Field and Office Communication: 9 Surefire Ways to Close the Gap  

office and field communication in construction

Field and office communication are essential to a well-run project. However, many times it can feel like field and office teams operate in their own world. Those in the office may never step foot on a jobsite. By the same token, workers in the field might never understand the back-end intricacies of collaborating with so many different suppliers, designers, architects, engineers, and owners.

As a result, conflict can sometimes occur from miscommunications and misconceptions. While the office personnel is integral to coordinating nearly every aspect of the construction project behind the scenes, at the same time, without the skill and dedication of the boots on the ground nothing would ever get done or done right. Each discipline brings its own talents into the project, and it's vital to generate trust and respect between the different players.

In our blog, we’ll discuss the high cost of disconnections between the office and the field. We’ll also provide useful and actionable strategies to improve communication between the office and field, bridging coordination on the whole. 

The High Cost of Disconnect

Conflicts on the jobsite are nothing new. But even though it’s a common problem, it doesn't mean it's one you have to just accept. It’s critical that construction companies and their employees take every precaution to head off conflicts before they become an issue. Furthermore, with more meetings, teams, and conversations now happening digitally today, project wide collaboration and coordination needs to be more fluid than ever to avoid conflict.

No one needs the added stress that conflicts and miscommunications bring to a project. They also happen to be immensely expensive. In one study, it was reported that the average cost of a jobsite conflict was $10,948.00. That's just the average. A conflict might cost you upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars if it's not handled quickly and properly.

The monetary cost of conflict due to field and office miscommunication is a real concern. Equally damaging is the emotional and mental stress it places on the team members involved–creating a negative work environment which can lead to employee turnover, lower productivity and has even been shown as a contributing factor in workplace accidents and disability cases. The ASCE Library's technical paper on cost, causes, and consequences of conflicts offers some valuable insights about the real impact these issues can have on your company and the industry.

The Importance of Field and Office Communication

One of the main contention points experienced between the office and the jobsite is due to a barrier on communicating what's going on in the field at a given time. For their part, the office needs to know about delays, any additional materials and anything that might hinder the very tight work schedule. The jobsite is meant to be run like a well-oiled machine, with different specialty trades all playing their part. In an antiquated protocol, the jobsite calls the office with new developments and updates, the office records this information into the main project file or job log, and then they follow through with any additional scheduling changes, purchase orders, and correspondence with clients/architects.

When your field and office communications break down, you'll experience:

  • Loss of Data: If a worker on the jobsite fails to report instances, that information will simply not make it to the main office or the file. This hinders the whole team’s ability to work effectively or to analyze where changes could be implemented for better productivity.
  • Hindered Completion Time: Communication breakdowns often result in scheduling conflicts that can push completion times back substantially.
  • Costly Errors: A lack of the most up to date information can result in errors that mean more staff hours and additional materials.

So, what steps need to be taken to bridge communication between the office and the field to enhance data collection, improve schedules and reduce budgets? The answer lies in developing your digital strategy. The following nine tips can help construction companies to use technology to their full advantage, bridging the communication chasm between the field and office.

9 Ways to Better Connect the Field and Office in Construction 

Out with the Old

While the impacts of COVID-19 have eliminated paper at large for the construction industry, still some companies rely on it especially when it comes to activities in the field. When plans change, each revision opens up new opportunities for errors and mistakes when relying on paper. It’s also nearly impossible to communicate in real time with the office, who may be working at home offices at this point in time. 

Looking for some inspiration on how to eliminate paper at your firm? Learn how one engineering firm eliminated paper during COVID-19

Paper isn't the only problem, either. What you need to concentrate on is using real-time solutions for your communication issues. Older technology solutions, such as Excel, might not remain up to date either, especially if you're not working with a system that allows all of the personnel to access the same files and applications. Even being heavily dependent on email for communication has its fallbacks, as information tends to get lost in large chains. 

Technology alone isn't the answer–it's the right technology that allows for each member of your staff to centralize data and communications. When everyone has access to all needed information in real-time, communication and coordination is accelerated between teams.

Take a Mobile-First Approach

Seamless mobile access to all plans, systems, and documents is a must for connecting the field with the office. This allows your field employees to access information in real time, whether they're on the jobsite, in their truck or at home. It also lets your office staff access files from anywhere. Jobsites often run outside of nine to five hours. If you have a significant change that happens at 5 am or 9 pm, your office staff may well need to be alerted to make alternate arrangements for the work day to come.

Even if your current technology claims to be mobile friendly, look into what that means. Some construction technology isn’t suitable for easy access on mobile devices. By choosing software that prioritizes mobile, the better chances both the field and the office can connect when needed most. 

Get on the Cloud

Mobile apps that allow for real-time communication work through cloud computing. So it's not just about installing apps on individual smartphones and other devices, it's about allowing for a program that each person connects to where the central information they need lives. 

If you’re looking to learn more about the specific aspects of cloud-based technology that’s imperative for today’s construction companies to have, read our guide.

Connect and Standardize Your Technology

Field specific technology does not always mesh with project management specific technology. As a result, information tends to get lost or isn’t easily accessible when teams need it the most. Adopting a solution that centralizes and connects field and project management workflows can put everyone on the same page. 

Also, standardized processes and technology are critical. If you have no set technology, applications, and workflows and just let your workers run with their own preferences, you won't have real-time information available to anyone, making organization tasks ten times more difficult and far less accurate. Standards, no matter how small, can do wonders in keeping information consistent, aiding communication efforts on the whole. 

Does starting to standardize sound like a major burden? Take a look at our easy guide to standardization. 

Adopt User-Friendly Applications

There will always be some workers who will be apprehensive to adopting new technology. And while sometimes refusal to adopt can come down to a larger business culture issue, some technology can be downright infuriating if it’s not intuitive to use right off the bat. The best way to encourage your entire staff to embrace new platforms or upgrades in technology is by making sure that the programs you choose are user-friendly and easy to understand. While this might seem like a given, it’s not always as easy to implement as it looks. For instance, what a back office administrator or project engineer might find easy to use, might be ill-received in the field. The same could be true vice versa. If the goal is collaboration, you need to find a solution that’s easy for everyone to use.

Nevertheless, there may still be some staff who dislike making the change, so it's critical that you make it mandatory throughout the company–but not without support. Ample training and providing a guided transition period will help get the whole team up to speed. 

Leverage Customizable and Flexible Templates

Are your data and report capture methods different across the board? It's common for people to use one type of reporting in the field and another type in the office. This adds to the problems in communication between the two areas of your company. A better practice is to utilize templates that are easily understood by all personnel and used by all facets of your office.

Your project needs are unique. Leveraging construction templates that are customizable will allow you to maintain standards, while ensuring your teams can work together towards shared goals. Creating and distributing set reporting templates, unique to your project needs, means that you'll be able to develop a uniform workflow that each of your employees follows. 

Create Shared Goals and Tasks

For each project, creating shared goals and tasks that each team member is aware of and encouraged to follow means a more cohesive project. There's no way to reach a goal that you haven't set. While the project completion is the obvious goal, keeping it in the forefront and establishing clear tasks will help propel each area of your team to have that overall goal in mind. 

Often different workers have their own set goals–keeping up with their schedule or finishing their portion of the project. Usually, for the worse, these individual goals have a way to conflict with one another. By utilizing progress tracking software and shared task features, can help teams create shared goals and track work, each step of the way. Instead, by defining the focus and bringing increased visibility to the whole project, employees will stay vested until completion, even if their portion of work was finished much earlier. 

Prioritize a Data-Driven Culture

Rework is costly. According to a recent report, 48% of all rework is the result of miscommunication. A data-driven culture decreases the chances that information will get lost in the shuffle. Making the change to a system that allows all of the points to connect means that you'll be able to improve productivity, decrease instances of personal conflict, and reduce costly errors.

How do construction companies start to prioritize data capture as part of the corporate culture? Read our blog, “10 Data-Driven Construction Strategies to Boost Productivity” to learn more.  

Rely on Visuals

Never underestimate the value of photos and videos to detail or explain something. One reason there are communication issues between the field and office is that neither side understands completely what the other side does. Office personnel might be great at writing proposals and keeping track of scheduling issues, but they may not have a clue what the details of the projects they are coordinating look like. The lack of a clear understanding makes communication difficult because one party has no frame of reference for what the other party is saying.

Including photos and videos in your reports and attached to sheets can help this problem tremendously. Consider even adopting 360° images and software that even geo-tags a photo’s location, to provide even more rich information that further narrows the communication gap. Visuals give everyone a frame of reference and offer additional supporting documentation all the way through the project.

Bridging the Field and Office Communication Gap

While field and office communication is not the only area where conflict might arise in construction, it is the base for a great deal of misunderstanding on a project. Bridging the communication gap between the front office and the field helps to alleviate heaps of issues which can come up during the project. If your company is working as a cohesive team, errors are limited and morale is higher.

Interested in learning more about how you can bridge the gap between field and office teams with technology? Learn more about Autodesk Build – our newest solution to connect field and project management solutions.

Grace Ellis

Editor in Chief, Digital Builder Blog, Autodesk