The key to every successful relationship whether personal or professional is communication. Failures in communication can cause lots of turmoil. However, communication failures in construction can result in costly mistakes and delays. Incomplete documentation by the foreman can be disastrous for a subcontractor when submitting for claims. The inability of the project manager to provide the foreman with updated project specs can result in costly rework. These are just a couple of examples where companies can improve field and office communication to mitigate risk.
In construction, there are distinct departments: foreman, project manager, accounting, and executive. While each has their own distinct responsibilities, none of them can stand on their own. Accounting manages all costs, billings, and payments for the project manager. The project manager relies on the foreman to manage the day-to-day activities at the jobsite. The relationships among the departments are interdependent which is why effective communication is critical.
Communication in Construction
When departments work in silos, it is very easy to throw problems over departmental walls and place blame on other departments. This does nothing but create infighting and does not benefit the project or company. Everyone is on the same team. Let's pull people out of their silos and into a culture of collaboration. Separated by physical aspects of the office and the jobsite, one of the greatest divides in construction communication is the field and the office. However, according to a recent webinar, 90% of contractors still experience difficulty capturing important project information in the field and sharing it with the office.
Why is it important to connect the field and the office?
Better communication and documentation between the field and the office can mitigate risk and avoid claims for contractors. Keeping a record of change, or verbal directives provide irrefutable documentation to support work completed in the field. Documentation is crucial in order for contractors to get paid for work completed. A popular saying in construction goes, “You don’t get paid for the work you do, you get paid for the work you document!” Additionally tracking and unforeseen jobsite conditions can help a contractor greatly. Many contracts have begun to add liquidated damage clauses. With these clauses, contractors assume a lot of risk as any delays are going to cost them. Documenting the causes of delays and the number of lost hours will help to mitigate risk from liquidated damage claims.
Construction Software to Improve Communication
Cloud-based software has enabled the field and office to share information and update documents regardless of location. The availability of smartphones and reliability of networks have made great strides to make mobility more accessible for field workers. With “single source of truth” documentation available from the cloud and mobile devices, project teams can collaborate in real-time regardless of location or device. These new technologies have resulted in an increased of construction software in the marketplace. To help you navigate the crowded marketplace, below are some tips on what to look for in construction software that will improve field to office communications:
- Photos and field notes - Smartphones and tablets make taking photos to document jobsite issues easy. However, many foremen are not taking job site photos. Those that are taking photos are not sending them back to the office. Photos that are not accessible with project information or do not have a context provide little value. Organizations should look for construction software that will allow field users to take job site photos easily. Document, photograph, and annotate field notes in seconds. The field notes can then be tied with project documentation.
- Daily report - Daily reports are the number one profit protection tool so it's not surprisinf that not all contractors utilize daily reports. Some contractors use daily reports only when required by the general contractors. Because some foremen perceive daily reports as a time-intensive activity. Unfortunately, many do not do them. If they are done, they lack important details that could be valuable for claims. Look for a tool that makes capturing data so simple that it becomes very easy for a field foreman to complete. You want to ensure that daily reports can track labor (including lost hours), subcontractors, equipment, materials, weather, and pertinent notes.
- Live stream of data - The real-time connection between the field and the office can boost productivity on both teams. As the field team creates field notes adding in keywords like RFI or change orders can give the office a real-time notification of tasks from the field. Field notes can be instantly available to office staff who can review the information and send out an RFI or change order with a few clicks of the mouse.
- Documents and project files - Project management must keep the field apprised of the latest project updates. Users will need to ensure that they have access to updated project files and approved RFIs and change orders. As a result, access to project documents drastically boosts field productivity. Providing a centralized repository of project documentation ensures that everyone knows where all information.
- Time cards - Almost 70% of construction companies utilize paper timesheets to track time which waste a lot of time on the field and office teams. Mobile solutions now enable field workers to track time from the field. Field workers can track time either through a time keeping mobile app or daily reports. Entering time from the field saves the foreman and office team hours in tracking down time cards. Accounting completes payroll easily, quickly, and accurately.
- Labor activity percent complete forecast - Many construction project management solutions can track project activity, but a winning feature is the ability to forecast project costs. Especially relevant is the ability to integrating project management and time tracking. With this, project managers can monitor actual progress against estimate. Tracking labor provides a percentage of efficiency so that you may be able to make adjustments to help protect your profits.
- Native Mobile app - While the reliability and speed of networks have generally improved since mobile devices were first introduced, job site connectivity can still be a hit or miss. Downloaded from Apple App Store or Google Play Store, native mobile apps allow users to enter field notes and daily reports without internet connectivity. When users get back in range of internet connectivity, the information syncs back with the centralized project information.
- Ease of use - Workers in the field are very busy working and moving the project along. So, they will need something very simple and easy to use. Features like talk-to-text make it possible to capture detailed information very quickly and effortlessly. Additional features like “copy from” allows repetitive information from daily reports minimizes re-keying of redundant information. A mobile app that is easy to use and can help workers complete reports quickly will make adoption higher.
With the availability of mobile devices and cloud technology, great strides are being made to improve communication between the field and office teams in construction. While a majority of subcontractors have not adopted this new technology, those that have transitioned to construction management software benefit from tremendous time savings. Most importantly, improved field to office communication and documentation can protect a company's profits in time savings, productivity, and claims avoidance.