Remote team management has become an essential skill for construction management professionals in the age of increasing digitization and COVID-19. Keep reading to learn about the best construction remote worker management practices in 2021 and how Bridgit Bench can help your company.
What is remote team management in construction?
Remote team management, as the name suggests, is the process of coordinating professionals who aren’t working alongside you physically. This has always been an essential part of construction management given that much of the work takes place on job sites while some project managers work in offices. It’s especially important now that COVID-19 has resulted in fewer workers being allowed on job sites and in offices.
Remote worker management challenges
As you probably know, managing remote teams isn’t always easy – even in an industry like construction where it’s been part of the process for decades. Here are some of the challenges you’ll face with remote team management.
ENSURING HEALTH AND SAFETY COMPLIANCE
Construction is a very injury-prone industry. This presents a challenge in the age of COVID-19 when construction crews of remote employees may be stripped down with fewer on-site safety coordinators than before. Paired with the added difficulty of managers having to conduct remote work, this leads to an added risk of injury for remote workers.
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ENSURING (AND TRACKING) LABOR PRODUCTIVITY
Another challenge remote construction managers face is tracking their workforce’s productivity. Unfortunately, some remote teams take advantage of the situation and slack off (or worse, commit time theft through practices like buddy punching) when they know on-site management has been scaled back. Remote managers need to address this with the utmost urgency because work-life balance is a two-way street. Remote teams need to fulfill their time allotments effectively; If they don’t, inefficiencies can turn into cost overruns.
Even when team members are hitting their productivity goals, tracking and attributing those efforts remotely isn’t easy without the correct tools and software in place (more on this shortly).
KEEPING EVERYONE ORGANIZED
When construction management professionals are working in the same office, staying on the same page and keeping documents and important records organized is much easier than when people are leading remote teams.
Many construction companies without the proper systems in place have found themselves struggling in this regard. Emailing spreadsheets and word processing documents back and forth simply doesn’t cut it given the complexity of data in the construction industry.
KEEPING TEAMS COHESIVE
Another significant challenge with managing remote employees is maintaining the tight bonds that keep workers connected. When everyone is working from their own homes, it’s important to maintain open lines of communication to stay on the same page, using everything from phone calls and text messages to video calls.
SCHEDULING ACROSS DIFFERENT TIME ZONES
Large construction companies spread out across multiple states, countries, or even continents have to deal with coordinating staff members across time zones. If not approached carefully, project management in these conditions can be a very inefficient process rife with miscommunication and missed deadlines.
Best practices for remote worker management in 2021
SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS WITH WORKERS
When you’re managing workers in person, setting expectations implicitly and explicitly is easily done without any particular communication tool, since you can use in-person meetings for face-to-face interaction. But workforce managers often find they need to go the extra mile when it comes to communicating expectations to remote workers.
Good strategies for effective project management in the remote workplace include:
- Maintaining a digital trail of communication spelling out exactly what’s expected of your remote workers (including deadlines)
- Correctly attributing both positive and negative project outcomes (remote employeesworkers must know they’ll be acknowledged for good work and held accountable for lackluster efforts)
- Managers set expectations while identifying the privileges and responsibilities of working remotely (i.e. when workers are expected to be physically at their workstations and when being reachable only by cell phone is permitted)
- Being extra careful when hiring new employees to work remotely (establish rules and communicate expectations particularly pointedly so they aren’t under the impression that the job’s remote perks will last beyond the pandemic’s end if that isn’t the case)
FOCUS ON COORDINATING OFFICE WORKERS, TOO
Given the logistical challenges of managing a construction crew remotely, many professionals overlook the importance of having systems in place for office workers as well. This puts construction companies at a major disadvantage since crews can only be as organized as the managers coordinating their projects and giving them directions. The entire company needs to be on board with remote project management protocols.
Don’t just assume that office work translates nicely into remote work since both involve sitting in front of computer screens. Instead, apply every tip on this list to your office staff when they work remotely as well. Looking to become a more effective leader? Check out our 5 key components of effective construction leaders.
CHOOSE YOUR ONLINE WORKFORCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS WISELY
Your remote team management plan will only be as effective as the systems that help it function. Therefore, it’s incredibly important that you choose the right software.
Bridgit Bench is among the top remote construction resource management programs available. With it, you can:
- Forecast labor demand (which is very helpful when working remotely since you’ll lack that visual feedback regarding your workforce’s capacity)
- Schedule labor using industry-standard procedures such as Gantt charts
- Maintain a comprehensive human resources database
- Generate labor reports at the click of a button
- Customize the software to your company’s labor and resource management needs
HAVE REGULAR VIRTUAL CHECK-INS
Just because your team is working remotely doesn’t mean you need to forgo casual interactions that make in-person work so engaging. Check in with your team regularly via video conferencing and other virtual means of communication.
When it’s safe to do so based on advice from your local health authorities, you might even consider in-person meetings (with the proper precautions) occasionally as well. For Project Managers, check out this article with tips for improving communications.
TAKE YOUR TEAM’S MENTAL HEALTH SERIOUSLY
People react to remote work in unique ways. Some love it while others have a hard time delivering the same productivity while working remotely on their own (or with children and other family members swirling around).
Be sure to take this into account when coordinating your construction company’s office staff. Addressing signs of burnout sooner rather than later is an important part of the human capital planning process, especially at a time when finding good construction professionals isn’t easy.
Ideas for maintaining your team’s mental health while everyone’s working remotely include:
- Encourage a healthy work-life balance: When teams work remotely, it can be tempting to remain productive all the time. After all, even during the evening hours, one’s workstation is typically just a few feet away. Good managers encourage employees to take time for themselves, though. The long-term productivity benefits will outweigh any short-term burst you might achieve by encouraging workers to put in lots of extra time.
- Being supportive of normally-productive workers whose living conditions make it difficult to maintain focus: COVID-19 has thrown everyone for a loop. With schools in many parts of North America out of session, many remote workers find themselves struggling to balance supervising their children and keeping up with work. If you want to retain these workers, give them the emotional and work-related support they need.
- Encourage physical activity: While your field workers likely have no shortage of physical activity, the same can’t be said for employees who typically work in the office but are remote for the time being. They may literally never leave their homes, which can have negative physical and psychological effects. Encourage walks and other outdoor activities to combat this. One related idea would be to not expect that workers will be at their workstations during their lunch breaks. Give them the freedom to go mobile during that period.
GAUGE WHETHER YOUR EMPLOYEES ARE MORE PRODUCTIVE WHEN WORKING FROM HOME
While it’s easy to assume workers will slack off while remote, research has shown this isn’t always the case.
Avoid making assumptions altogether, though, by actively keeping tabs on your workforce’s productivity. If output has indeed slacked, address this with workers and plan your resource allocations accordingly. If output has increased, think of ways to carry that boost forward during the post-pandemic era.
We hope you’ve found this guide helpful when it comes to crafting your company’s remote worker management strategy. For more construction management tips and processes, visit our blog. For more construction career development content, check out these blogs.