Effective jobsite communication is crucial to project success, and many general contractors spend countless hours and thousands of dollars researching and implementing the latest technologies in this arena to ensure more efficient connectivity. As the industry continues to explore modern communication solutions, is an unlikely candidate, Snapchat, emerging as a top contender?
After a recent jobsite visit, we were surprised to see Snapchat being used in the field for progress updates, logistics/materials questions and general communication uses among all the disciplines and trade crews. While apps like Slack and Skype have emerged as popular jobsite instant communication apps, Snapchat seems to be gaining a surprising amount of momentum. The app’s website boasts that 60% of 13-34-year-old smartphone users in the US use it, and it sees over five billion videos being uploaded per day. And 2015 saw an even more interesting increase in the app’s momentum: Over the last year in the US, Snapchat added 25-to-34-year-old users (103%) and older-than-35 users (84%) faster than 18-to-24-year-old users (56%), according to measurement firm comScore via The Los Angeles Times. Snapchat’s own data now pegs the ages of 12% of its nearly 50 million daily users in the US as 35 to 54. So why does an app intended for teens appeal to older users and qualified jobsite professionals?
As walkie-talkies continue to be increasingly shunned in favor of smartphones and tablets, Snapchat, which allows users to send 10-second videos with 31-character text box summaries directly to fellow users, is becoming more and more visible in the field. The app automatically deletes the videos once the intended viewer has opened the message or within 24 hours of it being sent, depending on the settings chosen by the user. (Options to save the message are also available at the user’s discretion.) Only intended recipients can view or receive the message, allowing for a more discrete informational flow.
“Part of my job for one of our new projects was to make a punchlist on a weekly basis,” notes Prateek Verma, operations manager at Avalon Management Group, in a recent editorial on LinkedIn. “I wished there was an app where I could just click a picture, label it instantly, save it on my phone and email all the pictures at one go without really typing anything; and then it hit me: Why not use Snapchat? I can take the picture, label the picture explaining what exactly is wrong, save the picture to my gallery, and at the end of the walk, email all the self-explanatory labeled pictures to the general contractor.” This might somewhat explain its popularity, at least within the realm of rapport and accountability, as the messages can be sent and opened at the convenience of the intended recipient(s).
The “broadcast” nature of the app may also be appealing in the field within the time-saving department, as the (mostly) one-way communication relieves the banter of exaggerated email threads or conversations, allowing for a more direct message or comment, accompanied with a visual component for specificity. Geofilters can be enabled, allowing for area-specific communication by jobsite proximity. Multiple recipients can also receive the singular message, meaning that a superintendent could send out a message of concern to his or her whole team at once, alleviating the confusion that comes along with a standard message chain, or the time it takes to call a huddle or meeting. Location clarity, materials implementation, and safety incident reporting could benefit from the audio and video capabilities of the app as well, and it would be a supplemental means of support for more intensive tablet-oriented programs as the user could simply record a video of the tablet screen that is causing confusion and send a “Snap” seeking clarity.
Given a host of speculative scenarios in which Snapchat might help jobsite professionals, it raises the question, “Why isn’t everybody using it?” Answering this is speculative in nature. First, it could be argued that Snapchat poses significant safety risks on the jobsite, particularly for the “selfie” generation of employees who might be quick to be distracted by the app in the field. A possible lack of tie-off solutions for handheld devices may further this safety risk. Second, extraneous communication may also impede productivity—especially with the temptation to use Snapchat as merely a joke broadcaster among project pranksters. And finally, some project sites offer poor cellular service or technological restrictions that prevent smartphone use on site, rendering a phone app to be completely useless. As poor connectivity can be common, many GCs believe that the tried-and-true walkie-talkie still fills the on-site communication void quite nicely.
The initial use of Snapchat in the realm of general construction introduces an interesting, if unorthodox, alternative option for on-site project communication. While it remains to be seen whether or not the app has the wherewithal to stand among more AEC-centric apps like FieldLens and become a viable jobsite communication solution, in light of recent observations, perhaps Snapchat is beginning to drive its own niche form of project communication.