President & CEO, Pomerleau
Headshot photos copyright of Andréanne Gauthier
Chief Executive, Talent, Culture & Leadership, Pomerleau
© Headshot photos copyright of Andréanne Gauthier
The construction industry is sometimes viewed as archaic, but the COVID-19 pandemic may have spurred lasting cultural change.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on construction projects in Canada, casting a spotlight on the culture that helps keep workers employed.
In responding to the crisis, provinces were mixed on whether or not to deem construction sites as essential. Statistics Canada found the total value of building permits issued by Canadian municipalities fell by 13.2% in March, driven largely by British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. With unemployment rates also reaching highs unseen for decades, firms were forced to act.
Montreal-based company Pomerleau chose to keep its staff on the job during the pandemic by first sending employees to work from home.
“We had a plan to start with 40 people working from home on a trial basis only two months before we sent 1,500 people home for their safety,” says Pierre Pomerleau, the company’s President and CEO. “It accelerated everything, from our business plan to the change in the mindset of the client. The new way to build with the technology available is to have more collaboration and cooperation that involves the stakeholders talking together.”
Pomerleau and his brother Francis, who runs the firm’s talent, culture, and leadership policies, have redoubled efforts to assuage workers’ fears and improve efficiency at building sites. That included a philanthropic approach through the company’s Love is an essential service initiative by donating $600,000 to organizations serving communities affected by the pandemic.
Above all, the brothers sought to deliver on the culture they believe makes the construction firm what it is — and can become. Despite being a large company with 30,000 total workers on sites nationwide, they describe their namesake firm as “like a family business” and strove to affirm employees “were important and necessary for the continuation of our business.”
“Their resilience, effort, and adaptability have us looking at the future in a very favourable way, especially when it wasn’t that clear at the beginning, but we now see that construction will rebound,” says Francis. “It’s not just a bulldozer that will change the world, it’s people with great ideas that make the difference on a project at all levels, so the more respect and training you have, the more your investment in them pays off.
Technology is also building consistency for off-site construction, they add. Along with maintaining work-from-home options in a post-COVID-19 scenario, there’s what they call “industrialization.” The information modelling and surveying technologies, among others done off-site, contribute to faster and less wasteful building practices on job sites, they say. As an example, Pomerleau is constructing eight specialty health clinics ranging between $10 to $30 million apiece in four months.
“The only way to achieve that is with a great team of architects, engineers, and clients, and us making sure we have prefabricated or off-site communication builders,” says Pierre. “Everything will be collaborative in the future, and it wasn’t the industry pushing back before, it was the clients. Now, they’re getting on board. We need to bring the whole industry to where everything will be mobilized and digitized within the next 5–10 years.”