Across all sectors of the construction industry, poor productivity can pose a substantial problem. Small and large companies alike have found themselves unable to meet their clients' expectations, and the issue goes far beyond labor shortages and tightening regulations. It's in the structure of the industry itself.
Up until 100 years ago, give or take, architects and contractors worked within the same design house, coordinating on projects to ensure their success. Over time, the construction process changed, losing the synergy that once sustained it. Contractual relationships began to favor individual performance over the project.
Despite this change and the industry's current difficulties with collaboration, many companies have acknowledged the need for adaptation and improved practices. In this article, we'll detail five strategies they've implemented to manage their productivity, exploring the ingenuity of today's construction professionals.
1. Adoption of New Technology
The construction industry has always had a complicated relationship with technology. Many of today’s construction executives may have had limited experience with constantly evolving tools, and the fractional nature of the process makes it hard for all teams to stay on the same page. Luckily, collaboration is becoming increasingly easier for construction teams.
As technology evolves and project managers take advantage of new software, they've used building information modeling (BIM) to streamline development. Simply put, BIM allows a team to leverage a 3D model of their build, viewing performance predictions, estimated costs, data, and more, to dramatically simplify the construction process.
Now, innovative construction pros are taking it a step further and moving beyond BIM in order to leverage the benefits of a truly constructible model. This means doing more than just meeting a BIM deliverable, but actually leveraging all of the capabilities of a building’s digital twin.
For instance, if any element is changed in a constructible model, everyone is notified and can see the updates. This automated collaboration between engineers, architects, project managers and other executives helps the construction process eliminate many inefficiencies stemming from poor communication and/or the misinterpretation of information.
Ownership and maintenance of heavy construction equipment can prove costly, and year after year, companies must optimize their fleet to meet the demands of environmental compliance. Professionals in construction have to show good judgment with their machinery, as mismanagement could lead to severe losses.
Renting versus buying equipment is a major decision for most construction companies, as inefficiencies abound in periods of equipment failure or delays. Construction companies can manage these issues by letting figures, not assumptions, guide the process.
Calculating your company’s utilization rate is a great way to cut down on equipment inefficiencies. Companies can accept that 100% utilization means using equipment for 22 days, or 176 hours per month. According to this, equipment that is projected to have a utilization rate of 40% should be rented, while equipment with a utilization rate of beyond that may consider ownership more cost-effective.
While each project is unique, projections can go a long way in keeping an operation running smoothly. It’s crucial for construction managers to avoid the stress of equipment delays by carefully assessing their needs.
3. Flexible Work Programs
Construction workers have to handle long hours of menial labor, and with hot temperatures, harsh weather and pollutants, the working conditions are sometimes challenging. Day after day, these conditions can wear down the average worker and negatively impact their productivity.
In response, adjusting policies to meet workers’ needs can have a drastic effect. For example, Shawmut Design and Construction in Boston organized a flexible work program called ShawmutFlex. With part-time hours, telecommuting, job sharing, shift sharing and compressed workweeks, the company has seen an overwhelmingly positive reaction. Engagement, retention and productivity are up, too.
Even if construction companies don’t restructure their work programs, there are simpler ways to encourage employee productivity. Ensure that your business encourages feedback and responds swiftly to stressors. Furthermore, invest in employees’ growth with certifications and industry events that benefit both the business and the worker.
4. Automatization and Data Use
Automatization has shown promise across a range of different industries, optimizing processes and improving productivity by a significant margin. Systems that integrate artificial intelligence (AI) allow managers to delegate small tasks to digital assistants, allowing them to turn their attention toward more pressing responsibilities.
As new construction software gains traction, the industry will have the means to confront issues which have harmed productivity in the past. Technology will enable more effective use of data, sharing insights, preventing delays and simplifying clash detection. Many professionals agree automatization is the way forward.
5. Modular Construction and Prefabrication
Manufacturing construction components off-site in a regulated environment saves considerable time and money, with the added eco-friendly benefit of reducing excess waste. As an answer to the industry's struggle with productivity, modular construction and prefabrication have incredible potential to greatly expedite development.
According to the Modular Building Institute, a crew can theoretically complete modular projects 30 to 50 percent faster than traditional ones. The strategy has already seen success, and through factory-style fabrication and on-site assembly, modular construction provides a modern solution to age-old problems.
What Does the Future Look Like?
Though new technology and modular construction are promising, the industry is still somewhat resistant. Developers, unions, government officials and other groups are aware of the inefficiencies of conventional construction, but their hesitance (or lack of time needed) to embrace and learn modern strategies has slowed progress.
This inflexibility or accidental resistance has affected the forward momentum of the industry. That said, many companies have made significant strides in improving their productivity with advanced technology, strategic planning and investment in their workforce.
The solutions in this article show the construction industry is slowly, but surely, heading in a positive direction. As systems and software become more accessible to companies and project managers, it's safe to speculate productivity in construction will see improvement.