The construction sector will welcome the clear message from the Prime Minister that now is the time for the sector’s workers to return to work, provided this can be done safely by staying alert to the dangers presented by the coronavirus.
But while they may be able to get sites back to work, this will be in the context of a parallel world still shaped by lockdown. Neighbouring the site will be many people still working from home, children unable to go back to school and vulnerable people having to be shielded or maintaining self-isolation.
All this means reconsidering the rules of engagement and looking towards alternative communications channels and digital tools. It won’t be sufficient to just wait for people to come to the gates of the construction site to ask to speak to someone face to face to answer their questions.
Therefore, as the sector proceeds to re-open sites, it will be vital to ensure that safe working measures are also communicated externally in the most effective way possible. This is more important than ever as ‘construction communications’ is no longer just an optional item of discretionary public relations spend.
BECG recommends the following 8 steps for smooth external communications:
- Communicating clearly and with confidence is hugely important at this time. Mistakes made in this febrile atmosphere at the early stages of resuming work could have long term business implications. The reputational damage of getting this wrong could be long lasting.
- Seek sign-off from the Council because every local authority takes a slightly different view of construction activity during Covid-19. It’s important to ensure your relationship with the Council is maintained and you avoid communication surprises. Councillors and enforcement teams want to see the development sector lead on safe working and to not be on the receiving end of emails from concerned residents. Remember to share your public communications with ward councillors and for larger sites with your key council officers.
- Know your neighbours before you set about communications. This means carrying out a basic risk assessment in respect of your potential impacts on them. Who occupies the buildings surrounding the site and along the roads used for your workers and lorries to reach the site? For example, if you have a care home and its access path or amenity space bordering your site you will need to be especially careful. But the same assessment must be made for nurseries, primary schools and private homes.
- Draw up a list of the digital contacts for these key neighbours – email addresses and telephone numbers – so you can make contact. Or post a card through the door asking them to supply this information.
- Draw up the wider area for your targeted communications based on the roads impacted by the commencement or re-commencement of works. Prepare a direct mail shot to go out via addressed Royal Mail distribution announcing how and when works are getting underway and providing options for making contact remotely.
- Provide a website and dedicated helpline number run and staffed by communications professionals. For large sites, consider embedding live chat functionality into the website so that queries can be answered quickly.
- Hold a professionally facilitated webinar to allow members of the local community to ask questions and hear your responses. Ideally hold this ahead of getting back under way, or at least announce it and hold it by the end of the first week of operations recommencing. As an alternative, post a short YouTube style film and respond to the comments and questions.
- For large sites, host a monthly construction communications webcast to discuss progress and any neighbour concerns arising.
BECG has been doing all of the above throughout April, helping major sites keep working and we are ready to help you get building again. Find out more here or get in touch with me on 020 3219 7951 or Nick.Sutcliffe@becg.com.