Effective Communication in the Construction Management Process

If you work in construction, you know that the construction management process is no easy feat. It requires top-notch communication skills.

We realize that “communication” is a broad term. When teams already exchange a steady flow of knowledge verbally and digitally, it can be hard to pinpoint where an issue is occurring.

So, let’s break this broad concept of communication into something more tangible. What are some concrete methods you can use to improve the way your team communicates on and off the work site?

In this article, we’ll discuss topics including:

  • The basics of construction management
  • Strategies for building mutual trust
  • How to promote knowledge sharing

Construction management processes are complicated by nature, but the sharing of information and team communication does not have to be. By increasing mutual trust and knowledge sharing, you can greatly improve how your team collaborates, cooperates, and exchanges critical information.

Before we dive into methods for building strong construction communication skills, let’s cover the basics of what construction management looks like.

What Is Construction Management?

With an expected 11% increase in the next decade, construction management is a rapidly growing field. There are nearly 39,000 openings for construction manager positions projected each year.

Construction managers are critical players in the building process. As the name suggests, they are responsible for managing the construction process. They have expertise in many areas, including plumbing, electrical, and general construction. Managers use this knowledge base to ensure that things are running smoothly on job sites.

The scale of projects that construction managers oversee can vary from residential to industrial. They may be present on home renovation projects or corporate builds. Generally, their primary management location is the work site.

Construction managers are mainly responsible for ensuring that the building process is carried out properly and in a timely fashion. However, they may help design budgets and provide input during other phases of some projects.

What are the Project Phases?

There are six phases of project management. Project managers are more involved in these phases than construction managers. However, construction is a collaborative process, and it’s likely that all managers will touch various phases of any given project. In general, the more you know about the entire construction process, the more expert guidance you can provide.

Let’s cover the following phases:

  1. Pre-Design
  2. Design
  3. Document development
  4. Bid process
  5. Construction
  6. Occupancy

Phase 1: Pre-Design

In this initial stage, various stakeholders and participants come together to conceptualize the project. They’ll figure out why the project is needed, how the building can best fit this need, and where funding will come from. Teams will begin to form the design.

Phase 2: Design

Now that the idea is in motion, the design will be created. Once it gets approval from both the customer and the project management team, the design will be finalized. Designs must meet both aesthetic and practical needs, and – most importantly – stay within budget.

Phase 3: Document Development

Depending on the scale of the project, specialized documents might be necessary to outline the details of the construction process. You might skip this step for a cabinet installation, but more complex projects require more complex instructions.

Phase 4: Bid Process

Now that all the information is approved and ready-to-go, it’s time to assemble a team. Project managers will solicit, review, and accept bids. Contracts will then be drawn up.

Phase 5: Construction

Once contracts are finalized, it’s time to build. This is the most important phase for construction managers, who will need to guide subcontractors in implementing the designs. On top of management, they will often be tasked with completing administrative work, like construction daily reports in order to document progress and safety concerns.

Phase 6: Occupancy

After construction is complete, closeout begins. Before the build is ready, project participants must address their punch list, where issues are documented. After solving these concerns, occupants may return to the space.

If you would like a deeper look at the construction management process, check out our blog post about how to manage a construction project step by step.

man standing infront of miter saw
Image Source: Annie Gray ‌‌

Barriers to Successful Communication

So, as a construction manager, how can you improve communication on the job site during the construction phase? We suggest learning more about how to build a good rapport with all parties involved in your project. The fact is that even before any project-related exchanges happen, the foundation you’ve built with subcontractors will determine how well communication flows.

John Borcherding, Adjunct Professor in the University of Texas’s Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering Department, explored this question in a paper published in Project Management Quarterly.

In the article, he listed different barriers to communication, including:

  • Status barriers: Does everyone feel comfortable sharing regardless of their job title?
  • Interpersonal hostility barriers: Are any parties frequently at odds?
  • Parliamentary methods barriers: Do meeting rules hamper the flow of important information?
  • Organizational barriers: Does everyone have access to the chain of communication?
  • Human barriers: Do all key players actively listen?

Some of the above factors – like interpersonal hostility and human barriers – will be out of your control on the job site. However, you can set a precedent for the way information flows on your latest project.

Building Mutual Trust for Successful Communication

Each site has its own unique communication needs. For most sites, it’s worthwhile to consider restructuring paths of communication so that:

  • There is more than one individual who can answer questions and approve modifications.
  • All parties may informally address each other and share information
  • The process of communicating and solving extensive issues is clear and efficient.

If you feel the above suggestions are true of your job site, but you are still facing problems, perhaps you and your other project participants lack mutual trust.

What is this and how can you grow it?

When mutual trust exists in organizations, all parties understand that they can share good and bad information and continue to be respected. Supervisors can give subcontractors both praise and constructive criticism. Construction managers can tell project managers that they lack the financial or organizational support the project requires. Project managers can be direct and honest with other parties about schedules and finances.

The crux of mutual trust is that relaying a disappointing message will not upend a previously productive relationship. When mutual trust is present, working relationships are strong enough to weather bumps in the road.

There are many ways to increase mutual trust with your job site coworkers. Suggestions include:

  • Ask questions without assumptions
  • Pay attention to your nonverbal cues
  • Act fairly and honestly
  • Imagine things from your subcontractors’ perspective.
  • Follow through on your promises
  • Discuss hard truths and allow others to do the same
  • Listen before you speak
  • Say “thank you” often
  • Acknowledge and play to your workers’ strengths
  • Stay consistent

The main takeaway from the above suggestions is this: do not assume superiority over people you manage. You may have a higher title or pay, but this does not mean you are inherently more valuable than others working on the project. When you resist putting hierarchical space between you and coworkers, everyone will feel respected and trusted, and information will flow much more easily.

Sharing Know-How: Another Asset

Mutual trust is one of many “intangible assets” likely to improve workplace communication. Whereas tangible assets are clearly visible and measurable (like meeting procedures), intangible assets are tightly woven into a company’s culture and can be more difficult to define.

One intangible asset that many construction sites struggle with is the sharing of insider knowledge or “know-how.” This may be shared through:

  • Mentoring
  • Stories
  • Brainstorming
  • Shadowing
  • Informal talks

However the knowledge is passed, the idea is that one person shares their wisdom of experience with others.

As more people become privy to years-old construction knowledge, the quality of their work will improve. So, why is sharing this information not common practice at many construction companies?

According to the Project Management Institute’s Analysis of Tangible and Intangible Project Management Assets, there are a few reasons.

In their analysis, some people perceived know-how as a source of power and were therefore slow to share it. At other companies, learning was not viewed as a high-priority endeavor. Finally, time constraints and rigid team structures sometimes prevented a healthy flow of shared knowledge.

So, how can you get around these problems?

Sarah Ketvirtis wrote about this for Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy site. The research she gathered pointed to 4 methods for increasing knowledge-sharing in an organization.

  1. Create a trusting environment. We discussed this previously, but it’s worth repeating: building mutual trust with all project participants will greatly improve communication throughout your construction project process.
  2. Provide opportunities for everyone to share ideas. Building your team’s collective knowledge base will not only help solve immediate problems, but also provide everyone with valuable expertise for future projects and collaborations.
  3. Agree on how shared knowledge will be used. When your project participants know that what they share will be used for everyone’s benefit, they will likely be more inclined to exchange information.
  4. Acknowledge the value of contributions. Giving credit where it’s due goes a long way in building trust and securing a future of clear information flow.

By implementing some of the above suggestions, you are likely to notice an increased amount of know-how exchanged between your project participants. This will be of great help during the construction management process.

Knowledge sharing increases mutual trust, and mutual trust increases knowledge sharing. It’s a positive feedback loop. As you feed this loop with consistency and time, your relational foundation with subcontractors and other parties will solidify, and communication will become more productive.

man in black jacket and pants standing beside white car during daytime
Image Source: Barthelemy de Mazenod

Strategies for Improving Communication Using Rivet

Now that we’ve covered barriers to communication, methods for improving communication, and intangible assets that support communication, we’d love to share a tool for implementing many of these ideas: our app, Rivet.

At Rivet, we understand how hard construction teams work. Our aim is to facilitate this huge undertaking by providing a practical, easy-to-use communication hub. Below, we’ll share a few features of our app that help improve mutual trust, knowledge sharing, and overall project communication.

Increase Mutual Trust Day by Day

While our app isn’t a magic wand that erases conflict and human error, we can help you reduce these issues by increasing transparency.

One feature we find useful for increasing horizontal flow and giving everyone access to communicating is the Shared Directory.

In the directory, all company members can drop phone numbers, email addresses, and other important contact info. As everyone pitches in to compile this directory, horizontal access becomes easier.

While the shared directory is not a feature outside project participants will access, everyone can find critical contact information on the Project Info Hub. Here, you can store information like lockbox codes, job site addresses, plans, and anything else you deem necessary, including key players’ numbers and emails.

You can also build trust and transparency by using the shared project calendar on Rivet. Let everyone know when homeowners or inspectors will be coming to check things out and other upcoming events. This way, no one will feel left out of the chain of communication and will be prepared for any changes to daily job site operations.

Make Knowledge Sharing Easy

As far as promoting knowledge sharing, we have a few tips. First, try to organize convos where knowledge can be exchanged. Rivet allows you to open multiple channels within a single project. Many of these will be used to manage daily to-dos and serve as hubs for operational concerns (like punch lists). However, consider the worth of a more informal channel where subcontractors and other on-site workers can share their wisdom.

If you are a construction project manager, you can kick things off by sharing your own know-how, increasing trust and allowing ideas to flow.

If you feel plenty of mentorship and story-exchanging is already happening on your job site, perhaps a channel for ideas would best serve your project. By opening a channel where everyone can suggest ways to solve problems or build more efficiently, you are:

  • Demonstrating trust in your subcontractors
  • Gaining insight into how workers want things to run
  • Gathering ideas for future implementation.

You could also create a channel all project participants are a part of to make staying up to date easy. On this channel, information can be easily shared between parties and everyone can stay aware of what’s going on with the project. If group members are worried about constant notifications from such a large chat, no problem! Individuals can modify their notification settings so that they only get pinged when they are tagged in a message.

The project feed automatically created when you open a new Rivet channel is also a great place for everyone to learn what’s going on. This section is essentially a stream of updates for all project participants. Users can see photos, tasks, and files shared at the project level, all in one place!

In addition to providing a means to chat more easily, Rivet can help you cross language barriers. Many construction workers speak a language other than English, and this can make it hard for all parties to effectively communicate. Rivet includes in-app translations between Spanish and English. It’s as easy as sending a message. All a recipient must do is tap the translation button, and voila, the fact that both parties speak a different language is no longer a problem.

If you work with people who speak neither Spanish nor English, we have support for you on the way. Rivet is currently developing translation capabilities from various languages that will make communication easier.  

Improve Communication or Lose Money

Construction is complex and communication poses a specific challenge.

2018 research from PlanGrid and FMI investigated the reasons why time is frequently lost on construction sites. 23% of the people they surveyed named poor communication among project stakeholders as why they spent more time on a task. This was the most common response. Additionally, 13% of respondents said that the inability to collaborate efficiently was why they spent more time on a task.

Additionally, when asked about the causes of rework, 26% of individuals again cited poor communication among stakeholders. PlanGrid and FMI believe $17 billion of the $31.3 billion wasted on rework in the U.S. each year is due to poor communication.

Reasons for poor communication with stakeholders varied, including:

Clearly, many construction teams need some assistance improving communication.

Rivet can help address some of these communication concerns. Our app is a common platform where everyone can communicate, ask and answer questions. Our tools are collaborative by design, and using them may boost your project participants’ cooperative abilities.

The construction management process is not easy, but we’re here to help you and your team improve communication through it all. Email or call us if you have any questions. A real person will be ready to answer them.

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