In our COVID19 Scheduling Series we have reviewed how to document, re-think, re-plan, and recover the project schedule in response to the disruptions and interruptions of the global pandemic. In this article, we shift our perspective to a potential positive that the pandemic pause has provided the industry, a more thorough consideration of the Remote Construction Office: using online tools to centralize project information and not project personnel.
Safety has become an inherent value for construction companies and projects. Safety of staff is a priority for all companies with much of the immediate focus on safe working methods and practices for field staff, to continue production. As government restrictions ease, companies and project teams are turning their attention to the necessity of and risks associated with office staff returning to project sites. This is a great opportunity to pause and consider: who really needs to be on site? Is there enough benefit gained locating most of a project team at a project site?
What We’ve Learned
First, continuing to work through the global pandemic has taught us a few things:
- Remote working is not only possible; it is productive. Studies show that working from home improved productivity and reduced time lost to in-office distractions: the proverbial chatty Kathy or Kenny. In addition, fewer meetings, less time spent commuting, and no parking issues all adds up to more focused attention on deliverables.
- Collaboration tools are available, powerful, and affordable. Despite the sudden onset of the pandemic, online collaboration tools like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype for Business, and Microsoft Teams were ready and capable to handle the organizational needs for meetings, presentations, and team engagement.
- People can adapt—quickly—to new ways of doing business. The learning curve for new tools and remote collaboration process has been incredibly fast, demonstrating that not only were the technologies ready—the people were too.
- “Essential” on-site staff is minimal. Project support staff, while essential to project delivery are not essential to making the project site function. During the pandemic, business, office staff and the technical support teams have continued to provide their essential functions without being essential to the project site.
Working remotely, leveraging technologies to continue collaboration, and adapting to new ways of doing business have been a necessity during the pandemic. But, the old way of thinking might question: isn’t it just better for a project if everyone is on site? Let’s explore the potential benefits to continue, adapt, and grow these new practices for safer and more resilient construction projects.
Personnel Retention and Attraction
Workforce insights over the last decade (excluding the effects of COVID19) show construction job postings steadily increasing (more work) and job searches steadily decreasing (fewer people). Moreover, some industry surveys suggest that of the people who left a construction-related job, 10% retired and another 10% left the industry. Meaning, 2 out of 10 people who leave a job, leave the construction industry altogether. Personnel retention in an organization, and in the industry in general, are vital to our long-term success.
Perhaps, the construction industry has lost some of its allure. The traditional approach, relocating personnel and teams to projects, requiring travel to “temporary” duty assignments (TDY), and a conservative approach to embracing technology may be driving people out of the industry. Moreover, these factors may also discourage Millenials and Gen-Zers from considering construction jobs. These generations are known for being tech-savvy (and tech-seeking) and valuing work-life balance. While the construction industry has come a long way, the next major step may be right in front of us: remote offices that harness new technologies to collaborate, document, and prosecute projects more efficiently, from anywhere.
Not only do we have a problem with job fulfillment and retention in construction, as a whole the industry has not seen notable increases in per-person productivity. The following graph from the Office of National Statistics (UK) shows that over the last 20 years, nearly every industry has seen a 20% or more increase in per-person productivity, while construction has barely reached 10%. Safety and environmental regulations may be a factor, but the construction industry’s slow incorporation of technology and investment in data have contributed to productivity stagnation.
Our industry’s response to the pandemic has shown that the productivity of office staff is not negatively affected by working remotely. Instead, incorporating collaboration technologies and project management information systems (PMIS) may improve productivity and attract younger generations to the construction industry.
The Cost Tradeoff
Launching new technologies costs time and money; however, these investments will be offset by the benefits of staff retention and productivity when coupled with the reduction in project indirect costs. Specifically, the Remote Construction Office will:
- Reduce the size of temporary office locations, furnishings, utilities, and parking
- Reduce TDY assignments at premium rates
- Reduce personnel relocation costs
- Allow organizations to locate remote offices in more desirable areas and/or areas where the cost of living may be less than project locations
- Reduce staff turnover costs
- Increase the pool of qualified personnel available to staff a project on a full- or part-time basis.
- Remote staff may cost less. Personnel assigned to a job site in New York or San Francisco will cost more than if staffed remotely from Allenton or Sacramento, yet are close enough that they can report to the job site the same day if needed.
Continuing to work during the pandemic has led to a dramatic increase in videoconferencing and online file sharing. These functions help facilitate a Remote Construction Office, but alone do not notably improve productivity. Combining these collaboration tools with a Project Management Information System (PMIS) or other online data management solutions can transform the efficiency and productivity of an office and technical support team. These solutions centralize project information and facilitate organizational business processes, allowing the project team to be located somewhere more desirable, more affordable, and more consistent.
Here are some online tools that can support an on-site or Remote Construction Office.
At ProjectControls.online, we believe in the transformational power of well-deployed online tools to administer and deliver construction projects of all sizes. Tools that build effectiveness and efficiency into processes, automate analyses, and facilitate decision-making are essential to all companies and are rapidly gaining ground in the construction industry because of the pre-existing challenges of retention, recruitment, and productivity. Emerging and continued challenges of safe work environments in the COVID19 era have only increased the acceleration towards such tools and options. It is time to pause and thoroughly consider how collaboration services and online data management tools can facilitate a Remote Construction Office.
As always, we’d love to hear your feedback and ideas. Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.