Blog Post

The true cost of poor communication with subcontractors

30.08.2023 | 8 min read | Written by George Barnes

In construction, communication is paramount. Construction projects are complex, involving many different people and teams. Lots of moving parts. And effective communication in this environment is essential for ensuring that everyone is on the same page and that the project stays on track.

Get it right and your build will be a success. Get it wrong however, and things start to fall apart: deadlines are missed, costs spiral and clients become unhappy.

And at the heart of this communication challenge is the subcontractor.

Communication with subcontractors is a problem that’s almost universal in construction.

Recently we completed a survey of 77 leading construction companies from the UK and Germany (PlanRadar customer survey, September 2023) and asked them about their relationship with contractors. The answers we’re eye-opening. Almost 60% of general contractors feel like they can’t get a full picture of what’s going on on-site. While 80% of general contractors have experienced misunderstanding and disputes all thanks to a breakdown in communication with subcontractors.

Clearly this is a challenge that needs to be solved. So, what can we do about it?

site manager talking to subcontractor


1. Communication in construction – a unique challenge

2. Why poor communication happens

3. The impact of poor communication

4. Tips for improving communication with subcontractors

5. How subcontractor management software can help

Communication in construction – a unique challenge

When it comes to communicating with subcontractors in particular, things can get a little tricky.

Maybe you don’t have time to manage subcontractors properly. Or perhaps you feel that your communication channels are letting you down, and as a result you’re not getting a full picture of what’s going on on-site.

Subcontractors may have different communication styles than you do, or even speak a different language. You might find yourself wondering what the subcontractors are working on, or if they’re doing a good job. But you don’t know how to find out.

Put simply, it can be hard to communicate effectively with subcontractors – and this difficulty can have far-ranging implications both in time and costs (and your mental wellbeing).

So, what’s the solution? That’s what we’ll aim to solve in this blog article. But first, to give you an idea of the extent of the problem, let’s look in a bit more detail at some of the causes of poor communication with subcontractors and their effects on your construction project.

Why poor communication happens

The reasons for poor communication with subcontractors aren’t simple. However, it is possible to broadly group these reasons, and this is important as it’s the first step towards coming up with a solution.

So, let’s take a look at what we’ve found to be the main reasons for poor communication with contractors.

  • Ineffective communication channels: If you don’t have a clear way for subcontractors to communicate with you, problems are bound to arise. Make sure to establish a system that works for everyone involved.
  • Time constraints: In the fast-paced world of construction, it can be easy to overlook communication. But it’s important to make time to communicate regularly with your subcontractors, even if it’s just a quick check-in.
  • Fear of conflict: Sometimes, people avoid communicating because they’re afraid of conflict, especially as subcontractors are often part of an external company. But it’s important to remember that conflict is a normal part of any project. The key is to address it head-on and in a constructive way.
  • One-sided communication: Effective communication flows both ways. If you’re not getting responses, or you’re only getting them periodically, that can feel very one sided.    

On a personal level, these challenges can often feel stressful.

But beyond that, there are also effects on your construction project.  

Related Reading: 5 ways to better manage subcontractors with PlanRadar

Want to know more?

Visit our dedicated subcontractor management page

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The impact of poor communication

Poor communication with subcontractors can have a number of negative impacts on a construction project. Let’s take a look.

Costly rework

Poor communication leads to costly rework, which is when work has to be done again because it was done incorrectly the first time. According to our research, rework costs can amount to more than 11 % of project costs. So, the potential overall costs of rework in bigger projects are huge.

Various factors, including poor communication between the client, the contractor, and the subcontractors, can cause rework. For example, if the site manager does not provide clear and concise instructions, the contractor may not be able to complete the work correctly. Or, if the contractor does not communicate effectively with the subcontractors, they may be unable to coordinate their work properly.

Rework can have a significant impact on the cost of a construction project. In addition to the direct costs of materials and labour, it can also result in indirect costs, such as delays and loss of productivity.

Compromised safety 

Poor communication can also compromise health and safety. This is because it culminates in misunderstandings about the risks involved in a particular task or the safety procedures that must be followed.

When subcontractors are unaware of the risks associated with working at height, they may not take the necessary precautions to stay safe. So, the chances of accidents that could injure the subcontractor or someone else are high.

In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) enforces health and safety regulations in the workplace. The HSE estimates that poor communication contributes to 20% of workplace accidents.

Demotivated teams

When there is poor communication between team members, it is likely to result in a demotivated team. This is because team members may feel they are not being listened to or their contributions are not valued.

A demotivated team is less likely to be productive and is more likely to make mistakes. This can lead to delays, cost overruns, and even accidents.

A study by the University of Warwick found that poor communication is one of the leading causes of workplace stress. Stress often gives rise to absenteeism, turnover, and decreased productivity.

Wasted resources 

Poor communication can also lead to wasted resources. This is because it causes delays, leaving materials unused or damaged. It also produces more mistakes, which can require additional materials or labour to fix.

If a subcontractor does not receive the correct materials on time, they may have to wait for them to arrive before they can continue working. This delays the project and results in the materials being left unused.

Some of the most common causes of wasted resources due to poor communication include:

  • Delays in the project schedule
  • Errors in the drawings or specifications
  • Rework due to misunderstandings
  • Materials being used incorrectly

Related reading: Find out more about how PlanRadar can help General Contractors

Project delays 

Poor communication is one of the leading causes of project delays in the UK construction industry. According to a survey, poor communication is responsible for 20% of all project delays and causes project failure one-third of the time.

Project delays can significantly impact the cost of a construction project. They can also lead to lost productivity and damage the site manager’s reputation.

This all sounds a bit doom and gloom. But don’t panic quite yet. These are serious issues, but there are some simple solutions that you can follow to help solve the problem.

First of all, some actions you can take straight way.

Tips for improving communication with subcontractors

Here’s an easy-to-follow list of things you can do to aid a smoother flow of communication with your subcontractors. Some may sound obvious, but it’s surprising how often these things can be forgotten in the stress and businesses of a complex project.

  • Set clear expectations: Be clear about what you need from your subcontractors and how you expect them to communicate with you.
  • Use the right communication channels: Choose the right communication channels for your project and your team. This could include email, phone calls, video conferencing, or project management software.
  • Be clear and concise: When you communicate with subcontractors, be clear and concise. Avoid using jargon or technical terms that they might not understand.
  • Be proactive: Don’t wait for problems to arise before communicating with subcontractors. Proactively keep them updated on the project and any changes that might affect them.
  • Be respectful: Treat subcontractors with respect. This will help to build trust and improve communication.
  • Be responsive: When subcontractors communicate with you, be responsive. Don’t let their messages go unanswered.

Following these steps will set you up for success in your efforts to improve communication with subcontractors. But you can go even further. There are digital tools out there – PlanRadar is a great example of this – that can take your communication with subcontractors to the next level and solve the problem for good.

How subcontractor management software can help

Subcontractor management software like PlanRadar provides a central platform for managing tasks, documents, communication, and site access.

With it, you can save time, improve communication, and reduce errors – a valuable resource for any construction company that wants to streamline its operations and improve its bottom line.

Subcontractor management software can help you with:

Centralised communication
Subcontractor management software provides a central place for all communication. This makes it easy to keep track of what’s been said and who needs to be updated.

Document sharing
Subcontractor management software makes it easy to share documents and files. This can help to avoid misunderstandings and delays.

Task management
Subcontractor management software can help you track tasks and deadlines. This can help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that the project stays on schedule.

Issue tracking 
Subcontractor management software can help you track issues and problems. This can help to resolve issues quickly and avoid delays.

And that’s it. It might take a little effort, but better communication with your subcontractors (and improved oversight) is just a few simple steps away. With a few changes to the way you work and backed up by PlanRadar, you can improve communication and get the job done.

Use the button below to book a demo of PlanRadar, and one of our experts will take you through exactly how the platform can make managing subcontractors easy.

It won’t take long for PlanRadar to transform your subcontractor communication. Try PlanRadar for free for 30 days and see the results.

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1. Create an account

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