Meet Tony, a site manager who is having a real problem with communication in a construction project. Tony is overseeing a warehouse build and a subcontractor has pointed out that the plan shows electrical wiring running through a ventilation duct. This makes no sense to Tony, so he sends an email to the architect to find out if this is correct. 48 hours later, Tony finally receives a reply. But the message is confusing – it seems like the architect is talking about a completely different part of the building. But, because Tony is up against deadlines, he decides to make a call on where the wiring should be placed. As a result, he has to hope that this will not have any knock-on effects down the line. This scenario shows just how critical good communication in construction projects is. Without effective ways to ask questions, Tony has to make key decisions based on potentially flawed information. It is no surprise then that poor communication in the construction industry is blamed for:
- £13 billion in losses every year
- Almost half of all rework on US construction projects
- Putting some 36% of employees in unsafe situations
Why is communication in construction such a problem – and how can it be improved?
Why communication often breaks down
‘Good’ communication is about sending a message so that it is received and understood by its intended recipient. Unfortunately, there are several obstacles to effective communication in the construction industry. Here are some of the major barriers:
- Multiple stakeholders
Communication is especially complex in the construction industry because of the number of people involved in any project. A typical build includes the client, the architect, the contractor, several subcontracting firms, suppliers, local government officials and so on. The more parties involved in a project, the higher the chances of miscommunication.
Different trades use different language (or ‘jargon’) to describe their activities, which means people can be talking at cross purposes. This is even more of an issue on multilingual sites where some labourers have limited English.
- Ineffective communication methods
If people don’t know how they should pass on messages in an effective way, it’s no surprise that misunderstandings happen. If your site is using a combination of communication methods (WhatsApp, email, phone calls, etc.) then it’s easy to miss important information. The importance of communication in the construction sector is clear. Fortunately, there are some simple changes which can improve how we share information.
Learn more: Quality control in construction
Three ways to improve communication in construction projects
Clear communication with partners on construction projects has many obvious benefits – from avoiding delays and rework to saving money and boosting morale. If you have noticed communication problems on your projects, try implementing the following techniques to improve information sharing:
1. Define a clear chain of communication
In many construction projects, it is unclear who should be speaking to whom when issues arise. This means that key parties end up left out of the loop. A clear chain of communication means everyone knows who to ask when they have a question. Usually, the architect should be the centre of communication and they will speak directly to the client. The architect also communicates ‘downstream’ to the contractor and site manager. The site manager is then normally responsible for sharing information with all subcontractors and suppliers. Whatever chain of communication you decide to set up, it should be clearly explained to all parties – and written into contracts. You could even print the communication chain off and share it with all subcontractors or turn it into a “Who should I ask if…?” poster.
2. Streamline your communication methods
Communication with partners on a construction project will typically involve multiple channels for sharing information. Ideas may be conveyed through face to face meetings, email, telephone calls, text messages, contracts and the BIM model (or even a paper blueprint). Unfortunately using too many communication channels significantly increases the chances of misunderstandings. This is where new technology like PlanRadar helps. The mobile-based application provides a single hub where all communication about a project happens. Everybody from the client to the architect to the site manager and individual labourers can view the latest design models in the app, ask questions about specific features or allocate tasks. It is also possible to share photos if one party needs clarification or to send evidence of completed tasks or issues. These kinds of features ensure that all communication happens in one place and makes it less likely that messages get lost. You can also build an audit trail that can be consulted long after the project ends.
More construction technology: Introduction to construction management apps
3. Improve communication skills
In many offices or retail jobs, staff receive regular training sessions to help them communicate with customers and colleagues better. Unfortunately, construction firms tend to do this less often. It is valuable to conduct communication training within your organisation so that individuals know how to share information in the most effective way. This includes things like:
- Using clear and concise language
- Sticking to the facts
- Learning to be an active listener
- Avoiding jargon
However, because of the nature of construction projects, the many subcontractors you interact with outside your business will not have received the same training. It is therefore the responsibility of the site manager to explain to all subcontractors and suppliers about your preferred communication methods. Once again using a communication and collaboration app like PlanRadar ensures that everyone is ‘on the same page’.
The importance of communication in construction
If you have ever experienced problems around communication with partners in the construction industry, you will know first-hand just how challenging this can be. Nevertheless, with the right tools and techniques, it is possible to send and receive information more effectively – and improve how we build in the process. To learn how PlanRadar supports effective communication in construction, see the app in action here.