There was a time when remote carried definitions such as “isolated” or “cut off.” We used it to refer to far-flung islands or camps deep in the jungle or the far side of Mars. And because of that, it was hardly a word in everyday parlance.
Today, though, it has undergone a significant revolution in partnership with the much bigger revolution of digital technology. With it, more employees than ever have unshackled themselves from the desk or the office and started working from anywhere, in conditions and with the flexibility that suits them better.
This is as true in construction as anywhere else. While field construction jobs will remain largely localized, more flexibility is being offered to many working in design, architecture and administrative roles, encouraging workers to go remote. Even field employees now can work a greater distance from the office, in some of the most inaccessible environments on earth–underwater, say, or underground–and still remain in connection with the central office.
There are a number of benefits of having a remote workforce in construction, both for the individual and for the firm. Let’s take a look at what those benefits are, and what tools you should put in place if you want to manage your workforce to utmost effectiveness.
Why Remote Is on the Rise in Construction
We see three main reasons why a remote workforce in construction is a good idea. First, if you set your sights only on the pool of people who can come into your office on the daily, you’re limiting yourself significantly in terms of talent.
According to Winn Whittman, an architect in Austin Texas who built his firm on a remote workforce, “The world is your oyster when you work remotely, so there’s no reason not to find the most proficient person in the industry when your pool is so big.”
Whether it’s getting access to more workers in a tight labor market, or having the opportunity to work with a leading firm across the state, expanding your options outside your small region can be massively beneficial.
Second, remote workforces can be more cost-efficient to manage. You have less overhead and fewer expenses to worry about, and can use your whole budget focusing on getting the best talent. We’re not talking chump change, either, reports Forbes: “Insurance giant Aetna is another company that uses flexible workspaces to boost its bottom line. Of Aetna’s 35,000 employees, 14,500 do not have a desk … Another 2,000 Aetna employees work from home a few days a week, meaning that a total of 47% of the company’s work force uses flexible workspaces.”
Plus, “American Express reported annual savings of $10 million to $15 million thanks to its remote work options.” That’s a benefit if ever there was one.
Third and perhaps most important, the remote workforce in construction also makes for happier employees. Now more than ever, employees are choosing to become remote whenever possible, for the sake of their mental health.
As most people who’ve ever had the opportunity to work from home will identify with, the statistics are clear:
- 82% surveyed reported less stress with telecommuting
- 80% reported increased morale
- 70% reported increased productivity
- 69% reported reduced numbers of absenteeism
Obviously, these are benefits from which any company would benefit. Before you can reap the rewards, though, you have to put a well-functioning remote management system in place. Let’s take a look at that now.
5 Tips for Managing a Remote Team
So how do you get the job done? It’s not as hard as it seems. These tips can be applied to small teams working across cities, or to large teams located on the four corners of the continent. They work for a single project or multiple projects at once, and they work for employees at all levels and in all trades.
If you want a stellar remote workforce in construction, these tips will help you get the job done.
1. Get Onboarding Right
When you bring on a remote employee, getting onboarding right is critical. It will likely require some in-person training, so don’t hesitate to let your prospective employees know during the interview process that they should expect to visit HQ every once in a while, especially at the beginning.
Take the time to introduce them to the right contacts in your company, and brief them on the tools and systems you use. Also be sure to check in throughout the process, creating a constant feedback loop. The latter is particularly critical at the beginning, and it sets up a pattern of good communication for the length of their tenure.
2. Use the Right Cloud Collaboration Tools
If you want a well-oiled remote workforce in construction, the cloud is everything. When you are working across distances, time zones and offices, you can’t rely on slow communication systems. Workers need to have the same information at the same time, no matter where they are. Therefore, everyone should be able to access the latest documents and plans, without having to sift through emails that came in overnight–that’s where cloud technology comes into play.
Trussway Manufacturing, one company that manages a remote workforce, is a perfect example. According to Steve Oliver, Truss design trainer, “Fifty out of 75 people on our US team now work remote, and we have an additional 25 people in Vietnam.” Previously, the company was relying on Adobe PDF files to coordinate changes with their remote team, but it was slow and changes were often lost–a huge risk and waste of time for a remote workforce.
As a result, the company uses a cloud collaboration tool to communicate and record changes. “It’s a big deal just to put notes on a set of plans, push a button and someone can read it immediately, whether they are in Hawaii or Vietnam,” says Oliver. “It has been a critical communication tool for our remote workforce. There’s no need for red pens and highlighters; it’s all electronic. Not to mention, the money we save on not having to mail plans and printing out paper is immense. Instead, our entire team instantly sees revisions.”
To manage a remote labor force in design and construction, the cloud not only improves communication and the bottom line, it makes work less stressful for all involved.
3. Leverage Task Management Tools
There is no remote workforce in construction without effective tools to help companies manage the innumerable tasks, both mammoth and minuscule, that plague any project team. Task management is critical for a cohesive remote workforce, and while people tend to lump this in with collaboration tools, it goes beyond pure document and change annotations.
Task management not only keeps remote employees on track for what they need to do, but it also provides other team members and managers with visibility into what’s going on, helping to build critical trust. Some of our favorite tools include Asana and Trello, both of which get even more useful if they connect with the collaboration tools you’re already using.
If you can find collaboration tools with advanced task tracking specific to the construction industry, so much the better. For instance, PlanGrid Tasks is one option that allows entire design and construction teams to track work across the construction lifecycle.
4. Build Camaraderie
The biggest threat to your remote workforce in construction is having them feel isolated and disconnected from the larger team. Don’t underestimate face-to-face communication, even if it’s just a Facetime call or Skype. These technologies are more powerful than you think: “87% of remote workers feel more connected through the use of video conferencing,” says Webex.
It’s not enough to do superficial checks once in a while, though. The goal is to create real relationships between managers and remote workers, beyond the quick “How’s it going?” call.
Aim to connect with each person on an individual level, asking for real and honest feedback. Also make sure you also plan a regular in-person visit–whether it’s annual, quarterly or monthly–depending on your budget and the distance of the remote employee. When you do these in-person visits, leave some time for team bonding and fun, to help form meaningful professional relationships.
5. Make Jobsite Videos and Photos Available
A picture speaks a thousand words, and for a remote employee unable to see a worksite in person, that picture could make all the difference. For that reason, feel free to rely heavily on photos and videos when managing a remote workforce in construction.
This provides them with the additional context they need to power better decision making, especially when you:
- Capture the full view of the jobsite rather than smaller details alone
- Geotag images
- Upload them to the cloud for everyone to view
- Include them on plans rather than in email attachments
- Create virtual walkthroughs
If you are using collaboration tools for documentation, ensure these photos and videos can also be added and linked, so everything is stored and communicated on in one system.
Build Your Remote Workforce in Construction Today
Much like digital technology itself, the remote workforce in construction is going nowhere. If you resist the changes, all you’ll do is ensure your company falls behind competitors who are taking the facts seriously. Don’t let that happen.
Instead, focus on the changes you can make–both big and small–that will save money, give you access to the best talent and make your employees happy today. Because as trite as it seems, your business will do better if all your workers have smiles on their faces–so why wait? It’s time to support your remote workforce today.