabling the now remote construction workforce, COVID-19’s impact on the construction workforce, and tips for fellow general contractors.
Below are some of the highlights from this exclusive Q&A. Want to watch the full recording? Watch it here.
COVID-19’s impact on the construction industry
Mallorie: Construction is not an industry that does a lot of work from home. I’m curious to hear how that transition has been for Sellen. How has it been for your team to work from home compared to their typical day to day?
Jason: Yeah, it’s been interesting I would say. We were talking just before this call started, there’s a lot of meetings and I am on Zoom calls all day. It seems like we’re in meetings nonstop and I’m getting texts and emails and phone calls more than I ever have. It’s made me appreciate the face to face contact that we had. I personally have felt pretty ready to work remote, but I know that several people have really struggled with it – it really depends on what kind of balance or lack thereof you have at your home.
Mallorie: Are there any challenges that you think construction is facing now specifically related to COVID-19? In terms of field operations?
Jason: Absolutely. In Seattle, there’s been work that has been deemed essential and that work has been ongoing throughout this process, but then they have all these various phases of restarting for other types of projects. I would say the bulk of our jobs, if not all of them, have restarted now. We’ve seen quite a bit of absenteeism, whether or not that’s due to someone being sick or childcare reasons. There’s definitely been a loss of productivity.
Construction resource planning technology during COVID-19
Mallorie: With our construction resource planning software, Bridgit Bench, we have about 70 customers across the US and on the ENR 400 list. We were awaiting to see how usage would be impacted with COVID-19 and ultimately saw that the use around our resource planning product was the highest we’ve ever seen. Companies were delaying projects, updating custom COVID-19 fields around individuals/projects, and updating employee unavailability. Was there any particular action that you felt like you were needing to do at a much higher frequency than you typically would with your resource planning? Has anything changed in how you are thinking about your resource plan?
Jason: We’re tracking around 150 folks in Bridgit Bench right now. We focus on construction operations, superintendents, project managers, and engineers. We absolutely used Bridgit Bench throughout this process and we were consistently sliding out projects. It’s a great and easy feature to just grab the end date, pull it out, and everybody goes with it on the Expanded Project Gantt view. What we also look at a lot is the staffing or people GANTT chart and our under-allocation and over-allocation percentages.
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Mallorie: That’s helpful. This brings me to my next question around forecasting beyond COVID-19. What are some of the things that you’re taking into account when looking to do some of the longer term forecasting?
Jason: With regards to resource planning, we’re watching COVID-19’s impact on our workforce closely. What we don’t want to do right now is make big, giant shifts. We’re still assuming that everything is going to just be right on target. We know that through loss of productivity and potential future outbreaks, that our current construction projects are going to continue to slide a little bit. This means that over-allocation is only going to get worse if the pre-construction jobs don’t move out. With workforce planning as far as projects, we’re in constant contact with our clients, trying to make sure we understand what their new timelines are and if they plan on closing projects down.
COVID-19’s impact on your construction resource planning
Mallorie: Sounds like you’re ahead of the curve, which is great to hear. What have been some of the impacts on your workforce?
Jason: We were heavily impacted with projects being shut down. Right now we have 300 field workers – that’s from foreman down to apprentice – and that’s just for Sellen. We’ve had about 250 employees in management – like engineers, project managers, and accountants. When we were shut down, we actually kept our field hands on staff for two weeks to allow them to gently get into unemployment. At the time, we actually thought we were going to go back to work within two weeks of the shutdown. It ended up doubling in length. We’ve been able to keep everybody engaged in working on projects – getting caught up either on work that was yet to be done and planning for the comeback. Any of our projects in pre-construction have taken the opportunity and put down the pedal. They’ve been working around the clock, supporting those future projects. Throughout this whole shutdown, we’ve actually been fairly productive and have been able to keep everybody.
COVID-19 tips for other general contractors
What were Jason’s parting tips for other general contractors during COVID-19? Here’s just a few:
Know your contract language – do a deep dive, understand how COVID-19 impacts the length of contracts, whether you have cost recovery mechanisms
Baseline your schedule – take a look at the current impact, actively track any future impacts, communicate any slowdowns with your team
Health and safety of employees – this should be a top priority, and be paramount in everything that you do
For more information about resource management, check out our guide to construction resource management.
Lauren Lake is the COO and co-founder at Bridgit. She holds a degree in Civil Structural Engineering and is well-versed in construction workforce management and resource planning processes. Lauren has been named to the Forbes Manufacturing & Industry 30 Under 30 and Best Of Canada Forbes Under 30 Innovators lists. Lauren has presented at industry events and conferences, including BuiltWorlds, Canadian Construction Association, Procore Groundbreak, and more. Follow Lauren on LinkedIn and Instagram.
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