PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog

How Technology Can Facilitate Better Construction Communication on Jobsites

According to OSHA, workplace accidents and fatalities involving Hispanic workers have been on the rise in the last decade—the overall rate of increase from just 10 years ago is 35%. This statistic is particularly alarming because fatal workplace accidents among the general population actually declined by 20% during the same time period. Not surprisingly, a majority of fatalities occurred in the construction industry. And these fatalities are directly tied to poor construction communication.

Although technology often makes headlines today for disrupting relationships and negatively impacting how we communicate, technology in the workplace actually has a beneficial impact on communications. In fact, in the construction industry, the right software not only improves and facilitates communication—forging connections and making it easy for teams from diverse backgrounds to collaborate with ease—but also saves lives.

A glance at of some of the unique challenges faced by the construction industry and how technology is building bridges between the field and the office reveals just how much construction software is changing the way we communicate. Language and team collaboration issues can all be addressed with the right software and technology—from a greatly enhanced ability to collaborate to a drastically reduced risk of injury for your Spanish speaking workers, technology can have a huge impact on the way you do business and the way you work with your teams.

3 Common Worksite Communication Challenges

A disconnect between the “suits” and the “boots on the ground”: The old-school clipboard and pen were replaced by punch lists and cell phones—and later Excel sheets, email, and texting. While each improvement allowed workers and managers to interact more effectively, problems remained. Emailing, paging, and texting solved the problem of trying to talk on the phone at a noisy, busy job site, but since multiple team members could text at the same time, there was no way to gather the data in one place or quickly disseminate it to everyone who needed it. This caused delays as teams were simply not able to effectively communicate or track changes or progress—someone still had to go back in and collect all that data, update the file and hopefully relay every new bit of information to the rest of the team.

Construction software takes communication to the next level, allowing for enhanced and improved communication between project managers and those actually performing the work. By providing one central location for the project to live and making it easy for those in the field or working onsite to instantly access and edit the details, everyone could have the latest, most up to date information about any given project.

Misunderstandings about design, implementation, or field conditions that arise in the field: Technology facilitates  construction communication between team members, making it easy for everyone to collaborate and solve problems. The ability to easily attach media files directly to the project so that anyone who needs to can view them ensures that you’re not relying on verbal descriptions to relay important details:

“A big pipe is in the way,” tells the listener that there is a problem, but fails to provide enough detail for anyone to come up with an actionable solution.

“A three-inch pipe is blocking our way; it is about six inches below the surface and not on the plans” is much better, but still lacks detail. What way is the pipe running? What does it look like and what other unexpected items are there? Trying to describe the location, direction and overall look of an issue is a challenge when you don’t have visuals.

“As you can see in the picture and video, the pipe is blocking our way. It is 3 inches wide and about six inches below the surface. Pause the video at 2.45 to get a good look at the angle” is much more detailed and helpful and gives the person with the authority to make a decision the information they need to do so, such as “Do we need to issue an RFI?”

Hispanic workers face an increased risk of injury or death, thanks to onsite language barriers: Of all the things that construction software can do to facilitate a project, the safety enhancements it offers are invaluable and help you cut a very real risk. About 30% of the workers on any given project or site don’t speak English at all; this communication and language barrier poses a very real risk to these team members. Construction software can bridge the communication gap and ensure that Hispanic workers do not face greater safety challenges or issues than the English-speaking members of your team.

From enhancing collaboration to providing real time video and photographs and ensuring that all team members are safe, no matter what language they speak, technology is changing the construction workplace for the better. Here’s how technology is tackling the challenges detailed above and making the construction industry a better, more productive and safer place for all involved.

3 Ways Technology is Enhancing Communication in the Construction Industry

Team Silos and Communication

Do the people actually doing the work communicate well with the home office or off-site management team – or is there a disconnect? Concepts and plans can be relayed with ease when you use construction software to facilitate communication.

When your jobsite team can easily open and access everything they need right on the jobsite, make notes and markup any issues directly into the project itself, construction communication and collaboration are naturally enhanced. The construction team actually doing the work can get a good idea of what the design is intended to look like; they’ll also be able to ask questions or get clarification before proceeding.

Your office side team will be able to swiftly answer requests and clarify anything they need to; if something unexpected comes up once work commences, having a single platform for communication and one central location for the project details makes it easy for everyone to see what is going on, what is needed and what the most recent status of the project is.

Enhanced communication is about more than just problem-solving; a construction app or software allows information to be automatically entered and tracked. If you have been manually entering information and data or using multiple tools to do so, then construction software can help streamline your processes and make it easy for everyone on your team to access your data and provide any feedback they need to.

Construction software designed to support construction communication and collaboration can go where your team does. In the office, project managers and your management team can update punch lists as needed and assign work to subs and specialists right away. On the job site, your team is just a tablet or smartphone away from being able to access all project details, allowing them to work more efficiently and productively.

Since workers can actually input, access and even edit information right from the job site, your office team can have real time information about every project you are working on. Notifications prompt workers to take action or alert them of changes, ensuring that you don’t have idle or downtime on the jobsite.

Your management team can also prioritize projects or actions and deploy teams as needed to move projects along or facilitate a deadline. By having all of your information in one place,  you make it easy for your team to understand the status of each job, make real time decisions and then relay any changes directly to the team actually doing the work.

Remote Construction Communication Allows for Real Time Collaboration

Is everyone on your team actually present at the job site or in the same time zone—or will someone have to drive over to check out a minor detail? That drive may not seem like a huge deal, but depending on just how far away you are from the site and how essential your input is, the entire project could grind to a halt while everyone waits for you to arrive.

Remote communication that allows workers on site to provide detailed photographs and videos to the team that needs to make decisions can vastly reduce the amount of downtime you experience. It can also help your management team make real-time decisions when they matter most and get near-instant input from the team on site.

In addition to getting a detailed look at any issues or problems that could arise. The ability to collaborate on more than one project at a time or to share information between teams can help everyone work more efficiently. By capturing images in real time via photographs or video, the onsite team can accurately portray a need or showcase a problem. Describing a situation over the phone without visual aids can be a challenge.

You don’t need to have everyone on the site struggle with capturing photos and then texting them to you – that gets confusing in a hurry. Instead, the right construction software allows for seamless uploading and integration of photos and video, which can then be viewed by other team members and anyone who needs a timely and accurate look at the site.

Language Issues Have a Big Impact on Construction Communication

A recent study conducted by the Partnership for Achieving Construction Excellence found that the English-Spanish language barrier is one of the greatest challenges facing the construction industry today. The disconnect between laborers, subcontractors, and contractors can often be traced directly back to the language problem; language issues can lead to an increased safety risk, lowered efficiency and misunderstandings, and strife in the work zone.

We’re already facing a shortage of skilled workers in the construction industry; according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, construction employment is expected to continue increasing each year. As the United States workforce becomes more diverse and Hispanic workers continue to make up more of the construction workforce, the English-Spanish language barrier becomes a problem.

Overcoming the Language Barrier and Improving Safety

Spanish-speaking workers make up about 30% of the workforce on any given project or jobsite; since they face an inherently higher risk of injury, taking steps to mitigate that risk by improving communication can have a big impact on your overall safety statistics.

OSHA attributes the rise in workplace accidents for immigrant or non-English speaking workers in large part to a language barrier. When workers speak Spanish, not English, but safety instructions and operator training are conducted with English language materials, essential details can be missed, leading to a higher risk of accident and injury.

How can you create a safer workplace for Hispanic workers and tradesmen? There are a few steps you can take to drastically improve your ability to communicate with these at-risk workers. As the number of Latino workers in construction fields continues to rise, creating and implementing strategies to improve construction communication is essential. Consider implementing one or more of these ideas to enhance communication and safety on your job sites:

Offer or even Require ESL Training

From online instruction to actual classes, English as a Second Language programs can enhance the skills of your Spanish speaking workers. As they learn, they can more readily understand the English-speaking workers on your job site, be better equipped to understand and follow directions and even become less likely to be injured because they do not understand how to operate your equipment. This is not an immediate solution, but one that will improve morale and communication abilities on your worksite over time.

Increase Hands-On Training

Have your supervisors walk new workers through your processes and ensure they know to safely operate all equipment on your site. Using an app to facilitate construction communication with Spanish-speaking workers can ensure they fully understand everything they need to know. Construction software like PlanGrid can facilitate communication and ensure your Spanish-speaking workers are facing an increased risk of accident or injury.

Help English-speaking Supervisors Communicate

Offering Spanish as a second language programming can help your team more effectively communicate with all workers, not just the ones who speak English. Toolbox talks, safety meetings, and job site training is far more effective when materials are accessible in both English and Spanish. Using construction software with enhanced communication features can also help your management team communicate with all workers on your site.

Cultural awareness training can also help English speaking team members learn more about working with and communicating with the Hispanic members of your team. Learning more about the Latino culture can create a more harmonious workplace; according to OSHA, increased cultural awareness can also help reduce the number of fatalities and injuries that befall the Hispanic workforce.

By improving your ability to communicate and collaborate, making it easy to share important media, and reducing the problems caused by a language barrier, technology is making the construction zone a safer, better place for all involved and facilitating better outcomes for projects of all sizes. In short, improving construction communication will not only improve your team’s productivity,  but will also save lives.

Lynn Langmade

Lynn Langmade is currently the Director of Content Marketing at PlanGrid, where she develops content strategy, manages the editorial calendar, and oversees content production workflow. Lynn is also the managing editor of PlanGrid’s corporate blog and social media channels.

As an early adopter of social media, Lynn has over 45 thousand followers on social media. In 2014, Lynn was the recipient of the Marketo “Revvie” Award in the Socializer category. She has a PhD in English and over 15 years B2B high-tech marketing experience.

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