An interview with Lee Grayland, Construction Director at One Portsoken Street.
We spoke with Lee Grayland, the Construction Director at One Portsoken, to find out what it’s like on site of a design and build project over 233,000 sq ft during the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s what he had to say about keeping our partners safe, managing procurement and adapting as the pandemic evolves.
Q: What are some of the challenges that are unique to a project of this scale?
A: On a site of this size, we have the benefit of having a lot of space which makes it easier to follow social distancing. The reality is I’m quite lucky that I don’t have to try and get 40 people on a single floor – that’s where the challenge becomes compounded and a lot more difficult to manage. Space is an important resource in what’s going on and, thankfully, this is a big site which allows us to put measures in place and to ensure they’re followed without compromise.
Getting our staff inducted on site and providing welfare facilities is another key part of overcoming the challenges we’re facing at the moment. Safety measures start the second you walk in the door: we’ve got a turnstile, we’re issuing cards to people to discourage using the fingerprint scanner, we’ve got the appropriate signage that’s been worked through with Martin Peck our Head of Health and Safety, we’ve got COVID-19 training sessions going on and weekly toolbox talks. It’s about following guidance, interpreting what’s acceptable and implementing it which we’ve done as a group.
Q: What’s been the overall feeling regarding the new safety measures?
A: Oktra is a really tight-knit group of people, so what’s been put in place at Portsoken, while it’s on a grander scale, is being implemented across the group. I think it’s a testament to Oktra and how we’ve all come together and maintained the business.
Q: Have there been any situations where someone’s really stepped up for the team? Who are the unsung heroes of this project?
A: First and foremost, would be our site managers: they’ve come to site every day. So, for me, it’s the site teams. Without our site managers our sites wouldn’t function. They’re the people leading this out.
As far as our supply chain partners go, all have been very open with us. Each contractor has approached us about some challenges that they’re having and they’ve worked with us. We have looked at procuring materials in advance, they’ve really taken what we’ve said and they’ve worked with it. There are challenges all over Europe at the minute with regards to procurement: fan coils, mechanical, electrical. Our Mechanical & Electrical partners on this project have been very engaging and very accommodating.
Q: We’ve adopted split shifts across the majority of our sites to accommodate social distancing measures – have we done that at Portsoken?
A: Because of the size of Portsoken, we haven’t had to worry about split shifts. We’re doing a normal daily shift and we’re not having to tell people that they can’t attend the site at this time. Space is key for us and thankfully we haven’t had to implement that. We’re aware of those procedures, and if we were to increase operatives on site and they needed to work in a confined area, we would of course put those procedures in place.
We also benefit from having three staircases; we’ve got an up staircase and a down staircase so we don’t have to worry about people crossing paths in a small stairwell. We’ve got five lifts that we use only for goods, there are no passengers allowed in them anymore. These procedures have been put in place and implemented throughout the business.
Q: How are we managing procurement challenges due to coronavirus?
A: We’re undertaking a programme review and we’ve looked at pieces of work that we can bring forward to benefit or save time where possible. So, for example, we’ve got external decoration underway here six weeks earlier than planned. We’ve got mechanical installation of the Cat A element on the floors; we started that five weeks early.
Q: How have we involved the client in these decisions? Have they been supportive?
A: The client is fully onboard. We don’t want to disrupt or upset that relationship, so we’ve reached out and said ‘look, we have potential issues down the line due to COVID-19. Let’s take this opportunity to secure our stock get it to site early.’ It’s a mutually beneficial agreement: the client secures items that may become an issue down the line and we mitigate future risks associated with procurement and programme.
Q: How important do you think the strength of our relationships with our supply chain partners has been throughout this process?
A: Without your supply chain you can’t finish your project. It’s the most important relationship that we have at the moment, because if your suppliers are not onboard, you’re not going to deliver these jobs. It’s important to be open and honest. It’s bouncing off each other isn’t it? Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and it’s taking those opinions and working towards a collective way forward. Collaboration is key – without our supply chain partners, we wouldn’t be doing the work we’re doing.
Q: How have we worked with our supply chain partners to arrive at a solution that was right for everybody?
A: We’re in this together, we consider our relationship with our supply chain as a partnership. It’s about giving everyone the opportunity to feed back into what we’re doing. We’re all about change – communication is fundamental, being able to adapt quickly and think outside the box is key to maintaining the harmony we need on our sites at the moment.
Q: Is that something that is characteristic of the design and build industry?
A: This is definitely something that’s unique to Oktra, it’s in our DNA. I’m sure other people would say the same about their businesses, but we do feel that it is something that sets us apart. Internal communication, daily catch-ups with the leadership team and working through strategies together has allowed us to operate the way we have.
It would be too easy to give up and just say, ‘we can’t do it.’ A lot of companies have done that and I think companies across our industry are looking at what we’re doing and they’re amazed we’ve managed to stay open. And, again, it’s great management, forward thinking, planning and just being able to adapt and overcome any challenge we’re presented with.
Q: Do you have any advice for other professionals in the industry based on the kinds of things you’ve learned so far?
A: Listening to people is definitely my key takeaway. Lots of people have opinions on what you’ve got to do and it’s about taking those opinions and arriving at something you’re all happy with. Communicate effectively and listen would be my advice.
Q: Have there been any lessons learned that will change the way we deliver jobs in the future?
A: Not so much in terms of site operation. I think that’s why it was so easy to stay operational, because site operation’s always been an area of strength for Oktra – it was just adapting to overcome the challenge that presented itself. I think it’s more about advanced procurement: looking ahead for any unforeseen obstacles and asking ourselves what we can do now to overcome them.
Q: Do you think our experience as a D&B company and our ability to plan and execute projects has helped us implement a forward-thinking approach to scheduling?
A: This is a big job, Oktra have undertaken a few of these and it’s definitely the way forward. There’s a lot to be learned from what we’re doing. We’re a D&B company doing something that is pretty unheard of. The atrium, the ground works, demolition, the amount still going in: it’s ground-breaking. This will define Oktra and will set the path for how we need to proceed with these bigger projects in the future.
Transparency is important to us. If you have any questions about the way our sites are operating during the coronavirus pandemic, you can reach us using the contact form below; we’re ready to start a conversation.