Stephen Coulthard

Vice President, Strategy & Planning, Cumming, New York, NY

“A grocery chain in the tri-state area is discussing installing barriers to protect their cashiers, and I suspect we’ll begin to see a reversal of the open office plan with a move back to higher-walled cubicles and private offices to curtail the spread of germs.”

Have your daily tasks and/or role changed as a result of the impacts of COVID-19?

Given my focus on overall strategy and national accounts, my role has not changed significantly. In fact, COVID-19 has only reinforced our strategy to diversify the business and focus on repeat work with long-term clients. Many of our national accounts are also global and are just starting to see their projects in Asia coming back online. They are keen to maintain capability in the U.S. so they can do the same here when the time comes.

How are project schedules being impacted? What are some of the solutions you’re recommending to help alleviate schedule issues?

Last week, many of our accounts were pushing on with projects in flight, but this will change as restrictions increase across the U.S. We have been lucky that our current list of national accounts — which generate a healthy portion of our revenue — are focused on online shopping, social networking, data centers, digital streaming, healthcare, and banking, all of which have robust business models for the lockdown and the new norm that will follow.

How is morale on your projects? Any insight into how to maintain team member morale during a time like this?

It’s still in the early days, but many team members are still adjusting to the speed of change and levels of uncertainty. Those in the more discretionary sectors are understandably more concerned than those in staple sectors. My advice would be to focus on what you can control, keep a positive attitude, and help others where you can.

Do you see the industry’s approach to construction changing over the long term in response to some of the lessons we’ve learned during this crisis?

There’s only so much construction sites can do to remain operational during a fast-spreading, global pandemic, but it does call into question the global supply chain and the “just-in-time” delivery model — particularly when it comes to medical equipment and supplies. In the medium to long-term, the industry will need to plan for rolling shutdowns and resource for resiliency.

It’s also interesting to think about what we will be building going forward, with COVID-19 acting as an accelerator of what may have happened sooner or later organically. Will people return to their previous routines or will newly formed habits — such as working/learning/eating/exercising/streaming entertainment at home, traveling less, and shopping online — mean we are building fewer offices and retail stores, and more data centers and warehouses?