Data: The Key to Successful Field Collaboration 

field collaboration in construction

When you think of all the activities that take place on the jobsite, it’s easy to think of time as independent tasks. Projects today are complex, deadlines are tight, and multiple stakeholders work on-site at once. Each activity may appear to be its own silo of information and related tasks. However, fieldwork requires seamless, widespread collaboration to prevent costly mistakes, rework, and delays. 

Having disparate systems is a major impediment to field collaboration. Their setup and lack of integration with other core business platforms force field and office teams to resort to legacy methods of communication and collaboration. This may look like frequent phone calls, one-off emails of updates to documents, multiple versions of the same file, and amendments to the project plan. These techniques often result in delays, confusion, errors, and mistakes made by working with outdated information. 

These methods simply don’t function in the way we work today. Field and office teams need ready access to real-time information from anywhere at any time. They must have visibility into data and transparency across workflows. In our blog, we’ll explain how to make this happen by creating a common data environment, fostering a culture of trust, setting standards, and prioritizing the end user’s needs. 

For more tips, tricks, and strategies about field collaboration, download our latest ebook, “The Digital Builder’s Guide to Construction Field Collaboration.” 

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What Stands in the Way of Effective Field Collaboration

Field collaboration helps to build a safe, positive, and productive environment where everyone is working toward the same common goals; yet we all know field collaboration isn’t always seamless. What obstacles stand in its way? First, field teams often lack access to the latest versions of drawings, budgets, communications, workflows, and timelines. They may use their own tools and software which fail to integrate with other project teams. 

Workflows can also limit field collaboration efforts. Teams may be aware of only their department’s goals and tasks or even just their own. They have little visibility into how their work affects others and vice versa. Data can get lost in the shuffle of handoffs, uploads, separate workflows, and processes. 

This lack of alignment and collaboration adds up to higher costs, less efficiency, and lower productivity.  In order to achieve collaboration, all team members must be able to access the information when and where they need it. Having multiple different systems and sources of truth prevents transparency. It takes building a solid digital backbone of standardized processes, software, and workflows to foster and maintain field collaboration. 

How a Common Data Environment Can Set the Foundation for Field Collaboration

One of the most essential parts of the digital backbone of field collaboration is a common data environment (CDE). A CDE serves as a digital hub, housing all of the information used in a typical building information modeling (BIM) workflow. The idea of a CDE was first developed as part of the UK BIM Level 2 standards. In the present day, CDE encompasses everything from schedules to contracts. Under best practices, all information created or related to a project is accessible to everyone who has permission from the start to finish of the projects. 

What makes a CDE so beneficial to field collaboration?

  • Serves a single source of truth, providing reliable access to real-time information
  • More accurate, reliable data drives more strategic decision-making
  • Reduces the amount of time looking for information
  • Better coordination of activities and workflows across teams
  • Greater efficiency and reduced manual errors 

One of the most underestimated benefits of a CDE? A culture of trust. Teams no longer need to work in isolation without visibility into the tasks and activities of other departments. Instead, everyone works from the same information to meet the same shared goals across the life span of the project. Changes can be made in real time, fostering greater awareness around updates and progress. 

Prioritize Mobile First and Cloud-Based Tools

Field teams are always on the go and need to be able to adjust readily while on- and off-site. Applications and tools used by the field team must be designed with a mobile-first approach. In other words, they should be accessible in all locations with mobile and cloud access. While some construction tools are accessible via mobile device, they aren’t designed truly for a seamless mobile experience. 

With a cloud-based solution, field and office teams alike can access the most relevant information across multiple devices and locations. This is especially important for teams who work from multiple locations and time zones. Mobile integrations allow field teams to access, read, and make up drawings and other documents seamlessly from their mobile devices. 

Keep It User-Friendly 

It doesn’t matter how innovative or slick your collaboration tools are if they don’t work for your audience. A clunky interface or unintuitive layout can turn off even the most patient end user. So make sure you select software that prioritizes ease of use. Field teams working on the go won’t have time to deal with a sluggish, bloated software package. As you test-drive solutions, involve your end users in the process. Their feedback can help you narrow down your list to the most effective options. 

Don’t forget to look at the training required. Does it work with the end users’ schedules and workflows? Most importantly, can it take place right in the field? By getting the field team up and running on the program, you demonstrate a return on investment to stakeholders quickly. Be sure to take in comments from users on its benefits and areas for improvement so you can fine-tune the solution.

Set the Standards to Succeed at Field Collaboration

Mismatched workflows, systems, and templates are breeding grounds for errors, delays, and backlogs. For successful collaboration between your field and office teams, you must standardize your technology. In other words, everyone needs to speak the same language. This will help ensure work gets done not just quickly but correctly and that everyone understands each other. 

Using standardized templates, programs, and systems delivers the following benefits:

  • Decreases opportunities for data loss
  • Saves resources
  • Builds efficiencies into workflows
  • Makes it easier to parse and analyze data 
  • Sets expectations for the accessibility and appearance of data

The use of customizable templates to project requirements is also important. Everyone involved in the project knows what to expect. There is no lag time in trying to decipher different document structures. Instead, everyone can focus on their common goals on the jobsite and use the information to help make decisions to meet those objectives. 

Put the Technology to the Test Right in the Field

No one wants to use a tool that only creates new problems rather than solving existing ones. This is especially true for field teams that are dealing with tight timelines and fast-paced schedules. As you present your new tools for collaboration, stress the benefits and time savings they provide. Make sure the ease of use is apparent and any training programs are readily accessible on the go. Ultimately, to achieve widespread adoption, you must get the tools into the hands of your users quickly and allow them to experience the benefits firsthand on the field. 

Now that you have a better understanding of what it takes to establish field collaboration, grab your copy of our ebook to learn even more best practices. 

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Grace Ellis

Editor in Chief, Digital Builder Blog, Autodesk

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