Optimizing Remote Work in Construction
World-changing events aside, remote work is growing in popularity. Employees are working from their homes instead of traveling to the office every day. This allows staff to potentially enjoy a better work-life balance while allowing employers to find the best talent regardless of where they live.
While construction is far from an industry that can go fully remote, certain jobs within construction can function as well from a kitchen table or the front seat of a car as they can from an office. This guide will explain which jobs those are and how companies can optimize remote work in construction.
Which Roles Can Work Remotely in Construction?
Obviously, construction can’t run completely remotely. We need folks on the job sites to build the structures as well as management staff and administration to be present to run the business on the day-to-day. However, there are a few roles in the average construction company that can function remotely.
Estimators are some of the most commonly remote employees in the construction industry. These professionals travel to a project site, take measurements, review plans and drawings, and prepare bids and estimates. Simply put, they don’t need to be in a central office for their work.
Typically, a remote estimator will still travel to the project site, but rather than preparing their bids in an office, they can work from a home office. Once they have the measurements, drawings, and an internet connection, there isn’t anything they can do in an office that they can’t do at home.
Another role that’s becoming more commonly remote is that of the project manager. Project managers spend the majority of their time on the project site, managing the details of the project. They facilitate communication between those in the field and those in the office, and they track project progress and maintain necessary documentation.
While project managers do need to be on site quite a bit, they don’t need to be in the office. Their administrative work can be handled at home, so they can stay out of the office and enjoy the work-from-home lifestyle while also traveling to the job site.
Large construction firms and general contractors often have their own accounting teams to keep their numbers in line. They review and prepare reports, track budgets, manage cash flow, ensure the company is compliant with taxes, and a host of other tasks.
Most of an accountant’s job is computer-based. They don’t need much in-person contact to tackle their spreadsheets. With access to all of the reports and data, they can easily work remotely.
There are plenty more employee roles that can be transitioned to remote work or hybrid schedules. Just about anyone who completes the majority of their tasks alone but doesn’t actually build the structure is a possible candidate for remote work.
Tips for Optimizing Remote Work
Remote work isn’t all that different from in-office work. For example, construction companies should be looking to optimize their remote work processes just as intensely as they do processes in the office. The following are some methods contracting firms can use to make their remote staff more efficient and productive.
Advanced Project Management Software
Project management software is an absolute must for companies employing remote workers. Rather than working from spreadsheets and paper-based recording with hand-written signatures (both of which require trips to the office), companies can use project management software to digitize the majority of their processes.
This software can keep remote workers, site personnel, and office staff connected throughout the project. It can quickly display project statuses, streamline workflows, and provide real-time data updates, which can help everyone stay on the right track, regardless of where they’re based.
Cloud-Based Access to Reports and Drawings
One of the best tools for remote workers is a cloud-based storage system for reports and drawings. These storage systems allow users to access reports, drawings, and other project documents from anywhere in the world whenever they need them. They’ll have access to a database of documents rather than traveling to an office or requesting documents via email.
Most of the best project management software systems do provide cloud-based storage, either included in the cost or as an add-on function. Staff can access a variety of reports, estimates, plans, and contract documents by simply logging into the software with their user ID. They can send proposals, bids, estimates, takeoffs, and other important documents to the people who need to see them without even sending an email.
When it comes to fostering excellent remote employee relationships in the construction industry, communication is everything. Office staff need to know and understand what the remote employee is working on, and that employee needs to know of any major changes or updates that they would normally find out about in the office.
So how can a construction business improve communication and make it as easy as possible? Through software. Video conferencing software is a must, as the company can require weekly meetings with administrative staff. But as helpful as video meetings are, this is another area where project management software can be a difference maker.
When a project manager, estimator, or other team member finishes a task such as an inspection or a bid, they’ll report it to the software. At that point, they can tag or ping anyone who needs to see it, leave notes, and answer questions. And, since these programs automatically update job dashboards, budgets, reports, and other documents impacted by the change, everyone is always in the loop.
Also, some companies should consider taking a page out of the digital world’s book. There are messaging apps that can keep entire teams connected in team-wide channels, sending alerts to team member’s phones and computers whenever a message is sent. Channel admins are typically the management staff, and it’s an effective way to ensure everyone sees updates and changes. These channels can also function as think tanks where staff workshop problems and ideas.
Effective Employee Hour Tracking
One of the greatest challenges that contractors with remote staff face is employee time tracking. Rather than meeting by a time clock and punching a timecard or swiping ID badges, these employees start work on their own, when they log in.
This is a tricky topic, and it’s one that all industries with remote workers face. However, the software that the employee has to log into is a start. For project managers and estimators, choose software that uses GPS tracking, just in case there is a discrepancy.
Regular In-Person Meetings
While the focus is on hiring remote staff, companies should plan to have regular in-person meetings to regroup. Regular can mean annual, bi-annual, or quarterly, but it’s an opportunity for the team to meet, regroup, and set a trajectory for the months ahead.
Preparing for these meetings with remote staff is important. If any new initiatives are coming, prepare them before the meeting if possible. Gauge team members’ interest in tasks like shifting departments, taking on new responsibilities, and heading up teams at these meetings. Employees are much more likely to volunteer for new roles in person than they are through email or messaging channels, so take these regular meetings as an opportunity for growth rather than just review.
For many contractors, it may be worth asking what’s more important: timeliness or productivity. While so many companies are worried about every minute of their remote staff’s day being accounted for, the real focus should be on how productive each employee is. Review the employee’s output quarterly, or more often if issues are suspected.
Companies should hold regular performance evaluations for the remote staff regardless of the findings. They should praise employees for what they’re doing well and identify areas for improvement together. The administration should also ask the staff how they can better support them and be open to feedback.
A Trial Period
Remote work isn’t for everyone. Even team members who were stellar office employees might find working from home distracting. For this reason, it’s important to put a trial policy in place as a way to regroup with a great employee if remote work isn’t their strong suit.
Make this a written policy that the staff member has to sign. Ensure they know what the expectations are, how long the trial period will last, and any other details required. This document should be as ironclad as a construction contract to make things fair for everyone involved.
Remote Work Is (Maybe) the Future
Remote work has its ups and downs, and the verdict is out on whether it’s a good idea. However, construction companies that optimize their remote work processes will find that adopting this new way of working could increase productivity and retain valuable employees without sacrificing work quality or communication. Use the tips above to develop remote work policies and remember to value productivity and communication over timeclock management to make the most of this new way of working.