Back in March, the whole world was turned on its head when Covid-19 lockdown measures began.

Forcing industries all over the globe to adapt to new ways of working, teleconferencing became commonplace, and remote working has become less of an option and more of a requirement for many.

For office-based jobs, the move to a digital and distanced way of working was challenging in many ways but certainly achievable. But take an industry like construction which relies on workers being on-site, and you have a great deal more to consider.

Jennifer Young is Managing Partner at Ledingham Chalmers and is an accredited construction law specialist. As a leader in the field, Jennifer Young is keen for speakers to share as much helpful information as possible about flexible working at this year’s Build It Conference.

“Lockdown has given businesses across many sectors, including legal firms and construction, more confidence about how to manage flexible working and how to tackle any challenges. We may also see employers restructure shift patterns. Or, at the very least, the requirement for going into the office as often.

“Chances are too company travel, primarily for the sector’s office workers, will be significantly reduced in favour of virtual meetings and webinars — or even good old phone calls. And from that perspective of remote working, there will always be demand for face-to-face meetings, but now we’ve seen just how well other options, like online meetings, can work efficiently for office-based workers. I’d expect these to carry on post-lockdown.”

And how has lockdown affected the type of service the firm offers its clients? What challenges is the sector facing?

For a start, the impact on the industry has been marked. ONS figures released in August show monthly construction output grew by a record 23.5% in June 2020 (compared with 7.6% in May).

Perhaps not surprising though, that’s the extent of the good news.

Monthly growth is low (24.8% below the February 2020 level), and quarterly output fell by a record 35% (in April to June). And while the report adds anecdotal evidence suggests a continued increase in activity in the construction sector, social distancing meant where businesses were working on premises and sites, the capacity and level of output were not at the same as before the coronavirus pandemic.

“As lockdown eases, and with construction sites open again, dealing with the consequences of delays and addressing where the risks associated with those lie are increasingly in the spotlight. Our advice to clients has been to go back to basics; to understand the rights and remedies outlined in their construction contracts.

“When it comes to claiming for an extension of time or loss and expense linked to COVID-19, a strong negotiating position is critical. That’s when going back to basics, and understanding the contract is invaluable.”

Partner Kirk Tudhope, Ledingham Chalmers’ head of employment law, presented ‘Smart Buildings and GDPR’ to the Build It 2019 conference delegates. Has that conversation changed in the wake of the pandemic?

“There’s a focus on how to use smart buildings to help get people back to work when the time’s right. For example, until recently, these systems were used for the likes of security and to remotely monitor and manage energy use.

“Now, technology such as thermal imaging and occupancy monitoring could potentially be adopted to help reduce the risk of virus spread and help those responsible for overseeing social distancing policies. The technology could also help monitor the likes of air quality to perfect ventilation strategies and pinpoint areas for cleaning. 

“And, of course, all data should be stored securely and following the requirements of the GDPR. Arguments are appearing that suggest, for example, the test and protect system in England breaches the regulations. Whether or not that is correct, collecting and storing information about people attending any business premises or sites needs to comply with GDPR.”  

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