Misunderstandings between contractors can result in soured relationships and burned bridges, delays and costly mistakes, or, at the extreme, million-dollar lawsuits and even loss of life. So we benefit from any tool that helps avoid these breakdowns in communication.
Here are nine construction processes that live and die by the speed and accuracy of information, and a look at the ways technology has changed communication in construction.
1. Daily Reports and Progress Tracking
This 2009 blog post sums it up:
Never arrive at the construction site without the following items in hand:
- A hard-backed pad or clipboard and a pen
- A small durable tape or digital voice recorder
- A digital camera with date and time stamp
- A flashlight and tape measure
Reports have always been tools for informing and recording (and, of course, C’ing Your A). Now apps such as FieldLens, Raken, and more have reinvented them as tools for communication. Anyone can see real-time updates from the jobsite and respond immediately. No more finding out what’s been happening all day when it’s already too late to do anything about it.Reports were for informing, recording, C'ing Your A...now apps are reinvented as communication tools Click To Tweet
And with features such as speech-to-text, integrated HD cameras, and automatic formatting, there’s no more staying late to compile a day’s worth of data into a report either.
PINNACLE/CSG recently won a Constructech Vision Award for their successful use of technology (namely, NoteVault) to create their daily reports.
2. ITBs and Bidders Lists
The old, old way involved sending snail-mail postcards and following up with phone calls, usually with a few faxes thrown in the mix. Then we moved on to email, which was faster and cheaper but quickly became unreliable with the introduction of spam filters: sending to more than a handful of addresses at a time will still likely get you sent right to the junk mail folder.
And, of course, we stored bidders lists and tracked responses with our trusty Excel spreadsheets, and did our best to keep them updated manually.
Now bid management software organizes our bidders lists so we can find what we need in a couple of clicks. We can even save time by letting bidders update their own records. And we continue to send ITBs by email—still the fastest and most successful way to contact people—but messages sent through a software application almost always make it to the inbox. Finally, integrated tools to track responses and coverage make our lives infinitely easier. Some companies are starting to incorporate their websites and social media accounts too. GCs are advertising their bidding projects on their websites, reaching out to potential bidders through LinkedIn, and even putting out public calls for bids on Twitter.
Now bid management software organizes our bidders lists so we can find what we need in a couple of clicks. We can even save time by letting bidders update their own records. And we continue to send ITBs by email—still the fastest and most successful way to contact people—but messages sent through a software application almost always make it to the inbox. Finally, integrated tools to track responses and coverage make our lives infinitely easier.
Some companies are starting to incorporate their websites and social media accounts too. GCs are advertising their bidding projects on their websites, reaching out to potential bidders through LinkedIn, and even putting out public calls for bids on Twitter.
Absher embeds their iSqFt plan room on their corporate website, to help potential bidders quickly find the info they need.
Clark Construction regularly uses Twitter to recruit bidders.
— Clark Construction (@ClarkBuilds) July 30, 2015
3. Lean Construction and Constructability Reviews
If it happened at all, this design-phase collaboration involved: (1) some logistical miracles to get all the needed parties in the same room at the same time, and (2) A LOT of Post-It notes.
MMC CONTRACTORS MMC used Basepin Connect for a hospital construction project, as a one-stop solution for real-time collaboration, document and BIM management, issue tracking, automated notifications, reporting, and more.
SOUTHLAND INDUSTRIES A founding member of the Lean Construction Institute with a long history of incorporating lean principles into their project, Southland has fully embraced using current technologies to facilitate that process.
4. Plans and Specs
Whether these documents were viewed at physical plan rooms, requested (for a fee) from reprographic companies during bidding, or consulted onsite during construction, they were historically only available as hard copies. The process got a little faster with fax machines, and more environmentally friendly with FTP sites and emailed PDFs (though firewalls, spam filters, and file-size limits were big hurdles).
Online plan rooms make it easier to share documents with potential bidders, and the documents themselves are now electronically searchable, streamlining takeoff and estimating work. Addenda notification is easier too, with automated email alerts and the ability to highlight updated information within a document.
MANHATTAN CONSTRUCTION In addition to using iSqFt for their new construction project at the Houston airport, Manhattan Construction expanded its reach by using social media to communicate with bidders.
5. Project Meetings
With multiple parties invested in the success of construction projects, meetings are inevitable (though, depending on your perspective, it might be not be necessary to have quite so many of them!). Organizing a meeting used to be easier, simply because most projects were local endeavors.
Now it’s common practice for a project’s owner, construction manager, GC, and subcontractors to all be located in different cities, across the country. Thankfully, technology such as GoToMeeting makes these projects possible by getting all the necessary parties in the same room, virtually.
DPR uses GoToMeeting’s app for mobile devices to help team members at multiple locations communicate while viewing BIM models.
GoToMeeting has allowed Tebarco to move BIM into the field by holding weekly clash detection meetings with GCs, other subcontractors, and workers on- and off-site.
6. Punch Lists
Once we got past the days of printed lists with actual “punches,” we moved on to spreadsheets. But that still meant writing on a hard copy during inspection and then entering defects into the spreadsheet, which introduced the possibility (probability, really) of user error. Then there were more hard copies to communicate requests, often just taped to the door of each room.
Standalone apps and features built into comprehensive construction management apps have transformed the punch-list process. We can use mobile devices to record and assign items in real-time, attach marked-up photos, set up automated alerts for approaching due dates, and receive notifications when tasks are completed. All of this new functionality is making it possible to achieve a “zero punch list.”
Robbins|Reed uses the Procore app to shorten their punch-list timeline.
“[The app] really allowed the project manager to stay on top of the subs to get their work done without all the typical phone calls and emails. Often, the subs got tired of getting the automatic reminder emails…and just got their work done to stop the automatic emails!”
Getting a response to an RFI was a potentially weeks-long process of shuffling the request among the subs, GC, architects, and designers. It usually created more and more questions before we admitted that everyone needed to sit down together to hash out the answer.
And don’t forget “slip-sheeting” updated pages into the drawings and even copying handwritten revisions from the old sheets to the new ones!
As with other processes we’ve talked about (especially punch lists), online and mobile apps that allow for collaboration, document sharing, photo markup, task assignments, deadline reminders, status updates, and automatic archiving are the new best practice.
In civil engineering firm Jones|Carter’s previous process, RFIs were Word docs that were printed, signed, and scanned back in. Then they were sent for review, reprinted, re-signed, and returned. Now, well, there’s an app for that.
“I think Fred Flintstone invented the system that we used before.”
Safety in the past meant recording violations, reporting incidents, and tracking training requirements. If you haven’t already guessed, based on the sections above, this really meant printed forms, hard-copy manuals, and, of course, spreadsheets.
New technologies are rapidly changing how the industry approaches safety. Instead of just recording incidents after they occur, we can predict and avoid them.
Apps like Rhumbix and StriveZero collect data from the jobsite, look for patterns that might indicate an upcoming safety or health issue, then notify supervisors and workers so they can take preventive action. In addition, StriveZero is connected to OSHA’s database to help supervisors and inspectors easily spot noncompliance.Technology means we can predict and avoid #safety incidents, not just record and report them #construction Click To Tweet
Technology is also making safety trainings more accessible and less disruptive. Can’t make a meeting or class? You can attend remotely, view a recording when it’s convenient for you, or even experience it as an interactive, multimedia webinar. And trainings can be easily translated into multiple languages to make sure everyone can understand even the most complex concepts.
Roofing company GAF is partnering with their local and regional trade associations to develop safety-related webinars and Toolbox Talks in English and Spanish.
9. Time Tracking
Workers clocked in and clocked out with their time cards, so supervisors knew when they got there and how many hours they worked. But they didn’t get any information about what the workers were doing during those hours, which caused nightmares for the accountants trying to determine phase codes and regular vs. overtime pay.
Today, it’s easy for workers to record real-time details of when they’re working and what they’re doing, by using mobile apps, phone calls, text messages, and even Twitter. And there are bilingual options to avoid errors due to language barriers.
Some of the available apps take the “when and what” aspect further by using GPS to record “where” as well. While location-tracking can improve accountability, compliance reporting, and resource allocation, though, it obviously brings up privacy issues and can lead to an atmosphere of distrust.
S. HEINZ CONSTRUCTION & DESIGN
S. Heinz Construction & Design’s employees work three or four projects at a time, so using TSheets to clock in with their smartphones and change project codes as they change sites makes everyone’s job easier.
What Do You Think About How Technology Impacts Communication in Construction?
What’s your experience with using technology to communicate on and off the jobsite? Too much, or not enough? Do you have any good stories to share? Leave us a comment and tell us if we got it right or are off the mark. And let us know what your job is too.
Additional Sources Consulted
- “Ten Tips on Managing RFIs for Your Construction Projects,” Aconex Blog
- “The Construction Worker of the Future,” >ConAppGuru
- “The Value of Software for Construction,” ConAppGuru
- “Three Technologies to Mitigate Contractor Conflicts,” Construction Executive
- “5 ways to avoid costly communication inefficiencies on the job site,” Construction Global
- “BIM + Prefabrication = LEAN Construction Projects, Fewer Costs,” MetalMiner
- “The Anatomy of a Request For Information (RFI),” Procore Blog
- “Modeling for construction, not for drawings,” Tekla Corporation
- “Why Mobility Has a Great Significance in the Construction Industry,” Wired – Innovation Insights