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Adapting to new ways of working amid the Covid-19 crisis

27 March 2020

The current crisis may change many civil engineering practices for good but it also affords opportunities and new ways of working says civil engineer Bachar Hakim.

Adapting to new ways of working amid the Covid-19 crisis
Bachar Hakim on site

The current worldwide crisis is likely to change our future communications and social activities and will probably reshape our civil engineering practices for good.

The future is here, and we need to react faster than originally thought. We need to adapt to new ways of working, communicating, learning and interacting to deliver and maintain vital civil and infrastructure projects. In recent years, various visions have been presented on the future and resilience of our roads, airports, ports, rail, water and infrastructure.

Digitisation, remote communication and asset condition assessment, maintenance and construction automation, the use of 3D printing, modular and offsite construction, robots, drones and remote activities and technologies are proposed. However, the current crisis might drive us to implement such technologies as solutions to sustain our key role as providers of sustainable infrastructure.

We need to develop our skills to adapt to these fast changes, train/recruit staff with new skills, change university courses and invest in new technologies and digital infrastructure.

In the short term, our construction industry will suffer as people will resist changes. Loss of business and traditional workforce is inevitable, and the impact on the economy and well-being of the industry and society will be significant.

Working remotely with good digital infrastructure might be easy for designers, consultants, educators and students but more difficult for large construction site workers and network maintenance operators. Hence, the first priority is to improve the digital infrastructure and communication skills, followed by offsite construction and automation.

Each country will close its borders to goods and people to minimise international exposure and future worldwide pandemics. Many airports, ports and international hubs might close and this will impact businesses and the economy. However, the long term benefits include reliance on natural resource and local experience, reduced travel time and cost, reduced rail and road maintenance, reduced cost of running physical offices and the associated positive impact on the environment, sustainability and climate change.

However, the borders will be open to technology and humans via digital means and there will be no need to employ local staff with local academic and professional qualifications. In principle, any qualified staff can perform tasks or attend schools and universities remotely from any part of the world. Therefore, unlike physical borders, virtual barriers will be removed.

In summary, this unexpected worldwide crisis has opened our eyes to the future shape of our industry. Hopefully the world political leadership will work together to control the situation soon, but we need to use this opportunity to be ready and resilient to the future, as the world might not be the same after the Covid-19.

Stay up to date with our regular industry Covid-19 updates.

Read Bachar's full profile

  • Dr. Bachar Hakim BSc MSc PhD CEng FCIHT FICE, Head of Pavement Design and Asset Management, Transportation at AECOM at AECOM