Effective Communication in Construction

by Melanie Baravik
March 19, 2018

It’s a simple fact when it comes to construction: on the jobsite, clear communication means fewer mistakes and faster project completion. And it’s no secret that communication is one of the biggest challenges in the industry. Most projects have quite a few cooks in the kitchen — from laborers to designers to clients, everyone needs to know something. Miscommunication can lead to missed deadlines, blown budgets and even accidents, which means it’s a problem that’s worth the extra effort to solve. Try out a few of these strategies to improve communication and figure out what works best for you and your employees.

Meetings

Chances are, you’re already conducting regular meetings to keep everyone on site in the loop. Those meetings likely cover things like safety procedures, project progress and next steps. But are those meetings effective, or does everyone show up and tune out? If that’s the case, you can make meetings more impactful with a few tweaks to your normal routine:

Have a clear purpose for the meeting. Be prepared and don’t waste your employees’ time by making them attend a meeting without a goal. Whether it’s safety-related or a project update, establish what topics you want to cover before the meeting begins — and stay on topic. Going off on a tangent cuts into valuable work time and makes it likely that many attendees are tuning out.

• Does everyone need to attend? Is the topic relevant to everyone you’ve invited to the meeting? Your team might benefit from smaller meetings with more specific topics — that way, no one wastes time attending a meeting they don’t need to. As you plan the meeting, you can also decide who needs to be there.

• Get your point across in 30 minutes or less. Keep it short and sweet — after 30 minutes, you’ll quickly start losing everyone’s attention. If you’re conducting daily meetings, make it even shorter — around 15 minutes — so you aren’t keeping people from doing their jobs. Planning beforehand and staying on topic are essential to keeping your meetings brief.

• Follow up on employee comments. If an employee brings up a question or concern, don’t leave them hanging. Take their feedback seriously and follow up after the meeting or in the next meeting. Think about it — if you ignore what your employees are saying, why would they bring their issues to you again? Following up shows everyone that you’re listening and that you care about solving their problems.

Technology

When it’s used properly, technology can cut down on confusion and miscommunication in a big way. Take ES Track, for example. With an all-in-one dashboard that shows the real-time status of every connected machine, confusion regarding your equipment is virtually eliminated. Assets are GPS-tracked — wondering if that telehandler has made it to the jobsite yet? Check its location in the ES Track app to see if it arrived or if it’s held up in traffic. You know one of your mini-excavators is due for an oil change, but you can’t remember when — just check ES Track to see the last service date. What’s more, you can set unique access codes for employees who will be accessing machines, eliminating the danger of unqualified people operating your assets.

And ES Track isn’t the only tech communication tool you can put to use — safety wearables and drones are also popping up on worksites. Safety wearables range from work vests that track location and alert workers to dangerous areas of the jobsite, to smart work boots that monitor falls and fatigue. On a noisy jobsite where workers might miss a dangerous situation, a safety wearable that lights up or vibrates can get their attention before it happens. Drones can provide a bird’s-eye view of the project, including areas that are difficult or dangerous to access. And those capabilities mean a more comprehensive view of construction projects with a lot less guesswork. Putting technology to work for you can lead to increased communication at every stage of the project.

Signs and hand signals

It seems basic, but proper signs around the jobsite are an important communication tool. The Federal Employers Liability Act requires you to protect your employees from dangers on-the-job, and legible, eye-catching safety signs are a good way to start. Jobsites are full of dangers that might not be immediately apparent — an open pit that’s easy to stumble into, electric shock hazards or the presence of chemicals or silica dust. If signs are prominently posted, employees are quickly alerted to dangers in the area.

Recognizable hand signals are also helpful since construction isn’t quiet work. Some hand signals follow OSHA’s Standard Method — the agency requires the use of the Standard Method when applicable on the jobsite. If you’re using signals that aren’t part of the Standard Method, the signals must be agreed-upon before they’re used. It’s good practice to make sure everyone on-site knows, at the very least, the Standard Method hand signals. Don’t overlook this skill during training. It's not a bad idea to hang posters depicting the hand signals for further clarity.

Those are just a few of the strategies and tools you can use to improve communication on the projects you’re managing. Construction jobsites are busy, noisy places, and ensuring clear methods of communication keeps everyone on track, in the loop, and most importantly, safe. What tools and practices are you using for effective communication?

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