A whole new normal

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) Belfast Hub committee give their reaction to the Covid-19 crisis...

Gary Blair FCIOB, Chairman of the CIOB Belfast Hub Committee and Pre-Construction Manager at Farrans Construction.

ROLE: Chair of the CIOB Belfast Hub committee

It’s a whole new normal. Working from home for me was a once in a blue moon occurrence, mainly born out of necessity to let a plumber in to fix a leaking shower, or a delivery of a new washing machine when only a slot between 8am and 3pm could be confirmed. How times have changed. Now working from home is the new norm, without the break in the day to interact with the plumber or the team installing that new appliance. It’s the same for most of us now as we adapt to a new way of working and throw ourselves into crash courses in Teams, Skype and Zoom – something I thought only a camera did a little over three weeks ago. Within my business and no doubt others, priorities have changed. Whether in the short term or long term is yet to be seen, but reduced staff levels across the industry and increased workloads on retained staff have more than ever brought the subject of protecting mental health to the fore in our industry. It is now more important than ever. Reflecting on the whirlwind that has been the past weeks and what I once took for granted and now miss include, believe it or not, the drive to and from work. Those 40 minutes, particularly at the end of a working day enabled me to decompress from the events of the day and enjoy life outside of work when I got home – a natural break. That no longer exists, and the working day rolls seamlessly into post work. Regular breaks from the screen are also something that we all need to learn to manage, not least to ensure we get regular mental breaks from a work day that is no longer 9 to 5. Now that the plumber and cooker men aren’t available to talk to through the day, I am increasingly thankful for the video capabilities of Skype, Teams and Zoom. It is amazing how therapeutic it is to see individuals or groups in their new working surroundings, whether it be the dining room, spare bedroom, study, or given the current weather we are enjoying, garden. It also comes with a side-effect, the need to keep up appearances, so to speak, with our clothes and personal grooming. I can’t help think how times have changed as I listen to the news this morning report on members of the legal profession joining calls from the comfort of their beds. The new normal is a strange place alright, but we are resilient and adaptable in the construction industry. We are adjusting – and business goes on.

Roger Gillespie FCIOB, Vice Chairman of the CIOB Belfast Hub Committee and Managing Director of Training LMS.

ROLE: Vice-Chair of the CIOB Belfast Hub committee

I reacted quickly to the lockdown and made the decision to move all of Training LMS’s CIOB training programmes to online learning. This judgement call has enabled all existing programmes to continue. It has also ensured we can cater for those sitting at home and looking for a productive way to pass their time. In addition to the provision of classes for local contractors, programmes by Training LMS are currently running for candidates across the UK and Ireland. The CITB NI grant aid has continued to assist local eligible contractors to secure assistance towards training costs.

John Reid FCIOB, Member of the CIOB
Belfast Hub Committee and Business
Development Manager.

ROLE: Member of the CIOB Belfast Hub committee

Most of us have developed or assisted in the development of a Disaster Recovery Plan and Business Continuity Plan for our businesses. Being prepared was the sensible thing to do. We looked at scenarios such as explosions that meant road closures, ash cloud restricted travel, fire on site, that sort of thing. We planned contingencies, such as setting up a ‘war’ room, satellite offices, internal and external information coordination teams. We looked at IT resources, payroll, travel time and logistical support to ensure our businesses could be maintained at a level that could lead to a rapid return to ‘business as usual’. Plans were built around the presumption that we could continue to work in small departmental teams detached from a Head Office, with sites generally working as normal unless they were the focal point of the disaster or emergency. What we never expected or had to contend with was a complete lockdown, a scenario where businesses were closed down, sites closed completely, staff housebound and travel prohibited for the majority of our industry. What has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic locally, nationally and globally is we have been forced to adapt, and quickly. This has included working from home to protect our businesses, industry and ultimately the greater economy. Resourcefulness is ingrained in our industry, it’s why we can design, procure and construct exceptional projects to challenging budgets and time frames. It’s why we have instinctively demonstrated ingenuity to a greater degree than we perhaps even realise. Keep going, keep doing what you’re doing. Keep in contact, both internally and externally, and we will not only recover when this is over, but we will THRIVE.

Sean O’Brien MCIOB, Co-opted Member of the CIOB Belfast Hub
Committee and M&E Maintenance Officer with the Education Authority for Northern Ireland.

ROLE: Co-opted Member of the CIOB Belfast Hub Committee

As with everyone, the current unprecedented and unexpected situation has necessitated some unusual changes to my normal routine. The Derry Central Library, my usual place of work, is now closed to the public and staff. The key was turned in the door on Tuesday, March 24, initially for four weeks. However, at the time of writing this, the lockdown period has now been extended for a further three weeks.
I am fortunate that I am able to work from home, and whilst the majority of schools are closed there is still administration required in respect of previous response and project works and projects carried out pre-lockdown. Contact with work colleagues is being maintained (for the craic) via a WhatsApp link. Now that I have more time on my hands, according to the ‘missus’, I’ve no excuse for not turning my hand to all those little jobs that were always on the long finger. I have power washed anything that isn’t tied down, repainted fences, washed windows, fixed the cross trainer and tidied the garage. Of course, we are all aware of how difficult a time this is for many people directly impacted by coronavirus, but I have to admit that the situation has resulted in more family meals now being enjoyed together around the kitchen table. That family time is great, although I’m not sure I’m revelling quite so much in my new responsibility as the family’s weekly shopper. I can’t believe how the price of the grocery bill has increased – might even have to stick spuds into those raised beds.

Gerard Graham FCIOB. Member of the CIOB Belfast Hub Committee and Principal of Gerard Graham Consulting.

ROLE: Member of the CIOB Belfast Hub committee

On the day the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, announced that schools in The Republic of Ireland were closing, I was in the offices of QMAC Construction Ltd. The ping of notification came through my BBC App, and straightaway everyone knew that this was big news. That schools in Northern Ireland would follow suit was inevitable. In the days that followed, I found that everyone was approaching the crisis in a remarkably calm way. People who I had been working and liaising with in various companies all arranged for access to their company server to facilitate working remotely. In fact, I have been surprised at just how quickly people have adapted. The initial Zoom call I dialled into was something of a novelty, but thereafter it quickly became the new norm. Things have certainly changed, but I try to maintain a structured 9 to 5 work day. Of course, now that my 5-year old son is not at school I set aside time, usually about 1pm each day, to play football with him in the garden. It’s been precious family time, time together that might never have happened without the current crisis – so every cloud.

Sarah Sharpe MCIOB, Member of the CIOB Belfast Hub Committee and Technical Manager at Sodexo.

ROLE: Member of the CIOB Belfast Hub committee

I arrived into work on Wednesday, March 18, following a long weekend break for St Patrick’s Day. My return to work in the office was to be short-lived. That same day I was instructed to work from home until further notice. As an infrastructure support service provider it is imperative we continue to maintain our property portfolio, to ensure it remains safe and compliant. It was also a particularly challenging time for our organisation as we were in the middle of a transfer of undertakings (TUPE) process. Despite the unique circumstances, we have a new management team that has succeeded in the launch and mobilisation of our contract whilst being detached from us all. Thanks to technology, we have all been able to continue with our meetings and team conferences. It has been an adjustment working alone, rather than having a vast team of people around, but we have continued to support and encourage each other. We have also maintained routine, structure and focus. I am reminded constantly that we are all in this together, and that together we can continue to deliver a service, albeit through extraordinarily, difficult and unfamiliar conditions.

• The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) is the world’s largest and most influential professional body for construction management and leadership.
• The CIOB was established in London in 1834 as the Builders Society
• The CIOB has 45,000 members and branches in over 100 countries world-wide
• To learn more about The Chartered Institute of Building visit www.ciob.org