Historically, there has been a gap between the office staff and the field staff in construction companies. To produce a quality project on time and within budget, that gap has to be addressed and solved. In some companies there can be the concept that the people in the office don’t do REAL work, and the people in the field are just common laborers. The bias about working in a model versus working in the field is real, and it causes a broken relationship dynamic.
With a combination of corporate culture, communication and relationships, this dynamic can be repaired when you are more intentional with your culture.
A strong construction company is characterized by these three major building blocks:
1. Corporate culture, the components of which are:
It really all starts with the values that you espouse to represent and strive to live up to. This should be something that everyone in the company, no matter position, has a hand in shaping and believes in. There is power when people not only believe in these values but live them out in practice.
- Flexibility in handling digital overload. The trades are especially feeling this. There are so many technology options to choose from. But which ones make people’s lives better? It’s key to talk with field teams and find out the real, on the project needs. Another step is to find out what the return on investment is for the technology tools your company is using. The apps should be giving you construction insights.
- Team building for existing staff. There are ways to build a truly high-functioning team. One might involve using personality profiles, which demonstrate that we’re not all the same, and that’s okay. Diversity among its members makes the team stronger. Once team members understand and embrace that, they learn to better communicate with each other. I’m a huge believer in personality tests (i.e. DISC or Enneagram) and sharing that information with others. The reality is only after you take time to know how a person is wired can you truly start to effectively communicate well.
- Cross-training, which some companies already use, helps everyone understand the challenges of each job. Jobsite visits by office personnel can be useful and in some companies are required. Seeing the project firsthand is not only a learning experience, it bonds the teams in a common goal.
- Structured onboarding for new hires. It’s important to initially screen candidates to make sure they align with the culture ideologically. Once new team members are brought onboard, they need to be oriented to the company’s culture and values. One way some companies do this is for new hires to do a rotation where they spend time with every team.
2. Relationships between the office and the field is a divide that exists and may be growing wider because of technology. Whereas problems at one time were often relegated to be worked out in the field, now those solutions must be coordinated with the model and the people in the office developing it. Field workers aren’t the only ones involved in the project anymore; enter the BIM team.
The knowledge to solve a problem just might be in the office, not in the field and vice versa. Within this divide, communication becomes ever more important to bridge the gap between the office and field. As we all work from home more, that in-person component is missing. The group dynamics are different. There needs to be a concerted effort to make sure everyone’s voice is heard. Intentionality will be your friend.
3. Respect for others and their perspectives. To have a cohesive team, it’s important for employees to see the world from others’ vantage points. Team members should be encouraged to set aside time to talk about non-work topics: hobbies, interests, family happenings. Slowing the pace and taking relationships a little more seriously will pay off in the long run.
It’s possible the construction trades can come out of this COVID experience stronger than they went into it. Companies are learning to plan in the short-term now, not thinking years down the road. They’re learning to do incremental chunks of work and be agile in an uncertain business climate.
Bridging the Gap, episode 33 with guest Jake Olsen of Dado.
In episode 33 of the Bridging the Gap Podcast, I talked with Jake Olsen, founder and CEO of Dado about the importance of building a healthy corporate culture and getting to know the person behind the employee. Listen here for the full conversation.