Home Features Coping with Covid: The Power of a Dynamic and Collaborative Network

I remember sitting with a CEO of a fairly large business a few years ago talking about his reasons for being part of a community. He replied: “The trick to succeed in the modern world is working out when to compete, when to concede and when to collaborate. In the competitive and combative construction sector, we do a lot of the former and nowhere near enough of the latter.”

Most of us have had some pretty tough days in the last couple of months as we’ve tried to process and cope with all that is going on, but one positive has been the green shoots of a more collaborative culture within the industry.

At times I have been inspired by the way people have rallied nowhere was this more apparent than in the work on Nightingale Hospitals, that involved so many of our members (see SpecFinish May 2020).

The FIS Board has led by example too, stepping away from intense challenges within their own businesses to take part in virtual FIS Board Meetings every Monday evening. These dedicated volunteers have steered the FIS team and helped to isolate and prioritise key challenges against a threestage COVID plan; hibernation, restart and the new normal. They were also instrumental in helping to create and test the two risk management toolkits that FIS produced to support companies through the hibernation and restart phases (these embodied the concept of collective wisdom, ensuring that the same mistakes didn’t echo through the sector). Their insight helped to set clear weekly goals and ensure FIS activity was targeted and relevant. There have been robust debates as we felt our way forward, but disagreements didn’t create fractures, if anything they made the group stronger and helped us to see beyond the individual to the greater good.

A myriad of health and safety concerns was an early priority, but when asked, the FIS membership was not found wanting. More than 30 individuals gave up valuable time to join the FIS COVID19 H&S Taskgroup and support the creation of a Four Step Health and Safety Protocol and Task Assessment Tool, sharing expertise, experience, examples of best practice and helping to develop resources for the good of all. Detailed discussions around Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) enabled FIS to produce guidance to extend the Site Operating Procedures and alleviate some of the sourcing issues. Many more individuals filled in the questionnaires or gave feedback that helped to target support and ensure that, when representing our community to Government and through the Construction Leadership Council, we could clearly identify concerns, quantify them and add real substance to the debate. Whether we agree or not with the decisions made, we could be sure that they were always informed.

Our wider network has come good too, helping to develop targeted factsheets, bolster our Contractual and Employment Toolkit and support the extensive webinar programme we have been running.

Improved collaboration within our community hasn’t been the only source of hope. Throughout the pandemic I have seen the Construction Leadership Council grow in stature and strength.

Setting some of the early communication issues and the Site Operating Procedures Version 3 hokey cokey aside, the organisation has become more open and collaborative as the weeks have gone on with weekly online meetings enabling an open exchange of information and views. It has been far more than a talking shop providing a direct channel into government and creating dynamic working groups that have produced information. We can only hope that the industry reacts positively to the genuine leadership that is set down in the Best Practice Guidance to Avoid Disputes. If we can grasp this opportunity and continue the momentum in the realisation of the Roadmap, working towards a common goal, then fi nally the principles set down in the Egan report (and many more before and since!) may finally be realised.

Another beacon of hope has been the newly formed CICV Forum a working group of trade bodies active in the construction sector in Scotland. This group has been incredibly proactive, again meeting online weekly to ensure that the industry was aligned and working together.

Any differences were set aside to support the development of, without doubt, some of the most highquality resources I have seen produced.

Throughout my time working with this group I have been impressed by the fact the tragedy of the virus and the impact on lives has always been central to the discussion and put before all else. There is already talk of this group evolving and I for one am very supportive of this.

So in adversity, I am not naive enough to think we have left all of the negative behaviours behind us and hope has been confronted by underhand contractual practices and reprehensible payment decisions that has left me with my head in my hands. But there are glimmers. Taylor Wimpey’s advanced payment to selfemployed members of its supply chain sent out a strong message to the supply chain and the new collaborative procurement model for upcoming work at Sheffield Hallam are all steps in the right direction.

I am looking forward with some hope as in a dark time have been inspired by leadership, encouraged by collaboration, humbled by generosity and I have been very proud to be part of the FIS community.

Iain McIlwee, CEO, Finishes and Interiors Sector

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