COVID-19 brought challenges to our personal and professional lives that few of us have ever experienced or could have imagined. There have been strains we have never felt and losses that we couldn’t have fathomed. Through the last year, though, the engineering and public works professions have not only persevered but reached new levels of collaboration, resiliency, teamwork, and dedication. Tough times and challenges offer opportunities, if you look for them, to find out what you’re made of. Our firm is small by most standards, 100 professionals, but the last year has shown what a proud and dedicated group of teammates can accomplish in the face of adversity. Being ushered out the door in March 2020 to work remotely for an unknown amount of time was, well, unsettling to say the least. We really had no idea what was ahead for us; it wasn’t just us, the uncertainty extended to our clients, too. Still – important projects that directly affect quality of life needed to be done. The work needed to continue. Failing roadways, deteriorated bridges, antiquated wastewater treatment plants, and dated airports had no idea there was a pandemic.
So, as we get to the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic – what have we learned?
For one thing, investments in emerging technology are extremely important. Those that had previously invested in networking, laptops, video conferencing applications, online collaboration tools, and other remote working technological assets barely missed a beat while those that needed to play catch-up fell behind quickly and suffered. Some of our public agency clients were not prepared for remote work because it wasn’t allowed due to network security reasons or other IT issues. It took a bit of time for those issues to be remedied and get their programs running again on all cylinders.
At Hoyle, Tanner we realized our strength and dedication to our projects carried us a long way to making sure that schedules were maintained to the best of our ability. We quickly learned that our professionals could manage themselves without needing to be in an office full time – which will be a tremendous asset in flexibility and work-life balance moving forward. Our industry and many others that were accustomed to in-person situations are likely forever changed for the better.
Lastly, company culture and leadership are integral to success. Rainy day and sunny day leadership are very different, and it takes an independent skill set to excel at either, or both. Are your employees engaged? If so, they would probably run through a wall for you to keep pushing the values and mission of your firm. If not, productivity, excuses, and missed deadlines were probably the result. During the pandemic, we took the opportunity to undertake a comprehensive strategic planning program, initiate a rebranding project, and most importantly didn’t panic. All with the goal that as we emerged from the last year of darkness, we would be poised and ready to serve our stakeholders (clients, employees, and consultant partners) better than ever before. We “leaned into the punch” and tried to use the situation to figure out who we would be next.
More challenges for sure. There’s talk in Washington, D.C. of infrastructure spending, recovery funds, as well as a growing need for investment into aging assets. Will injecting more money into the system solve these issues? Maybe but maybe not. There is a labor shortage in the construction industry that more money alone may not fix. Construction industry jobs have increased by nearly 2 million in the last 10 years, but openings have grown by nearly 250,000 (US Department of Labor, 2021). One of our New Hampshire offices recently assisted a client in advertising a bridge project twice with no bid responses for either. More money may not be the remedy for that. For projects that are receiving bids, the prices are escalating tremendously due to strains on the material supply chain, likely partially (or mostly) caused by the pandemic. Time will only tell if material costs and labor availability will come back into alignment with the available funding in the system.
With all we have been through in the last year, it is only natural to wonder what awaits in 2022 and beyond. One thing we can count on, though, is that the engineering and public works industries will likely be at the forefront of continuing to shape the “new normal” that we all eagerly await. One thing you can count on, Hoyle, Tanner will be here, ready to take on these and many more challenges just like we always have.