COVID- 19: CHALLENGES, INTERVENTIONS AND ROAD TO RECOVERY

By QS Rachel Patience Mulondo


CHALLENGES
When the year 2020 begun, most businesses had ambitious projections, some spanning the next
decade, then just within the first quarter BOOM – COVID-19 happened! While its full impact on
businesses will take long to quantify, one sure thing is that most companies will need to re-
engineer their models. The built environment was already starting to take a hit pre-Covid-19 and
following the outbreak, nearly everyone along the construction supply chain has been affected in
one way or another.
Some of the effects include:
 Reduced employee productivity due to anxiety over possible jobs losses.
 Businesses now have to work for fewer hours to allow staff to get home in time because
of the dusk to dawn curfew.
 Owners are currently unable to make long term plans owing to the uncertainty of the
pandemic.
 Delayed payments and cash flow problems.
So, is there hope? A saying goes that every cloud has a silver lining. What this means is that all
is not lost. Practitioners in the built environment must quickly find new ways of doing business.
Therefore, even as firms think of significant changes, here are simple actions that may make the
difference between companies going out of business or re-bounding to new heights:
INTERVENTIONS AND ROAD TO RECOVERY

1. Re-Work Supply Chains

The modern customer has acquired an extremely refined taste, thanks to the internet. Today,
customers want to use exotic raw materials for their high-end projects. Owing to the
interruptions on international trade caused by COVID-19, there could be projects that are already
having cost overruns due to the increased cost of transporting cargo internationally, not to
mention the long lead times.
Suppose practitioners sourced locally for most construction materials and equipment that could
still achieve the same effect as imported materials? Just for an analogy, consider the rapid change
that has occurred in Kenya’s health sector following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.
Hitherto, Kenya imported most surgical masks and ventilators with nobody giving thought to the
fact that Kenya could produce these items. Today, thanks to adaptability and sheer ingenuity,
Kitui Textiles (KICOTEC) is manufacturing surgical masks in bulk, Dedan Kimathi University
is fabricating personal prospective equipment (PPE) en-mass, and JKUAT is producing
ventilators in sizeable quantities!

2. Re-look at Force Majeure Clauses in Contracts

One of the worst nightmares for construction sector professionals, particularly project managers,
is to be slapped with penalties due to delayed projects. Yet, in the case of COVID-19, nobody
would have possibly foreseen the current situation where almost the whole world is on
lockdown. While practically all contracts have a force majeure clause, it may be necessary to
specify what exactly constitutes an unavoidable circumstance. Lack of clarity could lead to a
barrage of legal suits and claims that could easily strangle construction sector businesses. So,
how about engaging your legal counsel to re-look at the force majeure clauses in all your
contracts and sub-contracts to help safeguard construction projects that could face similar
emergencies in future?

3. Re-Think an Enhanced Insurance Package

In addition to the contractors’ all risks (CAR) insurance and professional indemnity insurance
covers, players in the construction industry value chain need to think of enhancing their
insurance covers. Take, for instance, WIBA. Currently, employees are working from home, yet
the majority of employers may have taken a plain WIBA cover that only caters for injuries at the
workplace. What happens if, God forbid, an employee gets injured while working from home?
Are they covered under WIBA? Businesses may, therefore, need to quickly upgrade to WIBA
plus to ensure that their employees are covered 24/7. That way, they avoid having to compensate
employees using their own resources should an injury happen remotely. Additionally, as a sector,
AAK can consider working with the insurance industry to develop a tailor-made product to
cushion the construction sector in case of similar future eventualities. They can borrow a leaf
from the agricultural sector that now has a crop failure cover or even the newly introduced anti-
terrorism cover.

4. Re-Negotiate With Financiers and Customers

Rather than cross fingers hoping that financiers will not ask for loan repayment instalments when
they fall due, it is prudent to begin official negotiations right away. Using their persuasion skills,
contractors can talk with their bankers and other financiers for extensions. Likewise, similar
negotiations with clients are necessary to agree on new completion timelines. Remember to
document these negotiations. Additionally, the construction sector could consider presenting a
memorandum to the government for a stimulus package to help cushion the industry from some
of the effects of COVID-19.

5. Re-Assess Customer Experience Strategy

Customers are the lifeblood of any business. Due to a busy schedule, many companies may not
have had time to undertake customer journey mapping to understand customer needs at each
touch point, but with the lockdown, now is the opportunity. After mapping all the touch points,
develop or strengthen your customer experience strategy to ensure that every employee exceeds
customer expectations and creates memorable customer experiences. Another way to enhance
customer experience is to engage in low-cost digital marketing. For instance, writing regular

blog articles or sending e-newsletters to your customers will keep them connected with your
business. Connection means more business during and post-COVID-19 hence frequent
communication with your stakeholders, employees, suppliers, creditors and government
regulators. Ensure you are vibrant on many social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram,
Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and many such other platforms. You may also need to revamp your
website to ensure that it communicates clearly.

6. Re-Organize Your Team

After COVID-19, it may not be possible for your business to operate as usual. You may have to
re-organize your workforce or re-assign duties. Here collaborative communication will come in
handy. Take the first few days after resuming full operations to engage openly with your
employees and ask them for ideas. Explore future options together. Once agreed, get down to
work. Such a consultative exercise will not only yield valuable information but will also ensure
everyone’s buy-in and support. You may also need to enlarge the team’s skillset to help them
cope with the new normal and prepare for future eventualities. Skills like negotiation skills, work
ethic, emotional intelligence, communication skills and stress management are vital in helping
the team start over again with renewed optimism.

7. Change or Venture into Alternative Construction Related Business

This is already happening with people going into manufacturing of PPE. There is a lot of supply
potential for quality construction materials in Kenya and there is enough research out there to
link proposed suppliers to manufacturers or even enable stakeholders go into production. The
government should also be encouraged to support local manufacturing as much as possible to
create opportunities for the built environment to stay afloat. Practitioners need to explore new
sources of raw materials and encourage their clients to consider alternative supply chain options
that embrace locally available materials.
Conclusion
We can come out of this a stronger and reinvented sector so that in future our contribution is
more appreciated, cutting across various industries and earning us an undisputed spot in the
“essential providers’ category”.
Prepared by QS Rachel Patience Mulondo