Communication is an essential skill in every industry. In construction, it is especially important since the stakes on a worksite can be higher than they are in a boardroom or behind a desk. In fact, one in every 10 construction workers are injured every year.
If communication on a construction site fails, not only can it potentially cause problems and delays for the project, but it can also result in damage to equipment or property or, in the worst case, injury or death to members of your crew.
Before we dive into our top tips for effective communication in construction, we’ll first break down the consequences of miscommunication.
Consequences of Miscommunication in Construction
Communication failures happen in construction all the time despite being essential to completing any task. Dynamic Signal’s 2019 State of Employee Communication and Engagement Study found that 36 percent of employees were in an unsafe situation because of poor communication.
The study also went on to report the following about employees:
- 80 percent felt stressed because of inefficient communication within their company.
- 36 percent don’t know where to find the information they need to complete their work.
- 63 percent are prepared to quit because they are frustrated with the way their company communicates.
Miscommunication errors aren’t just inconvenient — they’re also expensive. A 2018 study by the consultancy group FMI Corp found that miscommunication cost the construction industry $177 billion each year. The high costs are a result of the time spent on tasks like finding project information and resolving conflicts.
The good news is that communication is a skill that can be taught, practiced, and improved to decrease the number of communication issues within your team. Here are 10 steps any manager or crew can follow to improve communication in construction sites.
10 Steps to Better Communication in Construction
1. Avoid Jargon
Jargon refers to industry-specific words or terms that are difficult for those outside of that industry to understand. The construction industry is no stranger to jargon, so reducing your use of industry-specific terms can greatly improve communication and keep everyone on the same page.
For instance, a roofer may know exactly how to handle a housetop that’s ponding, and a flooring professional can pickle a pine finish without breaking a sweat. But to an electrician, drywall installer, or plumber, “ponding” and “pickling” may as well be a different language.
It’s simple enough to say “water collecting on the roof” instead of “ponding” or “whitewashed floors” instead of “pickled floors.” It might take some getting used to, but the effort will be worth it when your whole team spends less time deciphering and more time working.
2. Encourage General Communication Skills
Most office-type careers require professionals to have “soft” or interpersonal skills, meaning most companies in these industries host a form of regular communications training in their workplace. Though this is less common in industries like construction, implementing structured communication training can be a smart move for construction managers looking to help their crews develop those skills.
Some of the most important communication skills in construction include:
- Writing clearly
- Drawing clearly
- Avoiding jargon
- Taking accurate measurements
- Active listening
Whether you’re a team leader or an entry-level employee, you can suggest introducing team-building exercises to practice these skills in your workplace and help strengthen team morale. There are plenty of online resources to help teams perform these exercises on their own.
Here are just a few online resources you or your team can explore:
You can also ask your company about signing up for a professional team-building event in your area.
3. Establish a Clear Chain of Command
Having a clear chain of command on a construction site standardizes communication, creates efficiency and accountability, and eliminates confusion.
The hierarchy for a work site should be laid out in the initial contract documents and include:
- Project owner
- General contractors
- Members of individual crews like engineers, architects, plumbers, and electricians
If any relationships are not outlined in the contract documents, the construction site manager must make sure those changes are properly authorized and documented.
Common Construction Worksite Roles
Though every company will likely have a slightly different hierarchy, the following positions are common on most construction projects.
- Construction/Site Manager: Ensures the site is running safely and efficiently
- Estimator: Estimates project cost
- Architect: Designs and oversees the project to cater to the client’s needs
- Supervisor: Runs the construction site and serves as an intermediary between management and field workers
- Construction Expeditor: Manages the flow of material and workers on the job site
- Construction Worker: Does the physical labor and communicates with their team
- Engineer: Specialists who ensure their teams correctly do their specific jobs
- Electrician: Makes sure the energy needs of the building are met by installing wiring and electrical infrastructure
- Construction Foreman: Head of works in the field and responsible for making sure deadlines are met safely and efficiently
Common Construction Company Hierarchy
A construction company has a different hierarchy than a construction worksite. Whereas the top of the chain of command on a worksite is the site manager, the organizational structure of a construction company is topped by the company’s CEO.
- Chief Executive Officer: The top executive of the company who is focused on growing the company and generating more business
- Managing Director: Runs the day to day operations and supervises the management team
- Project Director: Heads specific projects and ensures things are done in a timely, cost-effective and safe way during construction.
- Quality Manager: Uses data to make sure the work being done on a project is up to the standards of the company and industry
- Financial Team: Maintains the cash flow and monitors the budget of projects
- Design Team: Puts together a feasible plan for the construction including both structural and aesthetic aspects
- Legal Manager: Makes sure all the legal requirements of a project are being met.
- Project Supervisor: Manages workers on the ground like a symphony and ensures work is done correctly and safely on the job site
- Project Coordinator: Coordinates day-to-day execution of work and helps monitor the project for safety and quality.
- Construction worker: Uses tools and knowledge to communicate with other workers and executes the project
Your company’s hierarchy may not be exactly like this, but the general idea of a broad outcome focus at the top-level flowing down to specific tasks for workers should be the same.
4. Use Technology to Your Advantage
Construction technology is constantly improving in the industry, especially when it comes to communication. Scientists have developed construction-specific applications for these technologies that are already revolutionizing the industry by eliminating safety hazards, increasing profit margins, and speeding up the construction process.
These are a few examples of how construction technology is specifically improving communication in construction.
- Drones can accomplish tasks like site mapping and project inspections in a fraction of the time it would take a human. The construction industry saw a 239 percent increase in drone usage in 2018.
- Building information modeling (BIM) software is another construction trend that’s improving communication in construction. BIM software incorporates 3D modeling tech to provide instant project updates to offsite stakeholders.
- Wearable AI allows crew members to have “eyes on the ground” even when physically far from the project site. This cuts down the amount of time spent explaining a project since crew members can see first hand.
Though these technologies may seem expensive, they can ultimately save money in the end by improving cost and time efficiency. However, the goal isn’t to purchase every new piece of technology to hit the market. Instead, stay informed on construction technology so you can decide what tools can most likely improve your team’s communication and overall productivity.
5. Learn How to Be a Better Listener
Being a clear writer and speaker is only half the job of being a good communicator. Active listening is just as important as conveying your message and isn’t as simple as you may think.
Indeed defines active listening as the ability to focus and comprehend the speaker’s message as well as responding thoughtfully to whatever they say. This is in contrast to passive listening where a person only hears the speaker without retaining or understanding what’s actually being said.
Some ways Indeed suggests to practice active listening includes:
- Asking direct questions to get specific details from the speaker
- Paraphrase the speaker’s main points to confirm you understand what they meant and give them a chance to clarify
- Maintain eye contact to non-verbally affirm you are listening
6. Maintain Quality Checks of Communication
Any construction worker is surely familiar with quality checks, as they appear in just about every area on a worksite. Whether it’s checking equipment function before starting a job or doing a final safety check on an electric system before signing off, construction professionals know a job isn’t done until a quality check has been performed and passed.
You can also implement quality checks on your crew’s communications. Require each of your crews to maintain proper documentation of their communications and schedule regular checks to ensure these processes are being followed. There are plenty of metrics you can use to measure communications, such as the frequency of meetings and the accuracy of documentation.
7. Consistently Train On New Processes and Equipment
There are basic compliance mandates that all worksites must meet like process and equipment training for all members of your crew. Ongoing training is crucial for both safety and efficiency in the worksite.
Construction managers should make sure their teams are continuously updating their training and regularly reviewing equipment manuals to refresh old knowledge and keep up with new developments. Engaged managers will also undergo the same training to make sure they are briefed on the specifics of what their teams are doing.
8. Encourage Open Communication
Knowing how to communicate is useless if employees don’t feel comfortable talking to others on their team. One study found that nearly half of employees didn’t feel comfortable communicating issues to their boss between formal reviews, but nearly three-quarters said they’d be more vocal if they received feedback more frequently.
It’s a manager’s job to establish a work environment where employees are encouraged to communicate openly not just when things are going well, but also when they are confused or dissatisfied. Establishing open lines of communication ensures team members feel satisfied, valued, and heard. It also makes it possible to address problems as soon as they arise.
9. Improve Your Hiring Processes
It’s a greater benefit in the long run to take your time to hire the right candidate than to rush the process and deal with an employee that isn’t a great fit for your team.
Hiring is a challenge in any industry but especially in construction, where an enduring labor shortage has made competition for qualified candidates tougher than ever. Although the pressure to hire is high thanks to the small labor pool, it will benefit you to take your time to hire the right candidate than get stuck with the wrong hire.
A bad hire can drop morale on your team and also come with unexpected financial costs. Northwestern University says that a bad hire can cost at least 30 percent of that person’s expected earnings in their first year.
During the hiring process, you should evaluate candidates not just on both their technical and communication skills. Be clear about the interpersonal standards you maintain on your team and ensure a prospective hire is prepared to integrate into that culture.
Take a look at our guide to hiring skilled workers to brush up on your recruitment tactics and ensure you’re offering a competitive hiring package to attract the most skilled workers available.
10. Educate and Plan for a Bilingual Workforce
One study from Forbes found that 67% of employers reported experiencing miscommunications caused by language barriers in their organization which led to inefficiencies. Over 40% said that these barriers reduced overall productivity.
In 2018 foreign-born workers were 14 percent more likely to be employed in construction and maintenance occupations than native-born workers according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If your staff isn’t equipped to communicate with workers whose language isn’t primarily English, not only do you risk losses in productivity, but you might also put your workers at significant safety risks.
However, offering basic language training and implementing processes in more than one language are structural updates that can ensure your workers can do their jobs.
Communication Is an Essential Construction Skill
It might not be as obvious as skills like drywall installation or equipment operation, but interpersonal communication is an absolutely necessary skill for all crew members to have and continuously practice.
Having effective communication in construction is just as crucial to a team as having the right construction equipment. Both are required to get the job done and make sure the worksite is safe, productive, and efficient. Now that you’ve refreshed your communication skills, you can browse through the heavy equipment rentals available at BigRentz for your next project.