Communication and collaboration in construction are as old as the industry itself, but these processes have changed a lot over the years—at least, they have at the most effective construction firms.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to find new, hands-off ways to communicate and meet, digital collaboration technology received a trial by fire—and passed the test glowingly. Now, construction organizations of all sizes and specialties have received a taste of modern communication, which has helped accelerate technology adoption.
To figure out where your business falls in this wave of adoption and implementation, and learn just how digital technology can help, it’s worth asking a few questions: What does the future of construction collaboration look like? What do these tech tools actually do? How can your company get started with digital transformation?
From analog past to digital future
When considering what’s next for communication in the construction industry, it’s worth asking where businesses are now and how they got here. In truth, there isn’t just one level of maturity in the construction field. Some businesses are already deep into the digital age, while others are still grappling with legacy technology.
Organizations can be broken down into a few groups based on their level of technology use:
Paper users: Many firms have histories stretching back decades. This long tenure may mean these businesses have been using the same communication and file storage systems for a long time. This can be a problem, as firms find themselves dealing with unruly filing cabinets filled with decades of paper records.
Searching for paper documents is time-consuming, filing cabinets take up valuable office space and anything from a fire to flooding could destroy a company’s records. Whether they need to pull up plan documents for a crew on a jobsite or present records to regulatory bodies, construction businesses will have a hard time if their information management system relies on paper documents.
Inertia can be a powerful force; therefore, construction firms may feel stuck with their paper documents. The sooner these companies shift to a digital model, the sooner they can shift to a fast, convenient way to search for information and keep track of the current version of important documents.
Spreadsheet users: Some companies have shifted away from paper record-keeping, but still have some usability issues. This occurs when, instead of using purpose-built digital collaboration tools, firms use non-specialized technology such as email and spreadsheets.
Spreadsheets and email retain some of the problems of paper documents. It can be hard to verify that a team member is looking at the most up-to-date version of a file, for instance, leading to confusion. The inconvenience can be especially pronounced in construction, where specialized document types like marked-up plan documents are essential and commonplace.
The average company that eventually switches to digital collaboration is managing three different file storage and record-keeping systems. This duplication adds complexity to everyday workflows and slows workers down. While these companies are likely more effective than ones using filing cabinets, they still have plenty to gain with a digital collaboration upgrade.
Digital collaboration adopters: Construction firms that have made the upgrade to purpose-built digital collaboration and communication systems have taken an important step. Especially when working with cloud computing tools, these firms now have a way to share consistent versions of information, with all stakeholders free to work with the same files, whether they’re logging on from the office, a jobsite, home or the road.
These solutions ensure the visibility of essential information—whether a document needs to be shared with a crew on the jobsite, a regulatory organization, a subcontractor or any other party, it’s immediately available. When everything is stored in a centralized location, there’s no duplication of files, saving time, effort and confusion.
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Working with collaboration tools designed for the construction industry is an especially useful approach. These software tools can accommodate the unique file types that define the sector, such as building information modeling (BIM) documents that include 3D renderings. These systems, moreover, have been built to accommodate the highly collaborative nature of construction, allowing subcontractors to work together seamlessly with in-house personnel.
Advantages of digital collaboration
Once companies switch to digital collaboration systems, they tend to experience the benefits of these new tools in waves. Some of the advantages are immediately evident, while others reveal themselves over time. All of these factors add up to create a positive experience at every level of the organization.
Some of the most common and impactful changes include:
Reduction in physical clutter: Companies shifting away from paper records can reclaim space in their offices, either reducing their footprint or putting that space to better use. Furthermore, moving away from hard-to-search filing cabinets has an immediate positive effect on the speed and accuracy of information retrieval.
Cost savings: Maintaining filing cabinets or on-premises servers comes with costs. The wasted hours spent dealing with non-optimized file searches also take their toll on a budget. These savings offset the costs of implementing new software.
Efficient document access: When an employee on a jobsite needs access to a file, how do they get it? With a digital collaboration system, they simply call up the latest version of the document on a tablet or laptop, preventing wasted time or the unnecessary duplication that comes with downloading a file or printing a physical document.
Peace of mind: When all relevant files are stored in a central repository and accessible on demand, stakeholders don’t have to worry about the security of that content, or the risk that it might be lost in a disaster.
Easy reporting and insights: Using data to generate insights is a unique advantage of modern collaboration technology. When the dashboards and visualization features are built in, there’s less need to add extra complexity to a company’s technology footprint.
Ease of onboarding: Bringing new employees into a construction firm’s collaboration and document management processes becomes simple when there is a dedicated system in place to manage the files. This saves time at the beginning of a new employee’s tenure and helps everyone easily work together.
Personnel optimization: Using a purpose-built digital collaboration system can save as much as 10 hours per employee per week that would be spent on activities like uploading copies of files or searching for elusive information. That time can be better spent on more important work.
With such a compelling value proposition, it’s clear why companies have decided to move to modern digital collaboration systems. With some organizations seizing these advantages, firms can’t afford to be left behind using inefficient legacy systems.
The best way to start transforming
Once a business has committed to using digital collaboration technology, the question then becomes: How should leaders manage this transformation?
There are a few important marks organizations must hit during their implementation process to maximize their chances for success. It’s essential, for instance, to train users on the new tools. This step doesn’t have to be difficult, because the best software tools are designed to be easy. The stakeholders spearheading the new technology project must get buy-in from senior leadership. Without this stamp of approval, any business initiative could fail. To counteract initial hesitancy about adding another software system, it may be necessary to note that a suitable collaboration tool can replace multiple legacy applications, creating a streamlined new way to communicate.