Best Practices; Field & Office Communication in Construction

construction small business job site communication

I've seen versions of this quote over and over again. If you're reading this, I'm sure you'd agree that it's true. For whatever reason, it's a continuous struggle on every construction project.

"The biggest cause of serious error [in construction] is lack of communication."

-Finn O'Sullivan, Checklist Manifesto

I've never seen it perfected, probably because every project, every Owner, every Prime and every Subcontractor is different enough that there is no perfect way to do it. It's all about finding what works for you and your team.

Step one in the pursuit of good job site communication is understanding the importance of job site communication itself. Thinking that this is a non-issue or something that's not utterly important is a huge mis-step in this industry. Or even thinking that you have great job-to-office communication can be dangerous as well. And if you fall into that second category, I would bet good money that you entire team doesn't share that same opinion.

Step two is putting some rudimentary processes in place to help ensure better field-and-office communication.

Best Practices for Site-to-Office Communication

Software

Job sites are becoming more and more tech savvy every single day. This is a great thing when it comes to bettering your project communication, but there's a pitfall that see a lot of small businesses falling into: trying to adopt software that's build for a different contractor. What I'm saying is that just because it's good for a company that does $300M a year in revenue doesn't mean it's good for the company doing $15M a year.

Building a process:

Start by talking with your counterparts on the Prime or Owner side. Find out what information is required and what info is necessary. Do the same for your internal team. Marry those two lists up and start with that. Now that you have an idea of your needs, you can start evaluating options for delivery. Delivery could be anything from emails to full project management software.

Best Practice:

Start small, start simple. The simpler it is, the best chance you have of sticking with it. Getting in too deep too quick is a kiss of death. An example of starting simple: you know what the reporting requirements are, so create an email template that can be updated and sent in to the Prime. And once that's under control and has been vetted and updated over a few months, maybe find an app or program that can do it for you. 

In-person meetings

Meeting are the antithesis of productivity when they're not executed well. When meetings are carried out in a well-thought-out way, in-person meetings can provide real-time updates on very important matters. 

Building a Process:

There are a number of things that need to be evaluated before throwing another meeting on the calendar. Think about attendees (who needs to be there), durations (set a duration to keep things on track), location (is it on the job site or doesn't everyone have to come to the office?) and frequency (daily, weekly monthly?). If there is one of these that is more important than the rest, it's making sure the right people are there. This is not a time for 'delegating' because you don't want to go to the meeting. Having the right people in the room to make decisions is the only way this is going to work out well for the attendees.

Best Practice:

Agendas (aka, Checklists). Take the time to create an agenda, or at least a general checklist. If it's a regular meeting, you'll be hitting on the same topics each time - that's your meeting checklist/agenda. Location. Please stop making every field supervisor come into the office for a meeting just because there's a white board. You can buy a while board at Lowe's for $20 - mount is on some 2x4's and you're good to go. It would also be good for those office folks to get into the field on occasion anyways. Updates. Depending on what phase of the project you're in, you'll need to change things up. Remember to be flexible and do what works, not what you think should work.

Creating Habits

Head over and the post about the book, Checklist Manifesto. There, you'll discover how habits work within construction. AND you'll get a quick overview of how to create (or change) habits. I won't expand on this here. 

Clear Expectations

As with anything else, your team is going to flounder if there aren't clear expectations for them to perform to. So take a few minutes and make it clear why this is important and what you expect from them. Don't take anything for granted: make it crystal clear. 

Building a Process:

The process of setting clear expectations is actually more of a habit. Something that you'll get better at, and more used to doing, as time goes on. If you're new to this, here's what I would recommend: take a moment to think about what it is you'd like to convey, then write it all down, THEN go have the conversation. I'm prone to forgetting things, so I really like writing them down. And it will help you commit it to memory as well. Remember to cover the who/what/where/when & why of it all, too.

Best Practice:

This best practice is simple, but effective. Say what it is your expectations are. Then ask them to repeat it back. The extra second it takes to ask them (politely!) does two things: it engages them in the conversations so it's not just you speaking at them, and allows you to confirm what they actually heard (which means you can correct it if it was misconstrued).

BONUS: Zipper Plan

Often times information falls through the cracks because people just aren't quite sure who to communicate with on different issues. Creating a Zipper Plan will help answer those questions. What's a zipper plan? You line up your team in one column and the other teams (Owner, Primes, or even other Subs) in other columns. Then you draw (literally, like, which a pencil) the line from one person's name to the corresponding person on the other team. Talk about clear expectations! There is no clearer point of communication than when you literally connect two names on a piece of paper.