“Personally, I lost my job”: Voices on Covid and construction from around the world

From 4-18 May, the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) in partnership with GCR conducted a global survey to gauge the financial, operational and personal impacts of Covid-19 on the worldwide construction industry.

The quantitative results, published today, can be found here.

But we also asked respondents to take a moment to describe how the coronavirus pandemic had affected them, personally, and their businesses.

The response was extraordinary.

Taken together, hundreds of comments build a detailed picture of sudden and profound change in many countries and sectors.

Stories of personal hardship are mixed with expressions of concern over cliff-edge business uncertainty, as well as more philosophical takes on what the pandemic might mean for the future of construction.

Below are a representative selection of the comments, with type of employer organisation, and country, listed in italics.

How has the coronavirus crisis affected you and your business?

"Unclear future, being expat in Saudi Arabia. Uncertain situation and travel ban while family with me is making me worry."

– Large main contractor, Saudi Arabia

"Fairly fortunate so far, but husband lost his income, though has managed to get temporary position in the meantime. Mental health and well-being is generally okay, but more anxious because of uncertainty. Concerned about the future. I was furloughed in April but now back to working from home."
– Large main contractor, UK

"Unprecedented impacts, accelerated use of video conferencing and remote meetings, enormous savings on travel, environmental benefits, political strife and idiocy!"
– Large project management-QS firm, United States

"We are working on the site under pressure. Everyone is working because they don’t have an option. Company is not giving even a work-from-home rotation, asking us to work 11 hours per day. Not giving any chance for flexible working time. Every one is disappointed and mental health stress is becoming worse, very badly."
– Large main contractor, Qatar

"Massive recession in a small country and a delicate industry full of SMEs. Unscrupulous employers cutting wages regardless of ability to pay. Clients expecting a rebate to reflect the government subsidy and not understanding they are not entitled to it. Clients refusing to accept contractual liability because it doesn’t suit them."
– Small main contractor, New Zealand

"Personally, I lost my job."
– Large main contractor, UAE

"Everything has come to a dead stop. It’s just a financial fiasco."
– Small consulting engineer, Ghana

"As we predominantly work within UK airports, we have been severely hit by the impact of the virus on aviation and retail. Until passenger numbers increase substantially, it is difficult to see how we can continue within these sectors."
– Small project management-QS firm, UK

"It forced us into remote working and it’s been very effective so far. The lockdown might affect the mental health of a person, but we will get through it. Forces us to invest in ways to analyse sites remotely and more effectively."
– Large consulting engineer, South Africa

"I’m working for an oil and gas company and its revenue was severely affected by the crude price slump due to covid impact. Company already served notices to many employees, and if this situation continues for the next few months I may become jobless as well."
– Public client, Qatar

"Will be pursuing claims and other form of revenue protection."
 – Medium-sized project management-QS firm, Canada

"I am a new business with clients that are affected most by the lockdown, such as retail, gyms and casual dining. We just hope that some of these businesses are allowed to reopen as soon as practicable and to avoid them haemorrhaging valuable cash reserves that will ultimately affect the capital investment that my business relies on. Hopefully, when the world returns to normal, consumer confidence will also bounce back (fingers crossed)."
– Small client organisation, UK

– Volume housebuilder, Australia

"Award of new projects has been halted and this will affect cash flow in the coming months."
– Small QS firm, Malawi

"It has led to me working ten and a half hours a night, from midnight to 10.30am, just to try and make ends meet. Interviews I had booked have all been stopped. It has severely impacted on myself and my partner."
– Large housebuilder, UK

"We are having severe financial difficulties and may run out of business until mid-next year."
– Large main contractor, Oman

"Private investment shows signs of stalling."
– Small main contractor, Australia

"My problem is how construction will adhere to lockdown regulations, especially social distancing on a construction with more than fifty workers at a given time."
– Medium-sized main contractor, South Africa

"Revenue is 50% of norm due to impact on productivity. Material supply impacting on programmes. Huge additional workload on site and office management to keep sites operating safely and managing risks including programme delays, insolvency and general wellbeing."
– Large main contractor, UK

"It is very near to business as usual with current projects progressing full steam ahead in addition to new wins."
– Medium sized project management-QS firm, (21-100 staff), Saudi Arabia

"Many prominent clients are holding the decision to start projects for the next year."
– Large main contractor, Bahrain

"I will be interested to see if my local subcontractors survive. There is no state assistance for them and the suspension of projects is for at least another four weeks."
– Large public client, Egypt

"Uncertain of long term viability. The telling period will be 8-12 months after lockdown is eased, when new contracts, which should have been secured in this period, are unlikely to be there."
– Small specialist contractor, UK

"Financial cuts, redundancy, unforeseen future, lack of vision, inability to make sound decisions even for family and children’s education matters." (With crying-laughing emoji)
– Large project management firm, Saudi Arabia

"Coronavirus has suspended all my survey and site business. Although building starts again on 18 May, I expect that the predicted recession will disproportionately affect the building sector, particularly in commercial work areas."
– Architecture firm, Ireland

"A major downturn, with secured jobs being postponed or cancelled. There seem to be tenders coming in, but not as many as the projects that have been effected."
– Small main contractor, New Zealand

"Business wise we have seen it as a great opportunity to reschedule and refinance the projects and delay those which aren’t financially generative. I have no issue with being furloughed as I am financially secure for up to 12 months. Personally, it has been disappointing to be furloughed and have little to no communication from my immediate line manager or other leadership team members – just the same bland COO message which is strategy-less!"
– Medium-sized main contractor, UK

"Covid-19 hit our business hard. Still waiting for construction to start and a return to normalcy. In Singapore, the ‘Circuit Breaker’ [lockdown] ends 2 June. At this juncture, no confirmation by government. It may extend if the Covid infection in workers’ dormitories is not contained."
– Small main contractor, Singapore

"Shortage of construction materials, reduction in working hours, etc., has seriously affected work at sites."
– Large consulting engineer, Saudi Arabia

"The level of uncertainty is high among fellow construction managers. The uncharted water that lay ahead is a major concern – the ability to maintain work practice while social distancing."
– Medium-sized main contractor, Ireland

"I am a sole director of a construction management limited company, and do not get any financial support at all. I am near retirement and therefore cannot claim universal credit, so having to use my savings to survive."
– UK

Image: Will the sun rise again on construction? (Nafis Al Sadnan/Unsplash)

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