Why construction documentation matters more than ever during COVID-19

At more than $1 trillion in annual spending, the construction industry accounts for a significant portion of national GDP and is a major driver of the U.S. economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked incredibly complex challenges, from nervous lenders to on-site safety measures to liability. Documentation has become an absolutely vital tool for protection and preservation of resources in this uncertain environment.
Construction firms have long been expected to hand over a documentation package to site owners at the completion of a project, including specific information like certificates of occupancy, city and state inspection reports, structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing reports, structural testing reports, and architectural drawings. 
But these are not normal circumstances. Owners today are jittery. They want more data to reduce the risk they are taking on projects, and they feel especially grateful for the builders they partner with that give them visual access and a well documented jobsite.
Owners demand insights
To ensure projects are going according to plan, owners require visual evidence that jobs are moving forward. This means general contractors are expected to share pictures throughout the project in a manner that demonstrates a structure’s clear development. And because they are likely unable to walk the jobsite in person due to pandemic restrictions, owners also want virtual access to job sites so that they can see for themselves exactly how a project is shaping up. 
Additionally, they want more insight about the cause of delays. Whether it’s material shipments not arriving according to schedule or sick workers, owners want to know how a contractor will rectify these issues to keep projects on schedule. On top of this, they want all of this documentation housed in one centrally located, easy-to-access location rather than in piecemeal documents, forms and emails.
This means that contractors have found themselves in a precarious position. In addition to protecting themselves against the typical things like warranty issues, incorrect charges, trade damage and broken materials, they are also dealing with an increase in site vandalism, theft and squatting thanks to fewer workers on the premises or temporary suspensions of projects due to COVID-19.  
All of these issues impact their ability to get a job completed on time and on budget, yet many of their contracts specify they are legally responsible for delays or cost overruns, pandemic or not. As a result, contractors are now relying extensively on documentation at every stage of a project to protect themselves in the event of future litigation and to ensure they are charged and paid out accordingly.
Addressing evolving demands
The construction industry traditionally has been slow to adopt and apply technology, despite predictions by leading analyst firms that tech could eliminate inefficiencies and increase productivity. Yet, the pandemic has driven contractors to quickly shift to new solutions out of necessity. Collaboration, artificial intelligence, VR, mobile, and product management are just a few of the technologies now being used out of necessity and not just convenience.
Amid a digital transformation, construction firms are deploying platform solutions that document and manage all aspects of a project in one place, be it an app or an online portal. Here’s a glimpse at some of the key applications that are emerging to get them through the pandemic and beyond:
Collaboration: In the spirit of transparency, firms are leveraging portals and apps where they can share materials with team members, owners and other stakeholders such as lenders. This enables authorized users to access perpetually updated information whenever they need it. Hubs like this make the perfect home for architectural details, plans and permits. With all assets required for turnover packages already digitally assembled in one location, handoffs become a breeze.
Policies and procedures for distancing: To guard against potential future lawsuits from workers or owners, many general contractors are posting their policies and procedures for safety clearly in these portals or apps, ensuring that adherence to CDC guidelines is well documented.
Transparent scheduling: COVID-19 has forced general contractors to entirely rethink how they schedule jobs and deploy workers. Many have turned to their portals and apps to ensure that there is a clear schedule of who is working where, on what. This makes it simple to see that appropriate distancing practices are followed and makes contact tracing much easier in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak. By posting and updating schedules accordingly, any impact of a high percentage of sick workers on a job’s progress can be seen and analyzed.
Tagging and cataloging photos: Photos play a very important role in tracking progress and spotting damage, but they are not particularly useful unless provided in context. For example, if the viewer doesn’t know which pipe, wall, or entry they are viewing and when the photo was taken, it doesn’t deliver value. But if images are taken, posted, and tagged according to location, it becomes very simple to track progression. Dated, contextual images can provide evidence of things like damage that might be needed for insurance claims as well, and new technologies make it easy to search images.
Virtual tours: A digital job site that takes viewers on a tour using 360-degree imagery allows all parties to be active participants in a project, even if they are unable to be physically onsite. This saves time, travel, and ensures in-person contact is minimized to reduce chances of coronavirus exposure and spread for all. This is not just more efficient, it’s reducing our carbon footprint since we’re not driving and flying as frequently.
Project management: Software makes it simple to track pricing and delivery. Any substantial price increases or shipping delays due to COVID-19 can be shared with owners or lenders to negotiate (or renegotiate) contract terms as needed, providing some cover for general contractors who could be hit hard by changing conditions.
Within a very short time, new technologies empower construction companies to move forward safely and efficiently. When applied to document all phases of a project’s life cycle, contractors and buyers can successfully navigate the unforeseen challenges of COVID-19.