Information silos have always been a thorn in the sides of contractors. This separation is most evident in the division between office and on-site workers.
Except for regular reports from site managers and inconsistent administrative communications, office and field staff rarely work together, despite the benefits of open communication between departments.
Why cross-departmental communication is important in the construction industry
The construction industry has always relied on effective collaboration between a variety of internal and external stakeholders.
Communication between office staff, contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, project owners and more is critical to project success.
With rising costs and competition in recent years, this has become even more important, leading the construction industry to integrate the technology into their design and construction processes.
The popularity of building information modeling and modular construction has segmented the construction process more than ever. Recent research shows that 44 percent of American construction projects in the near future will be design-build projects.
This places a significant responsibility on office staff to act as liaisons for numerous outside contractors and operations teams.
It is critical to the success of collaborative projects that there are minimal communication barriers between office and on-site staff.
Here are three reasons why communication between office and site workers fails, and how contractors can use software to overcome these challenges.
The communication barriers between office and field workers
1. Each stakeholder has their own preferred communication platform
Despite the advent of communication tools that integrate with larger project management software, construction companies still use a staggering number of outdated tools to communicate with each other.
Text chats and email chains are still common ways to share important documents and discuss project progress. However, these communication tools vary depending on the stakeholder.
Some teams may use WhatsApp chats to communicate while another team uses email chains to do the same. This results in barriers being built between teams with different communication preferences.
2. Inconsistent access to project data gives team members different perspectives on the project
While some construction companies have adopted communication and integrated project management tools, adoption of this technology has been patchy. This inconsistency exists both between companies and within companies.
Admin teams like HR and finance have used specialized software to manage their tasks for years and are more likely to have access to important project data. On-site employees, on the other hand, are typically only responsible for part of the larger project and are given limited access to data that is not relevant to them.
It is not uncommon for only those responsible for the project and managers to have a truly holistic view of the project. This means that people in the office and in the field can have completely different viewpoints when communicating. This can create confusion and frustration between team members and make future collaboration less likely.
3. Most communications between office workers and field workers lack context
A major challenge for teams that still rely on outdated communication tools is the lack of context that conversations often have.
Email chains and text groups are handy ways to share quick updates in the moment, but it can be difficult for team members to match conversations with appropriate documents or information that might provide more insight into why that conversation is happening.
For example, a conversation about new material orders could be contextualized if placed alongside past orders, project status, and edited project plans. This means that all team members are on the same page, regardless of their role in the project.
How software can bridge the communication gap and foster collaboration between departments
Integrated communication platforms help companies consolidate correspondence between operational teams
The first step construction companies need to take to ensure that communication gaps are closed is to get all team members on the same communication platform.
This ensures that all internal and external stakeholders have access to a chain of communication at all times.
This also makes it easier for team members to collaborate on various aspects of the project, greatly simplifying processes like reporting and finance. Built-in communication channels also allow documents to be shared along with messages and stored in one easy-to-access location for future reference.
Open lines of communication increase accountability between departments
When different departments within an organization don’t communicate effectively, teams tend to fall into a silo mentality, where each department focuses only on its assigned task.
This can also lead to low trust between departments.
A recent survey found that only 37% of construction professionals have a high level of trust in their team.
Integrated communication and project management platforms can solve this problem by increasing transparency for each operational team.
This allows operational teams to remain accountable while providing other team members with the information they need to maintain confidence in the project.
Democratic access to project information keeps every team member up to date on the latest developments in the project
Silos can often become entrenched when documents and project data are stored in separate locations across different operations teams.
To overcome this, business leaders must ensure that all team members have access to a single source of truth that includes all relevant project data. In this way, every team member can access up-to-date information even in times of change and adjustment.
Communication and collaboration are and will remain the lifeblood of any successful construction project.
The key to breaking down barriers to this communication is consistent integration and easy access.
Once all team members in all offices and project locations have easy access to communication channels and project information, collaborating becomes a much easier process, resulting in more efficient on-site operations.
Tom Stemm is the CEO/Founder of Ryvit.com. Tom leads a team of integration developers, application enthusiasts, customer heroes and sales superstars on a mission to eliminate double data entry and common data errors from the construction technology world.