By Holly Welles
As COVID-19 continues to spread across the continental U.S., more businesses shut their doors to the public. The construction industry, despite its necessity, has struggled to adopt widespread measures in response. However, as the situation continues to escalate, companies are moving their back-office operations to remote work to protect employees and mitigate the spread of the virus.
The vast majority of construction businesses could never have planned for this change. This means the transition may be difficult for what research indicates is one of the least digitized industries in the nation. Luckily, a shift to telecommuting can be relatively simple once companies have a solid plan in place. Here are a few ways the industry can promote a smooth transition to remote work despite worksite job concerns.
ESTABLISH DIGITAL LINES OF COMMUNICATION
As teams work from home, it’s imperative to keep all lines of communication open. This setup may include hosting video meetings, starting a work group chat, or setting everyone up with the same software to promote collaboration. Using a cloud-based phone system may also be a smart move. Doing so will allow everyone to receive phone calls, listen to voicemails, and store phone data remotely. Cloud phone services also provide SMS options, multiple extensions, and the ability to forward calls.
Additionally, construction executives should work to practice transparency as the industry undergoes rapid changes. Stimulus packages, government regulations, and shutdowns can greatly impact back-office employees, who will look to management for leadership. These executives can foster trust with daily updates, using technology to speak to employees about the construction landscape, and what changes mean for the workforce.
CONSIDER BIM APPLICATIONS
Another way companies might facilitate excellent communication is by using building information modeling (BIM). The industry often uses BIM software to design virtual models and share files. Now, however, many use BIM technology to collaborate among team members effectively and achieve common project objectives.
With BIM, face-to-face meetings are unnecessary. As an instant messaging, file sharing, and video conferencing tool, this technology allows work to proceed from a distance. BIM can facilitate remote project management and client communications, helping stakeholders stay up-to-date on construction project changes and make decisions in a virtual space.
USE CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE
Many site managers already use some form of management software to create schedules, track employee labor, make lists, and plan the logistics of various projects. Now, however, teams must rely on this software more as many spend more time planning projects and processing financial impact than constructing buildings. Physical spreadsheets and files will quickly get unwieldy in the transition to remote work.
Software can facilitate cost-cutting measures and help monitor staffing levels in a rapidly changing environment. Managers might share certain aspects of this software with back-office staff so that they can discuss project progress and what future construction might look like when the team can work on-site again.
STICK TO THE OFFICE ROUTINE
One of the best ways to ensure a smooth transition is to stick to the same routine as one would have in an office setting. Therefore, if a company always meets at 9 a.m. on Wednesday mornings, they should do the same virtually. Moreover, if everyone works 8 hours a day, they should do the same from home.
Sticking to a schedule will make it easier for the team to stay productive and on task, even if they aren’t physically in an office. This can maintain a sense of normalcy and prevent communication disruptions that create stress for back-office employees at both work and home.
PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen, many companies begin to suspend physical construction. In fact, several states have closed down all but the most essential sites until further notice. However, they may not necessarily have to suspend all work. Businesses can still employ remote back-office staff and physical construction teams with the considerations above.
In the meantime, organizations should also use this time to develop a contingency plan, a policy to keep the company safe and prepared during an emergency. This plan will minimize company losses when a disruption occurs, prevent panic among staff, and help people understand their roles going forward. While the next emergency may not be a worldwide pandemic, a procedure for any disaster—a wildfire, hurricane, tornado, etc.—is advantageous.
DIGITIZATION FOR CONSTRUCTION OFFICE WORKERS
COVID-19 is a public health crisis with an uncertain trajectory. As businesses across industries learn to adapt, the nation will lean on technology and communication to keep whatever normal processes we can afloat. Construction businesses with a robust back-office staff can maintain accounting, business procedures, and even some remote project management operations while keeping employees safe at home.
The construction industry has always been slow to adopt progress, but technology innovations over the past few decades can set these remote teams up for success. Employees in the back office can be empowered to keep a business running with smart communication, accessible software and a game plan for an uncertain future.
about the author
Holly Welles is a construction writer with experience covering business growth, labor, and technology. She regularly contributes to publications including Construction Executive, Trimble, and Colorado Builder.