In an industry where physical presence on a jobsite is essential, many contractors could not have imagined shifting to a remote work strategy before 2020. Yet, over the past year, 83% of construction industry employees reported working remotely.1
When forced to adapt to changes brought on by COVID-19, organizations have leveraged technology, applied creativity, and adjusted for what was expected to be short term.
Remote Work Challenges in Construction
As companies realize that remote work may offer competitive advantages, leaders must understand the challenges, reimagine what’s possible, and be open to create strategies for a “new normal.”
Challenge #1: Keeping Lines of Communication Open
Before COVID-19, an employee could walk into a colleague’s office or cubicle to have a quick conversation, provide an update, or solve a problem. However, what happens when the person they need to reach is not in their office but instead working from home that day?
Maintaining open lines of communication among groups within and outside of any organization is essential to success, but when employees are dispersed in a remote environment, communicating effectively and efficiently can be a challenge.
Challenge #2: Running Daily Operations
The daily operations of a business can also be affected by allowing employees to work remotely. When employees in a local, regional, or national corporate office are in the same location with a consistent level of access to technology, the daily operations of a construction business run efficiently. However, when employees are working remotely, the regular flow of operations between field and office staff can be affected by inconsistent technology and schedule irregularities along with a heightened threat to information and data security.
Performing basic functions such as tracking time and billing, obtaining necessary approvals, and holding status meetings can be challenging in a remote environment. When employees don’t have the resources provided by an office environment, such as high-speed internet, digital scanners, and the benefit of being able to walk over to a coworker’s desk, the speed of normal day-to-day operations is affected and therefore can impact productivity and job completion.
Challenge #3: Maintaining High Levels of Employee Engagement
Employee engagement – or the connection that employees feel toward their company, peers, and work – is largely impacted by the relationships that employees have with their coworkers and the informal networking that takes place in an office setting.
In a remote environment, these informal “water cooler” moments are replaced with scheduled video calls and e-mails, potentially leading to employees feeling less connected. In the construction industry, having a highly engaged team in the corporate office is critical to ensuring that field workers receive the information and resources they need to get the job done.
When working remotely, it can be easy for employees to become disconnected from their coworkers and the organization. As a result, their work may become less fulfilling, and the corporate culture may suffer. Employers must be intentional about developing engagement strategies, especially in a distributed or remote work environment.
Strategies to Maximize Remote Work
Once the challenges are identified, discussions can shift toward leveraging technology and creativity to combat these obstacles.
Strategy #1: Reimagine What’s Possible with an Agile Mindset
Instead of stressing over the challenges presented by a remote environment, consider what a remote working environment can make possible for your business. This is where adversity can turn quickly into innovation.
The increase of technological advancements is forcing organizations to quickly adapt digital strategies with an agile mindset. A recent McKinsey & Company article states that “digital adoption has taken a quantum leap at both the organizational and industry levels.”2 Organizations that fail to invest in digital strategies may soon find themselves behind their competition.
As you reimagine what a digital transformation could do for your organization, consider the following questions:
- What challenges could you overcome by implementing digital strategies?
- How could these strategies help you take care of your people?
- How could these strategies provide services to your clients?
- How could these strategies bring efficiencies to scale your business to new revenue growth?
Consider how technology can create opportunities for improvement, as metrics for real-time reporting and dashboards can allow for conversations and communication to be efficient and effective. For example, when time is posted with each shift, tracking a project plan’s budget to actual helps identify problems early. It encourages questions about change orders and delays, which provides an opportunity to quickly remedy a problem.
Technology may allow for electronic approvals and signatures, which can help to move revisions through a workflow without physically passing paper. This may also help relieve some anxiety about a project being stalled when a paper copy is in the possession of a project member who has tested positive for COVID-19.
If it’s challenging to adopt this mindset, consider forming a mastermind group within either your organization or network. Leveraging the diverse perspectives of those around you can help jumpstart innovative thinking and develop new solutions.
While it’s important to be agile in your approach to digital transformation and quickly adapt and adjust as needed, a solution that may work for another organization may not work quite as well for your specific business needs. Don’t be afraid to approach parts of your transformation as “experiments,” where you test certain solutions and make changes as needed.
For example, some organizations have moved to a 24-hour workday, which has allowed for three eight-hour shifts. The change in shift timing and reduction of onsite workers allows work to stay on track all while maintaining social distancing. In this scenario, communication can be a challenge, which is why it’s imperative to think wisely about how the foremen and superintendents will be scheduled. The superintendent will need to connect with each shift and monitor the pulse of the entire project.
As new COVID-19 information is constantly released, this often results in new guidance that affects the work environment, which has created a need for organizations to be nimble.