Field and office communication are essential to a well-run project. The problem is that the office and trailer usually operate in their own little world, while the jobsite functions entirely separately. There are different regular players in each space, and those in the office might never set foot on the jobsite. By the same token, workers in the field might never understand the intricacies of collaborating with so many different vendors, subcontractors, project managers, architects and owners.
As a result, it can become an almost combative relationship. While the office personnel is integral to coordinating nearly every aspect of the construction project, at the same time, without the skill and dedication of the boots on the ground nothing would ever get done or done right. Each discipline brings its own talents into the project, and it’s vital to generate trust and respect between the different players.
Conflicts on the jobsite are nothing new. Nonetheless, even though it’s a common problem, it doesn’t mean it’s one you have to just accept. It’s critical that construction companies and their employees take every precaution to head off conflicts before they become an issue. First, because no one needs the added stress they bring to the job. Second, because they’re immensely expensive.
In one study, it was reported that the average cost of a jobsite conflict was $10,948.00. That’s just the average. A conflict might cost you upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars if it’s not handled quickly and properly.
The monetary cost of conflict due to the lack of field and office communication is a real concern. Equally damaging is the emotional and mental stress it places on the personnel involved–creating a negative work environment which can lead to employee turnover, lower productivity and has even been shown as a contributing factor in workplace accidents and disability cases. The ASCE Library’s technical paper on cost, causes and consequences of conflicts offers some valuable insights about the real impact these issues can have on your company and the industry.
In addition to discussing the benefits of improving communication between the office and field, we’ll share nine effective ways teams can bridge coordination on the whole.
The Importance of Field and Office Communication
The field is the first to know of an issue or change. One of the main contention points experienced between the office and the jobsite is due to a barrier in communicating what’s going on in the field in an easy to understand way. There are all sorts of scenarios were not planned and that the project manager and other employees have to handle on the spot.
For their part, the office needs to know about delays, any additional materials and anything that might hinder the very tight work schedule. The jobsite is meant to be run like a well-oiled machine, with different subcontractors and specialty trades all playing their part. In an antiquated protocol, the jobsite calls the office with new developments and updates, the office records this information into the main project file or job log, and then they follow through with any additional scheduling changes, purchase orders and correspondence with clients/architects.
When field and office communication breaks down, you’ll experience:
- Loss of Data: If a worker on the jobsite fails to report instances, that information will simply not make it to the main office or the file. This hinders the whole team’s ability to work effectively or to analyze where changes could be implemented for better productivity.
- Hindered Completion Time: Communication breakdowns often result in scheduling conflicts that can push completion times back substantially.
- Costly Errors: A lack of the most up to date information can result in errors that mean more staff hours and additional materials.
So, what steps need to be taken to bridge communication between the office and the field to enhance data collection, improve schedules and reduce budgets? The answer lies in adopting the right technology. The following nine tips can help construction companies to use technology to their full advantage, bridging the communication chasm between the field and home office.
9 Ways to Better Connect the Field and Office in Construction
Get Rid of the Paper
Paper has always been a primary resource among construction professionals, but there’s no legitimate reason to remain devoted to this old fashioned way of doing business.
Plans change. Using paper means that you need to update blueprints and spec sheets and then print them for every revision. The problem for those in the field is that it’s easy to confuse the different version of plans (or just not receive them in time), and there’s no way to make sure that you have real-time access to changes as soon as they’re available without physically going into the office to obtain a new copy.
Paper isn’t the only problem, either. What you need to concentrate on is using real-time solutions for your communication issues. Older technology solutions, such as Excel, might not remain up to date either, especially if you’re not working with a system that allows all of the personnel to access the same files and applications. Even depending entirely on email for communications has its fallbacks.
Technology alone isn’t the answer–it’s the right technology that allows for each member of your staff to connect and make changes to files in real time, so all of the other employees have access to the newest information.
Mobile access to all plans, systems and documents through the right construction software is a must. This allows your field employees to access information in real time, whether they’re on the jobsite, in their truck or at home. It also lets your office staff access files from anywhere. Jobsites often run outside of nine to five hours. If you have a significant change that happens at 5 am or 9 pm, your office staff may well need to be alerted to make alternate arrangements for the work day to come.
Even if your current technology claims to be mobile friendly, look into what that means. Some construction technology isn’t suitable for easy access on mobile devices. By choosing software that prioritizes mobile, the better chances both the field and the office can connect.
Get on the Cloud
While cloud computing probably sounds like a vague and technical term, it is the best way for teams to keep information in real time and secure. Mobile apps that allow for real-time communication work through cloud computing. So it’s not just about installing apps on individual smartphones and other devices, it’s about allowing for a program that each person connects to where the central information they need lives.
If you’re looking to learn more about the specific aspects of cloud-based technology that’s imperative for today’s construction companies to have, read our guide.Further Reading: Starting a Security Program in Your Construction Company
Standardize Your Technology
Standardized technology is necessary to make sure no information is lost in translation. If your company is using one type of program in the office and another in the field, you’re likely losing data. If you have no set applications and just let your employees choose their favorite modes of completing tasks, you won’t have real-time information available to anyone, making organization tasks ten times more difficult and far less accurate.
Does starting to standardize sound like a major burden? It’s not– and we have a helpful ebook, to help guide companies through the process.
Adopt User-Friendly Applications
There will always be some workers who balk at technology. Let’s face it; some technology can be downright infuriating if it’s not intuitive to use right off the bat. The best way to encourage your entire staff to embrace upgrades in technology is by making sure that the programs you choose are user-friendly and easy to understand. While this might seem like a given, it’s not always as easy to implement as it looks. For instance, what a back office administrator or project engineer might find easy to use, might be ill-received in the field. The same could be true vice versa. It’s about finding a technology solution that everyone can get on board to quickly.
Nevertheless, there may still be some staff who dislike making the change, so it’s critical that you make it mandatory throughout the company–but not without support. Ample training and providing a guided transition period will help get the whole team up to speed.
Create Reporting Templates
Are your data and report capture methods different across the board? It’s common for people to use one type of reporting in the field and another type in the office. This adds to the problems in communication between the two areas of your company. A better practice is to create templates that are easily understood by all personnel and used by all facets of your office.
Creating and distributing set reporting templates means that you’ll be able to develop a uniform workflow that each of your employees follows. This protocol becomes second nature, and the workflow nature means that you’re safeguarded from missing important information because the system will alert you before you’re allowed to proceed.
Create Shared Goals and Tasks
For each project, creating shared goals and tasks that each member of the team is aware of and encouraged to follow means a more cohesive project. There’s no way to reach a goal that you haven’t set. While the project completion is the obvious goal, keeping it in the forefront and establishing clear tasks will help propel each area of your team to have that overall goal in mind.
Often different workers have their own set goals–keeping up with their schedule or finishing their portion of the project. Usually, for the worse, these individual goals have a way to conflict with one another. Certain construction technology features, like PlanGrid Tasks, can help teams create shared goals and track work, each step of the way. Instead, by defining the focus and bringing increased visibility to the whole project, employees will stay vested until completion, even if their portion of work was finished much earlier.
Prioritize a Data-Driven Culture
Rework is costly. According to a recent report, 48% of all rework is the result of miscommunication. A data-driven culture decreases the chances that information will get lost in the shuffle. Making the change to a system that allows all of the points to connect means that you’ll be able to improve productivity, decrease instances of personal conflict, and reduce costly errors.
How do construction companies start to prioritize data capture as part of the corporate culture? Read our blog, “10 Data-Driven Construction Strategies to Boost Productivity” to learn more.
Visual Images Aid Communication
Never underestimate the value of photos and videos to detail or explain something. One reason there are communication issues between the field and office is that neither side understands completely what the other side does. Office personnel might be great at writing proposals and keeping track of scheduling issues, but they may not have a clue what the details of the projects they are coordinating look like. The lack of a clear understanding makes communication difficult because one party has no frame of reference for what the other party is saying.
Including photos and videos in your reports and attached to sheets can help this problem tremendously. Consider even adopting 360° images and software that geo-tags a photo’s location, to provide even more rich information that further narrows the communication gap. Visuals give everyone a frame of reference and offer additional supporting documentation all the way through the project.
Bridging the Field and Office Communication Gap
While field and office communication is not the only area where conflict might arise in construction, it is the base for a great deal of misunderstanding on a project. Bridging the communication gap between the front office and the field helps to alleviate heaps of issues which can come up during the project. If your company is working as a cohesive team, errors are limited and morale is higher.