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Remote Collaboration Tools for Construction Workers

June 17, 2020

Remote Work Tools for Construction Professionals

Despite the obvious benefits of digital tools, the construction industry is notorious for being slow to adopt new technologies. But certain circumstances can accelerate adoption of new ideas out of necessity. This pandemic is one of those situations.

Thanks to government-imposed social distancing rules and business shutdowns, many of us are now working remotely. We have altered our daily routines, from the time we spend commuting (none) to the clothes we wear “to work” (goodbye, business casual). The way we communicate with our colleagues has also changed drastically. Gone are the in-person sales calls, the team huddles, and the handshakes.

The construction industry is poised to reap the benefits of a tech revolution. Setting aside the fact that remote collaboration is a necessity right now, the cost benefits and productivity savings are compelling reasons to look at digital tools for construction.

As we’ve previously reported, the average major construction project runs over budget by about 80%, and takes around 20% longer to complete than planned. With many digital tools boasting productivity improvements, improved collaboration, and faster decision-making, now is the time to embrace change.

The tools you choose to implement depend heavily on the unique needs of your organization. They may even differ from project to project. Of course, we couldn’t possibly list all of the available solutions. As a result, this post takes a solution-agnostic approach, and should not be considered an endorsement of any one tool.

Managing Labour Remotely

The manpower needed on any given job can fluctuate greatly. It can be difficult to keep up with those demands in real time, especially with social distancing measures in place. Remember: in-person interviews are verboten right now.

Vancouver-based Faber Technologies has developed a unique solution. Their platform connects construction employers with on-demand workers based on availability and required skill set. The entire process is virtual, keeping both the recruiter and the candidate safe. Every candidate is rated and reviewed by other companies, with that data made available to interested recruiters. This enables you to select the best candidate for your site without ever having to meet them in person.

Now that you’ve hired your labour, how do you onboard and train them remotely? Group orientations in a classroom setting are not appropriate in light of current circumstances. Instead, you might look to an online Learning Management System (LMS) to virtually onboard your new hires.

There are many options available, from the most basic platforms to comprehensive solutions that integrate with your existing Human Resources and policy management systems. Some products currently on the market include Absorb LMS, LearnUpon, and eloomi. At Modu-Loc, we use Fabric (developed by Vancouver-based Cogcentric) for employee training and safety certification.

Remote Collaboration Tools

We have not yet fully realized the potential of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) for construction. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies have been available for a few years, and their applications within the construction space seem endless.

One area where VR can improve collaboration is in building information modeling (BIM), where three-dimensional models of the finished product are produced. Virtual reality allows the user to immerse themselves in the 3D model, where they can navigate and interact with the space. Most importantly, this helps them to identify potential issues not readily detected on a 2D plan.

Remote team members can “walk through” a site together, making VR a powerful remote collaboration tool. Changes made to the 3D model can be assessed in real time, and designs can then be shared with the client for instant feedback – without ever having to step foot in an office.

On live worksites, video conferencing tools are equally useful for remote “site walks”. Beyond serving their obvious purpose as virtual meeting tools, mobile-friendly platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or even WhatsApp can allow a remote team member a live look into what is happening on site. Now, purpose-built tools are hitting the market, with value-added features like video recording, file storage, and post-call support.

Calgary-based start-up ICwhatUC offers one such solution. Described as a “customer self-service support application”, it uses your smartphone camera and some basic AR functionality to enable remote training, trouble-shooting, and walk-throughs. Video calls are recorded and stored within your client database, allowing you to reference them later or share them with team members. The beauty of this solution is that it doesn’t require any special device; any client with a smart phone can grant you a view of their site.

For more robust remote training and trouble-shooting capabilities, we can look to wearable technologies. There is a plethora of solutions already on the marketing. They incorporate video streaming, AR, and VR technologies into everyday construction PPE (personal protective equipment) like hardhats and safety glasses.

Smart glasses like Microsoft Hololens and those offered by Iristick and Vuzix allow visual information to be shared between field employees and remote trainers or support staff. The use cases are endless: virtual training, remote support, repairs, and trouble-shooting are all possible applications.

Another wearable technology that enhances virtual teamwork is OpenSpace. OpenSpace is like the Google Street View car of the construction site. It uses a hardhat-mounted 360° camera to capture photos as the wearer walks through a site. The photos are then mapped to site plans using their OpenSpace Vision Engine, giving remote collaborators a 360° virtual view of the worksite.

Project Management for Remote Teams

The project management software space is massive. It encompasses everything from simple Kanban-inspired tools, like Trello and Microsoft Planner, to comprehensive purpose-designed construction management platforms. At either end of the spectrum, these remote collaboration tools offer real benefits for construction professionals.

Basic board- and list-based solutions are great for effectively managing remote teams – regardless of function. They provide visibility into team projects as they move through various stages of completion. These tools allow tasks to be assigned to specific team members, and many of them support file sharing, comments, and integrations with other platforms. Some incorporate more traditional project management models, like Gantt charts (Asana is a good example), while others (like Monday) enable a calendar view of project timelines and upcoming deadlines.

Construction management software deserves a place on this list, as it is helping to transform a largely paper-based industry into a well-oiled, highly productive and tech-savvy machine. Any time we can move processes from a paper format to a digital environment, remote collaboration reaps the benefits.

When it comes to construction-specific project management tools, the list is daunting. Softwareadvice.com lists 127 products under the banner of “construction management software”, including a range of industry behemoths and promising start-ups. From Procore to PlanGrid, and Buildertrend to Oracle Aconex, each offers a differing range of features and integrations.

In taking a solution-agnostic approach to this blog post, the best tip we can share is to fully understand and document your requirements before jumping into any sales demos. Your requirements should help you hone in on the key features and capabilities you need in a construction management software, which will narrow down the options.

From there, define what success will look like. Is it increased productivity, better collaboration, minimizing waste or reducing cost overruns? With clear goals in mind, you can challenge the software sales rep to demonstrate how their platform will support your objectives.

Construction Tech for the Win

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing faster adoption of remote collaboration tools across all industries, construction tech (or “contech”) companies are especially well-positioned to benefit. The construction industry has been historically slow to adopt new technologies, which means there are large gaps to fill – and they need to close quickly.

But for those of us who work in this sector day in and day out, this is also a massive opportunity to embrace change and make progress. Whether your goal is to boost productivity, improve efficiency, or support remote collaboration, there are tools for every phase of construction. Finding the right one might just make the difference between surviving and thriving.

Author: Joanna Bieda

Joanna Bieda is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Modu-Loc Fence Rentals, and has been with the company since 2014. She loves writing and is a self-professed data nerd. She thoroughly enjoys teaching customers about all things fence via Modu-Loc's blog.
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