Most problems, such as budget overflows and project delays in construction, arise from miscommunication between the parties involved. However, proper communication improves teamwork and collaboration among the project stakeholders.
Communication refers to the exchange of information between two parties. However, good communication is when the intended recipient understands the conveyed message. This article will discuss the steps we can take to preserve effective communication that keeps a project running efficiently.
Table of Contents
The importance of communication in construction
The best way to assess the importance of communication in construction is by looking at the consequences of a poor communication structure in a construction project. When there is a communication breakdown, there is a significant deviation of the budget and schedule. Failure in communication can also bring dire consequences to the safety of workers in a project. Communication, therefore, improves a project's effectiveness.
The primary source of construction disputes is communication breakdown. Conflicts are likely to arise when there is no open and transparent documentation process. The best way to avoid construction disputes is through transparent and honest documentation. Clear documentation is not possible if there is no communication between the owner, contractor, and other stakeholders.
Construction is also a fragmented and dynamic sector. The challenges of communication in construction are more significant than in other environments. Poor communication in contractually driven relationships leads to a lack of trust, mutual respect, and eventually conflicts. There is, therefore, a great need to address communication problems in construction.
Types of communication in construction
In day-to-day life, we communicate verbally or non-verbally. It is no different in construction. The correct form of communication simplifies the information exchange and speeds up the communication process. Communication in construction is through signages, hand signals, construction meetings, and construction drawings on a construction site. We also compile daily reports, change orders, videos, photos, and requests for information (RFIs).
Every form of communication has its advantages and disadvantages. Some issues can be resolved through something as simple as an email, while others might need further deliberations through construction meetings. Following the agreed communication channels will prevent the loss of information and unnecessary confusion at the job site.
Ten construction communication tips
There are various reasons for communication breakdown on site. One of the ways is through delayed notifications and follow-ups. Message delivery can also fail due to technical failures of message delivery platforms such as text, calls, or emails. Miscommunication can happen when team members speak different languages in some job sites. When no single standard defines data entry, workflows, and job templates, it can disrupt the communication flow. Poor communication on-site can have severe consequences, but there are measures that we can put in place to improve communication and keep a project within time and budget.
1. Be clear and concise
When sending a message in construction, you should strive as much as possible to make your message understood when you send it. Please keep your message short and to the point to clarify it to the stakeholders. When a contractor deals with numerous projects, it is prudent to deal with one project to avoid confusion.
Before sending your messages, you should proofread and edit your messages without altering or leaving out critical information. Some industry-specific words make it difficult for the people outside the industry to understand. Minimizing the jargon will bring everyone on the project to the same page. The team will spend a lesser period trying to decipher what you are trying to say.
When it comes to verbal communication in construction, you need to be an active listener. This does not mean being passive, but you need to understand what your speaker is trying to pass across from their point of view. Do not transcribe all the speaker's words but make notes on the critical detail points. You should also make eye contact and give non-verbal cues such as nods that show you are listening actively.
Do not speak over a speaker or interrupt them mid-sentence but wait until they finish formulating their ideas before giving your response. You can lose critical information if you are not attentive to the speaker. After listening, you should ask questions for clarification and rephrase what you heard to ensure that you are on the same page. In a meeting, you should seek feedback and ask questions to ensure everyone clearly understands their responsibilities. Do not wait to get back to the office, but you should seek clarification in the meeting.
3. Have a transparent chain of command
In construction, there is a chain of command that spells the flow of information. The project manager is usually responsible for overall communication between contractors, consultants, and suppliers. As a central point of contact among the major stakeholders, the project manager has to establish a basis for all the forms of communication. There has to be a system that manages drawings, specifications, change orders, and requests for information. Most construction documents need the proper authorization. The authorization goes through a communication channel. Changes in scope or schedule also need to be adequately documented. Failure to do so can lead to dire consequences in scheduling and project costs. A transparent chain of command identifies contact points to disseminate the correct information.
4. Remain factual
Construction does not deal with abstracts, and you should therefore have the facts at your fingertips. In your communication, do not delve into opinions unless asked. However, if you have a professional opinion that you feel would benefit the project, you should share it with the project stakeholders. Your expertise can bring beneficial ideas to the construction that make a project run smoothly.
5. Use technology
The technology in construction is rapidly improving. One of the aspects is communication, where there are emerging technologies for revolutionizing the industry. These technologies make it easier to document a project's progress, reduce hazards, speed up the construction process and increase profit margins. Technologies such as BIM software make collaboration between stakeholders easy as offsite stakeholders can have instant project updates. Gadgets such as wearable AI helps crew members have eyes on the ground even when not physically on-site. These technologies appear expensive, but they improve a project's efficiency. You do not need to buy every piece of technology in the market, but you can assess what works for your project and adopt it.
6. Be open to feedback
Improving communication in construction is useless if you are not open to feedback. When employees do not feel comfortable engaging their bosses, it might lead to many issues. One of the project manager's tasks is to establish an environment that is open to feedback, and employees can speak up when they are not satisfied. Creating clear communication lines makes members feel happy and valued. It is also easier to address arising problems as soon as they occur.
7. Hire and work with the right people
Hiring the right person for the job is more beneficial than rushing the process and dealing with an employee who does not deliver. Due to an enduring labor shortage in the construction industry, hiring qualified candidates is harder. However, it is beneficial to take your time in seeking the right hire in the long run. A poor workforce can demoralize the project team and lead to unprecedented costs. You should evaluate the candidates' communication skills and be clear on the interpersonal standards expected of them.
8. Train on the use of new equipment
Technological advancements in construction have brought about a lot of new equipment to the field. Proper training on the use of equipment improves the safety and efficiency of projects. Continually updating training and reviewing manuals helps refresh knowledge and ensure all teams are on the same page.
9. Implement communication quality checks
Quality checks are not a new concept in construction, and all workers are familiar with them. Construction professionals know that a job is incomplete if it has not yet undergone quality checks. You can also implement regular quality checks on your crew's communication. All crew members should maintain the proper documentation of their communication, and there should be periodic checks to ensure all due processes are followed.
10. Establish a single source of truth
Apart from the improvements in communication, you can adopt a unified communication platform that helps improve project outcomes. There are many tools in construction used to collect and process data. However, working with too many platforms leads to confusion and hinders efficient communication. Combining all these technologies into a single source of truth means that all the data can be accessed from one common point. You can use cloud-based software that combines documents, financial data, and schedules, thus integrating all project teams' communications.
Cultivating the best communication practices is the key to success for construction projects. The communication process cuts across all aspects of construction. It has financial, safety, and reputational implications when not correctly carried out. You can develop a good culture in a project by developing proper channels and simplified communication methods. Proper communication builds trust, which is a significant building block for the best possible outcomes in a project.