The benefits of remote working in construction

Mark Catton MSc FCIOB
Oct 18 · 7 min read

The concept of remote working in construction is not new. Think of your project team today. Where is your architect based, your structural / civil engineer, your other consultants, even your site or client?

Chances are not in the same location.

With certain projects the site and site office location may not be together, or for security reasons any visits to the actual site may have to be escorted. You are therefore working remotely from the site.

Does the fact that project team members are working remotely from each other or that you are not site based adversely effect the project? No.

Why not?

Technology. The use of video conferencing, document sharing software, mobile messaging, tablets etc. means that never have there been so many ways in which we can communicate effectively and collaborate on documents remotely. The use of technology can mean that a team geographically dispersed can act as though they are in the same location; information and documentation can be relayed, distributed and worked on between team members in real time.

One of the most obvious illustrations of the benefits of remote working surrounds meetings. Do you work whilst travelling to a meeting, probably not and if you do probably not as efficiently as if you were at your desk. Also think about the direct costs of holding the meeting which can include air or rail fares, taxi’s, petrol, tolls, hotels etc. then of course there is the cost of the room rental, refreshments etc. and don’t forget the indirect costs such as paying for unproductive time and the opportunity cost relating to the unproductive time.

By utilising technology to facilitate the meeting, you mitigate all of the above. There is no lost time or cost travelling to a meeting and no associated meeting costs.

The same reasoning can be applied to employees. Homeworking in other industries is increasingly becoming popular. This is remote working just under a different title. The employee is working remotely from the office; however, the term remote working tends to be more negatively perceived than the term home working even though they are one and the same.

From an employer standpoint the benefits of remote working should be obvious.

· Your employees don’t waste time commuting. How long is the average commute for one of your employees? If they work from home that’s time they can spend working, even if that’s catching up on emails.

· Your employees are more efficient as they don’t have the normal office distractions. Depending on which study you read this can lead to between a 13–20% increase in productivity over their office-based counterparts.

· Sickness absences can be reduced. How often do people come into the office when they are sick out of loyalty or sense of responsibility to their team or company? But happens is that they are less effective and then unintentionally pass around their sickness to others causing a domino effective of absence and lack in productivity. Working from home eliminates this.

· Given the increased work/life balance that working from home affords, loyalty towards their employer increases. If you have a job that you enjoy doing, you’re paid well and which gives you a great work life balance you tend to be loyal to that employer. Studies have shown that working from home decreases staff turnover. This in turn creates employees who are loyal, understand the business, its process, the market and their roles it also decreases the significant costs associated with employing and training new staff members which can be considerable in companies with high staff turnover rates.

· You don’t have to pay for office space. Office space is an expensive commodity, if you can reduce the amount you need that helps in reducing your operating costs. Think also about the soft office costs i.e. snacks / tea / coffee etc. These add up month on month year on year with remote working they disappear.

· Lastly but by no means the least detrimental effect of having a fixed office location is that you are limiting yourself to a talent pool contained within a certain geographical radius of your physical location. What if the person perfect for the work is located outside this radius and not willing to move? If you enable your staff to work remotely you are able to hire the best regardless of location.

So why isn’t remote working utilised as much by construction companies for their employees as they do for their consultants?

Construction is largely seen as a site-based operation. The ingrained wisdom is that you need to be on site to see what is going on. To be available to answer questions / solve problems. This is certainly true of site management. Operationally you can’t have the people responsible for running the physical build of the project not being on site to supervise. That would be disastrous.

But what about the commercial side?

There are certain tasks where a site presence is required, for example valuations and site meetings. But what about the other commercial functions such as tendering, procurement, reviewing subcontract documents, preparing claims, preparing cost/value reconciliations, change control, preparing finals accounts, chasing retentions. These are largely administrative based tasks and given that all project information is generally now stored utilising project control software which enable all team members regardless of location access to it; is being office/site based now really a requirement?

The answer has to be no.

Granted, there will be aspects of some of the above tasks that may necessitate a site visit but not a site presence. Much of the information required to complete these tasks should be stored in the project file as most tasks rely on contemporary rather than retrospective records. This does mean that during the project attention does need to be directed towards ensuring that the correct records are being maintained, however this should not be a new concept. This should be commonplace regardless of whether remote working is employed. If you don’t keep adequate records how do you expect to maintain control of your project, defend or bring claims, control change or maximise profitability and cashflow?

Increasingly, the commercial side of the construction industry is starting to embrace remote working. Companies are starting to offer estimators, QS’s the option to work from home and by doing so are proving that the concept works, that technology can be utilised to keep project teams connected and more efficient.

This concept can be taken further.

Commercially there are resource bottlenecks during a project.

During pre construction do you have sufficient resource to fully read, understand and price the volume of tenders you receive, do you have the resource to properly read and understand subcontract documents, do you have sufficient resource to meet procurement deadlines.

During the construction phase do you have sufficient resource to keep up with the contractual requirements relating to change control, or to prepare or defend a detailed claim.

The key word here is properly and chances are you probably don’t.

You get through the above as quickly as possible, thereby missing opportunity and increasing risk.

If you spend the correct amount of time preparing the above site matters suffer, if you concentrate on site matters the above suffers. It’s a no-win situation.

This is not a reflection of your ability but a consequence of the bottlenecking of resource.

A resource bottleneck can also occur where an organisation does not have the right level of expertise to complete a particular task. For example a subcontractor may be an expert in his field but lacks the expertise to fully understand a presented subcontract thereby denying him the ability to properly negotiate the terms of the subcontract so that they are fair.

Urban Project Services was founded to redress this imbalance.

We understand that project teams are generally well resourced. But there are occasions where bottlenecks occur and when they do, they require assistance to ensure that tasks are completed properly and thoroughly. This may mean contractors require support for a few hours a week, a day or two a week, a week or a month which historically be difficult to find a freelance consultant willing to commit to such ad-hoc work. But this suits perfectly remote working.

Once we have agreed the project brief, we utilise technology to get instantaneous access to your project documents and information and connect with the project team. There is no time lag in getting IT to assign email addresses, software, laptops or in office orientations or waiting for notice periods to expire. You get the help when you need it for as long as you need it.

Employing outside support can also bring new thinking to project. We are not constrained by bias that naturally develops within an organisation and are able to come to the table with fresh ideas, perspectives and impartiality.

As we are not geographically constrained, we are able to retain the support of a team of highly experienced strategic partners who are experts in their fields. This has enabled us to successful assist clients not just in the UK but overseas too. We now have offices in the UK and Canada.

One of the great by products of this approach is the ability to exchange ideas, process, technologies easily and quickly for the benefits of our clients. We have clients utilising software in North America which has been extremely useful for clients in the UK. The same applies for ideas, methodology, processes etc.

By outsourcing work for which you don’t have the expertise or adequate resource you allow firstly those tasks to be undertaken properly but you also give your site teams the time necessary to do their jobs properly thereby mitigating risk and increasing profit potential.

To find our more about the services and benefit Urban Project Services can bring to your project and business, please contact me at: mark@urbanprojectservices.com

Or visit our website at: www.urbanprojectservices.com

Follow our company page on LinkedIn at: www.linkedin.com/company/urban-project-services

Or follow our Instagram page at: https://www.instagram.com/urbanprojectservices/

Mark Catton MSc FCIOB
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