With cooler weather setting in across the country, many jobsites feel the initial relief from another highly volatile summer for construction. Having successfully juggled countless challenges throughout the spring and summer, many construction teams are looking to the fall and winter “slow season” as a time to reassess and reorganize.
While commercial construction historically slows in the winter months, construction starts rose by 10% in September to a seasonally adjusted rate of $889.7 billion, according to Dodge Construction Network, with non-residential buildings rising by 15%. This type of growth, despite rising prices, material shortages, and scarce labor, emphasizes that construction demand is expected to remain high into the new year. Preparing for organizational growth in 2022 means taking the winter to prepare your teams to be more efficient and effective.
With significant questions remaining around the pandemic, increased construction costs, and inventory disruptions, we have compiled a list of 7 tips on how to use the cold winter months to prepare your construction team for a brighter new year:
1. Identify potential efficiency gains around shared workflows
Keeping your team on the same page is one of the most challenging tasks in construction. Despite massive growth in construction ERP software and pre-construction planning tools, many project teams struggle to coordinate information between departments and stakeholders. Examining pain points between the field teams, project management, and back office can reveal where time and resources can be saved while also increasing overall timeliness and performance insights.
For many teams, the core issue is simply the method they use to collect and share project details. Highly manual reporting processes like paper forms inevitably drive errors, omissions, and delays. Timekeeping on paper requires payroll teams to re-enter data and validate reporting details, creating duplicative efforts and back-and-forth communication that increases the time and resource demands of running a timely payroll.
Other shared workflows face tracking, management, and approval issues between the field and home office. While spreadsheets can solve some of the paper-based workflow issues, maintaining proper version control can be a frustrating and often futile endeavor. Time and materials tracking of out-of-scope work requires significant visibility across internal teams to ensure awareness of potential cost exposure. A handful of lost or misplaced time & materials tickets can be the difference between a profitable project.
Take this time to identify manual processes and physical documents within your company that can be converted to digital. These may include:
- Approvals and signed documents
- Project management
- Document and file aggregation (file sharing)
Take action now by exploring new opportunities to go paperless for operational workflow efficiencies and data collection purposes. Digitizing your office processes can give you a bird’s-eye view of your operation and help you identify efficiencies and inefficiencies, so you can act to save on time and costs.
2. Digitize repetitive field reports
Going digital used to have a giant technical gap in the field. But according to a 2020 JBKnowledge ConTech Report surveying contractors and construction workers, nearly 92% of respondents use their smartphone every day at work. Technology that was once only available on the jobsite to a handful of construction tablets can now be activated almost instantly across the workforce. This ability to standardize field reporting on items like daily construction reports, toolbox talks, jobsite hazard assessments (JHA), and timekeeping means that timesaving, real-time reporting is at your fingertips.
While digital reporting can save time for field teams, its actual impact can be most felt on project management and office teams. From drastically reducing administrative tasks to faster processing of critical work like payroll, digital reporting brings report management into a form that is highly accessible and easier to connect into other construction systems.
When reviewing potential field workflows to digitize, assess the time requirements at each step of the process—field capture, sharing, management, tracking, and gaining approvals. Small-time savings at any stage can create substantial efficiency gains when multiplied across team members and projects.
3. Build your innovation team and evaluation requirements
Do you already know which process or efficiency problem you want to tackle, or are you starting from the beginning? Selecting the right tool for your organization begins with gathering the right people around the table. Important decisions like rolling out new construction productivity software should not be made in a vacuum, primarily when it affects areas like payroll and accounting. For the best possible results, make sure to gain feedback from stakeholders across the organization, including the people using the product daily.
Innovation team members to consider:
- Finance/payroll manager
- Project managers
- IT managers
After you have your innovation team selected, you can begin building your software evaluation criteria. To ensure your team chooses the best construction project management software, consider the following items and rank them by importance.
- What is the most significant pain point you are trying to solve in your business?
- What are the features you need to do the job?
- Is affordability important to consider?
- How easy is the solution to implement?
Once you have the criteria in place, you can begin the evaluation process. Stick to the standards you laid out previously to discover which solution is best for your needs. This will save you time and money.
4. Focus on training and implementation
Effectively training your team on new processes or tools can be problematic in the spring and summer months. During this time, teams are dealing with more significant jobsite activities. The “slow months” of winter can help to ensure the needed time allocation for training with staff spending more time at the home office and greater scheduling flexibility for field teams.
When schedules are packed, implementing a new solution or process can often feel like “building the plane while flying.” This inability to fully commit and work through the learning process often results in a slow or low adoption rate and minimizes the solution’s overall impact. Many construction companies have found themselves in this implementation limbo resulting in a growing hesitancy to accept new technology or processes.
For teams that infrequently add or adapt their workflows or tools, starting with small innovation wins is critical. Major implementations like ERPs or BIM modeling tools can drag on for months and—in some cases—years, resulting in a nearly “anti-innovation” culture. Innovation should be viewed as a journey, and small but value-driving wins can help ensure long-term commitment to improving the way your organization builds.
By taking time this winter to focus on a low-lift, high-return effort like digitizing timekeeping or out-of-scope tracking, your organization can better ensure a successful implementation that can drive new efficiencies and cost-savings for the upcoming spring and summer season.
5. Develop your project case studies
Displaying your successful project completions can be a critical part of winning new business. Contractors can spend weeks, months, and years on significant projects with little or no way to promote the work done. Effectively documenting these successes can provide potential customers or partners the assurance of the quality and scope of your capabilities.
All too often, building case studies is not a priority until there is an urgent need, leaving teams scrambling to collect any photos or bits of information they can on the project performance. Taking the winter to reflect on successful projects from the year prior can help highlight major wins that can be used as references for future RFP materials and digital promotion on your website or social channels.
Key questions for identifying the case study targets:
- Is there a strong relationship with the project owner? Having the approval to use imagery, quotes, and project details can add significant impact.
- Does the project demonstrate a crucial capability of our team?
- Does the project represent the type of work we want to continue winning?
- Can we easily capture specifics of the work in photos or statistics? While not critical, project imagery can provide an immediate sense of scale and scope in a way that written copy falls short. Statistics such as total work area or install amounts can also show your team’s capabilities.
6. Prioritize your company culture
Few years have been as universally challenging as 2020 and 2021. The strain and stress have been felt across all industries resulting in what some have titled “The Great Resignation.” Over 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in August alone. Before the pandemic, construction had already felt the strain of a labor shortage, with many contractors struggling to effectively staff projects. Regardless of where the pandemic goes, construction teams everywhere will remain strained for quality workers, which only increases the stress on its current team.
The winter offers a time to think deeper about the company culture and assess opportunities to strengthen or reshape its core commitment to its employees. Aside from better employee retention, companies with strong cultures have seen a 4x increase in revenue growth.
Use the winter months to ask more profound questions about how you demonstrate commitment to your core values. If any of these values feel like just words on a page, this season could be the perfect time to recommit.
While large company culture events are important, also consider significant ways to address employee wellness. Providing resources, tools, and space for both physical and mental health demonstrate that team members are seen as more than just project “inputs.” Construction has the second-highest suicide rate of any industry, clearly identifying a strong need to ensure that all team members feel more connected.
7. Establish project and performance feedback loop.
Construction projects and performance benchmarking have long been important tools for contractors looking to improve their overall performance. The process involves measurement and comparison to specific standards to support systematic improvements in productivity.
It can help construction firms spot hidden best practices and create realistic goals for adopting them across the organization. It can also create a healthy competitive environment across teams and projects to incentivize better performance. For firms involved in public projects, benchmarking can be helpful in the bidding process by making a case for the value delivered to the owner–and the public at large.
While the construction industry is not new to benchmarking, the concept itself is still not widely understood. Only a few firms have adopted benchmarking as a standardized practice across their organization.
For firms to use benchmarking successfully, they must answer a few key questions.
- First, what are our goals for benchmarking?
- Second, what type of benchmarking will best serve our objectives?
- And finally, do we have access to the right technology and data to be successful?
By capturing performance and productivity data across crew and projects, companies can enable better learnings and cross-project analysis so teams can better understand what drives better projects and identify potential issues earlier to protect budgets and timelines better. Learn more about increasing construction productivity through benchmarking here.
Don’t sleep on the opportunity to build a better new year this winter.
It’s tough out there, but it doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to invest in better processes and tools. With the right tools in your hands–construction software included–you can find new ways to save time, cut costs, and increase project performance. The spring rush is coming. Use our 7 tips to start preparing for your best year yet.