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Four Ways to Improve Remote Workforce Communication and Collaboration

Technology

Workers in today’s commercial construction companies exchange an enormous amount of project-related emails and documents with a wide variety of fellow employees, contractors, suppliers and customers on a regular basis.

Each jobsite represents a complex ecosystem of workers, schedules, task instructions and regulations, as well as constantly shifting priorities. Emails are exchanged at a rapid-fire pace and up-to-date project information must be readily available at the click of a button, despite the fact that remote teams are often scattered around a region, country or even the globe.

It’s easy to see how quickly email accumulates when considering how many internal and external contacts most field workers interact with daily. They also have to manage hundreds (or even thousands) of templates and documents outlining proper construction site procedures for everything from set-up to materials handling. Too often, workers end up storing important documents (and that includes emails) in disparate locations. Emails end up stored in individual inboxes, which become inaccessible if someone is on vacation or leaves the company. Documents sent as email attachments also get locked in individual inboxes that are inaccessible to other remote team members. This can result in document chaos as workers manage massive version control issues with numerous versions of the documents getting passed around via email. In addition, incomplete or missing information and an overall lack of information governance can slow down or completely halt a project’s workflow.

To truly tap into the value of the digital workplace, construction companies must actively seek new ways to improve workforce collaboration, information access and productivity in the field. Here are four best practices to consider.

1. COMBINE AND MANAGE EMAILS AND DOCUMENTS IN ONE PLACE

Today, approximately 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies use SharePoint, and two out of three employees deal with SharePoint in the office – and the construction industry is no different. On-the-go managers and employees alike need to be able to access the same tools on the road without missing a beat. To help them do so, it’s important to merge, store and manage documents and emails together in SharePoint so that workers can find critical information quickly in one central document repository. After all, email is just another type of document and should be treated as such. In fact, capturing important emails remains the biggest compliance roadblock, and construction companies need be able to capture, classify and retrieve them when needed. However, this needs to be done without asking employees to change their workflow.

2. ENABLE OFFLINE COLLABORATION

Smooth operations at building sites depend on the constant exchange of emails and documents, yet network connectivity is not always a given. Enable offline collaboration by automatically provisioning important plans, schematic diagrams, contact lists and more so they are available to field workers wherever and whenever they need them. By enabling offline collaboration, workers can also update and share drawings, PDF documents and safety or maintenance data with supervisors without fear of lost information or version control mishaps, as changes can be automatically uploaded once network connectivity is available.

3. MAKE MOBILE FIELD WORK EASY

According to KPMG’s 2016 Global Construction Survey, 77 percent of construction contractors actively utilize mobile technology on all or select projects. Workers should not need to go back to the office to make sure everything is properly uploaded. To streamline workflows while limiting cumbersome (and easily misplaced) paper documentation, take advantage of mobile apps that encourage real-time collaboration, such as project managers annotating plans from their tablets or workers capturing and uploading photos and videos tagged with GPS coordinates from their smartphones. Additionally, ensure that remote workers have access to task lists, change orders, calendar events, equipment status, compliance information and other critical information directly on their mobile devices, and that any changes they make are automatically synced to ensure these key documents always stay up to date.

4. GET ORGANIZED—METADATA MATTERS

No matter how sophisticated an organization’s infrastructure may be, if workers are not consistently classifying and cataloguing information correctly, the information will be difficult to locate—and often completely useless to those searching for it. Proper metadata classification is critical to quickly find the email messages and documents needed to answer an important question or move forward with a project. The problem is that accurate classification can be extremely difficult for the average worker. Organizations need to make it easy for workers to classify documents (and emails) via metadata. Proper employee education, combined with tools that automatically prompt users for required information and make the classification process a simple part of their natural workflow, is essential for effective organization – and will also help maintain an accessible digital paper trail for compliance with email retention policies.

The ultimate success of any commercial construction project relies on the proper management, exchange and preservation of critical information. By taking these four important steps to humanize the digital experience, organizations can empower their personnel with the real-time access, resources and information they need to break down past productivity barriers and reach new heights. Making technology easy to use for employees is the key to successfully completing construction projects in today’s business environment.

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