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Following the success of pilot programmes at the job sites of four major contractors, construction firms are now being urged to implement flexible work rules.
The study, led by flexible working expert Timewise in collaboration with industry association Build UK, began in October 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced businesses to adopt specific flexible working patterns, most notably remote work and varied shifts.
An 18-month study at BAM Construct, BAM Nuttall, Skanska, and Willmott Dixon found no adverse effect on timelines or budgets and a considerable increase in employee job satisfaction.
Due to the fact that many businesses have experienced altered work patterns as a result of the pandemic, what looked radical, if not impossible, is now poised to become routine best practice human resource management.
As Timewise notes in its research, “Construction firms have begun to dramatically shift their thinking as a result of the pandemic, and the expectation is that they may be much more willing to adapt to flexible working. But for this to happen, it is critical for leaders to embrace flexible working and set the vision and culture for their firms. To highlight the need for sector-wide action on flexible working, Timewise is seeking a commitment from the Construction Leadership Council to advise that increasing flexibility is critical for the future workforce, to address concerns around wellbeing, diversity, fairness, inclusion, and respect; and in turn to attract and retain talent.”
The Timewise Construction Pioneers initiative redesigned shift patterns in on-site positions to promote greater flexibility, improved wellness, and a healthier work-life balance.
The pilots took place during the pandemic, from June 2020 to February 2021. Timewise investigated whether it is possible to improve the wellness of those working on site by adjusting working hours and schedules and, where applicable, utilizing home-based employment.
The objective was to determine whether this was feasible across a variety of sites and projects without jeopardizing budgets or timelines. The pilot took place in a variety of locales, from an HS2 construction site in London to a substation project near Weston Super Mare, with teams ranging in size from 14 to 120 employees.
Timewise discovered "a broad positive shift in wellbeing" with respondents saying that they would now prioritize the ability to work flexibly while applying for jobs. Managers observed an increase in "trust, ownership, and a more positive team dynamic."
The job sites running the pilot programme indicated no adverse effect on their budgets or schedules. According to some statistics, changes in work patterns may result in labour cost reductions as a result of increased productivity.
Participants who believed their job hours provided them with sufficient time to care for their personal health and wellbeing increased from 48% to 84%. Participants who agreed to work overtime on a regular basis declined from 51% to 34%.
At the start of the project, 47% of participants expressed remorse for starting later or finishing earlier than others on-site. By the end of the survey, 33% had expressed similar sentiments.
At the start of the research, 48% of respondents believed that colleagues working from home were likely not working as hard as those working on-site. By the time the study concluded, that proportion had risen to 33%.
Emma Stewart, Timewise's head of development, stated, “This programme has proved, beyond doubt, that flexible working can work even in complex site-based industries such as construction. In a sector that is all about overcoming challenge with innovation, perhaps that should be no surprise. Our trailblazing Pioneers: BAM Construct, BAM Nuttall, Skanska UK and Willmott Dixon have shown that wellbeing and balance should be possible to achieve for the whole workforce – not just those in office roles. And in doing so have provided a blueprint that we hope will drive wider industry change. Working practices no longer need to be a block to attracting the best and most diverse possible talent.”