As the construction industry inches closer to fully reopening across the country, worker safety continues to be at the forefront of conversation. While we seem to be getting closer to a return to normal, in the meantime, there will likely be an entirely new normal in which all contractors will have to make adjustments to how they’re used to doing things, at least for a time.
With workers returning to the jobsite, new regulations will also undoubtedly appear in an effort to keep those workers safe. Whether these regulations come in the form of outfitting workers with protective gear, such as face masks, or simply continuing the practice of social distancing, will likely vary by state and situation. Still, even in the face of all of these uncertainties, contractors should be preparing cost-effective plans to ensure the safety of their workers and prevent avoidable project delays in the future. One inexpensive aspect of this plan is evaluating how your business makes use of mobile technology.
Remote Access & Cloud-Based Software
COVID-19, and the subsequent shutdowns, tested almost every industry’s capability for remote work, and construction was no different. One of the first steps to take is to determine what remotely accessible software you already have or could easily integrate into your workflow. While we’re not quite at the stage where we can pour concrete at a jobsite across town while sitting in our living room, other aspects of the business, like data collection and reporting, can run just as efficiently from a remote office with the proper tools.
First, take a look at what software you use that’s cloud- or web-based. Cloud- and web-based software—as compared to software installed at a physical site, like at the office—allow users to access the programs and data they need even if they’re not at their typical workstation. For example, accounting staff could access their usual accounting software, allowing them to enter and receive invoices and run necessary reports, all while away from the office.
CRM, payroll or any change management software can function similarly, as staff can enter and review new data no matter where they happen to be working from. And with cloud- or web-based software, everything updates back to the same central database, so multiple staff members receive updated data in real time.
As an added benefit to remote access, other professionals, like your certified public accountant (CPA), can also view the data they need without making a trip to the office. When equipped with their own credentials, CPAs can remotely retrieve reports to make sure the business is moving in the right direction and catch any potential issues before they occur, all without leaving the comfort of their own office.
Jobsite Mobile Tech
Limiting the number of people that need to be in an enclosed office is a great start, but workers in the field often face even greater exposure without proper mobile tools. Jobsites, by nature, are busy and cluttered, with lots of foot traffic and different crews sharing the same spaces and equipment. Mobile tech can help communication flow between teams while adhering to social distancing.
Take, for instance, a common task like tracking employee hours. Depending on the company, field workers may be clocking in and out using a physical device—whether an old-fashioned time clock or a high-tech communal tablet—or they may be personally checking in with a supervisor when their shifts start and end. While these methods help keep employees accountable and allow supervisors to have control in tracking hours, they inevitably cause a fair amount of face-to-face—or at the very least, close-proximity—interaction to take place.
With technology like a mobile timecard app, employees can clock in and out right from their personal device, often with restrictions to only allow employees to access these functions when they’re within a defined area—like the confines of the jobsite. This eliminates the need for physical documents or timecards while also limiting face-to-face exposure with supervisors.
All the while, supervisors can maintain employee accountability and data accuracy by reviewing data from the app. As an added benefit, by capturing this information digitally, data can transfer directly to the office without the need to deliver physical documents or risking increased exposure for the office staff.
Project Management at a Distance
For project managers, quick decisions based on available data is a necessary component of the job. Frequently, these decisions require information from the jobsite, to make sure that jobs stay on schedule and within their allotted budget.
With remotely accessible project management software, managers can still make important decisions but without the need to physically be at the jobsite. Using something as simple as digital job notes and photos taken at the jobsite, project managers can assess progress without the need for a site visit. When paired with common project management software that can track inventory and work orders, project managers can collect necessary information and make key decisions from anywhere.
Another key aspect to assess with your software is the availability of integrations. With integrations in place, software between different companies for different tasks can interact and process data without manual intervention. When programs work together, the amount of correspondence between team members to analyze and collect data can be reduced, which can lead to a decrease in the need for in-person interactions.
For example, drone imaging integrated with BIM software can create an interactive 3D model of a project. With an accurate model of the job, engineers or architects can make assessments through the images provided without adding another person to the jobsite.
Putting It in Action
While increasing the mobility of your technology certainly helps with responding to COVID-10 and what’s become our new normal, it offers additional benefits beyond this. Whenever a business is able to save time and have access to more reliable data, they’ll see positive results, and mobile solutions allow for this. By increasing communication between teams and reducing the time it takes to get valuable information to the teams that need it, everyone benefits—even when we see a return to our “normal” normal.
If you’re not sure what mobile options are available, a good place to start is by talking with your software vendors and service providers. Solutions might already be available that you aren’t using yet, and now is the time to explore. Mobile options are becoming increasingly common place in construction technology, so it’s a matter of finding what options are available and which will provide the most added benefit your business.
Mobile solutions, by themselves, likely won’t be enough to meet all regulations or standards for keeping workers safe. But when added as factored in as part of a larger reopening plan, they can help workers safely distance themselves while keeping projects moving.