The hidden risk facing construction companies restarting operations

Fraser Kirk is the Marketing and Communications Director for United Capital, a UK construction sector investment organisation. Fraser manages in-house marketing agency, BlueLime Marketing and is responsible for all communication activity for United Capital and their wholly owned group businesses, McGill, Alliance Electrical and Saltire Facilities Management, as well as a number of affiliate companies.

Marketing & Comms Director

After 12 long weeks since lockdown began, the UK construction sector received the welcomed news from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that it could move into phase two of the country’s route out of lockdown and restart work. Aside from the huge amount of work already put in by construction companies to ready themselves for the eventual return to work, I believe there is another huge risk factor that many companies may be overlooking…public perception!

Let me start by highlighting that proper health & safety procedures trump all, however I argue that with increased scrutiny and a general collective inability to not comment on things online, damage could be done simply by not considering the perception of your company actions by the general public and work-force. I also want to point out whilst I advocate considering public perception, companies absolutely should not live in fear of what others think…someone will ALWAYS moan and have something to say!

Over the past three months we have lived through some of the most peculiar of situations that (hopefully!) we will ever experience. Each one of us will have a friend, family member or colleague who has suddenly developed an in-depth knowledge of government policy or epidemiology and social media has made it too easy to share our opinions with the world. During this time the power of public perception has been demonstrated for all to see, if you need convinced, you need only remind yourself the current Scottish Chief Medical Officer is not the same one we had at the beginning of lockdown!

The next few months, perhaps longer, will be fraught with uncertainty and caution. Companies will expect the government to show us the path to follow. We will seek explicit guidance, not only to proactively protect our people but also to protect our businesses from potential backlash and public inquiry (this is where the Care Home sector is at present!).

Our teams have been working closely with our clients to find solutions to the complex environment created by this new way of life. Large parts of these discussions centre around communications, and how we keep the public informed and safe. It is not enough for our teams to know the new working procedures; we must educate those whom they meet throughout their working day.

Across our group of businesses, we have increased communications both internally and externally. We are more transparent in our working procedures with the public than we were before. Those living in the homes we maintain, or in the areas in which we work, should understand what measures we have put in place to safeguard them, and our people. Some of this comes at a cost to the business; the extra time taken to phone or write to customers, the cost of printing temporary signs to display in areas where the public are present and adhering to guidance provided by the government and HSE, but these costs will save money in the long-term and protect the company reputation.

As a Communications professional, my job is to ensure we know what we need to say, who we need to say it to, and that we say it in a way that everyone understands and can hear/ see. Emotions are heightened just now, people, including our workforce, are anxious. As a responsible employer and business that operates in public places, it is our job to acknowledge and address the feeling of anxiety and ensure all sensible measures are taken AND communicated effectively.

A few Facebook posts, a LinkedIn update and a short statement on your company website unfortunately isn’t going to cut it. Absolutely do those things, but take time to properly engage with your clients, customers and work force. Take a minute to consider what your company actions look like from the outside and be willing to stick up for yourself when negative comments are made.