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Using Technology to Support Remote Work and Social Distancing in Construction

06/25/2020 Blog

Social distancing has altered the business world as we know it, possibly forever, and construction is no exception.

In some settings, construction projects came to a complete halt due to lockdown measures. Now, with some of those measures starting to lift, work can begin again, but not without an asterisk attached.

Implementing remote work and social distancing measures help comply with any existing measures and give your employees and customers peace of mind. But how, exactly, can craft professionals put these methods into place? In some cases, it may require a whole new perspective on technology.

The Challenges with Social Distancing in Construction

The transition to moving back to work, with social distancing in place, is unique for construction compared to say, retail or office work. Naturally, physical presence is needed in some way, sometimes in groups, which goes against social distancing by nature. Here’s a closer look at some of the issues that craft professionals need to address when creating a social distancing plan:

Inspection compliance: Naturally, government/regulatory inspections are a major part of all construction projects. However, social distancing has made this a far more difficult task to organize than in the past. Some regulatory bodies are offering remote inspections, but this may not be possible for every single job site.

Close quarters: In some construction settings, social distancing just isn’t possible. For example, multiple people may be needed in order to lift something or operate a machine. The best recourse in these settings is for construction businesses to invest even more heavily in PPE. Combined with rigorous cleaning practices, this may not eliminate the risk of COVID-19 transmission, but it does significantly lower it.

Being behind the curve: This is an issue that a lot of construction companies are struggling with. In many cases, it’s not uncommon for relevant data for construction sites to be on a single USB drive that only one person has. Naturally, this makes it almost impossible for everyone to get up to speed and is even slower when you factor in social distancing. Part of the reason the transition is so difficult for some companies compared to others is the amount of tech integration they already have.

Implementing Tech for Safety

So, with this in mind, what are some of the tech measures companies can use in order to better protect their teams? Here are some key methods we see:

Mobile apps: While it may be impossible to completely run a construction site remotely, mobile apps can cover a lot of different tasks to reduce the physical amount of contact between office staff and job site staff. Here are a few examples of functions these apps can fulfill.

• Field documentation

• Timecards

• Daily logs

• Project file access

• Noting the time of material delivery

This covers multiple goals at once. Not only does it allow front-office staff to keep track of a job site without having to be there, but it also speeds up processes like signing on and off a job site. This helps free up time to do certain tasks at a slower pace to comply with social distancing, without hurting deadlines.

Cloud-based project management: Think of this as the next level when it comes to keeping office teams and the craft workforce in the field connected. One of the biggest struggles that many newly remote teams are dealing with is how to effectively communicate with each other. Cloud-based systems allow for a new level of project management without these concerns. Some of the benefits these systems provide include:

• The ability to track progress from the field to the office without an internet connection

• Creating field notes to send to the back office

• Email integration, to make sure all project details are in one searchable database

• Tracking any job site issues and related documentation

• Automatically mark dates, reminders and job milestones

• Use cloud servers to make sure everyone has access to the same data files at the same time

If implemented properly, these solutions mean you may never have to touch a piece of paper again, without worrying about your teams being on the same page.

Camera systems: Visual verification is a good way for office teams to keep track of progress at a glance without having to actually go to a job site. The largest advantage here is likely the ability to see how things progress in real-time. One of the nice benefits here is that this has additional use besides COVID-19 compliance. Added security cameras help check for any employee issues or poor behavior, and also provides added security during off-hours.

Granted, your team and any subcontractors may not want to be constantly monitored with cameras, but when it’s a matter of safety and security, you have a pretty good argument on hand.

Wearables: Part of working remotely is also about accountability, and wearable technology can factor into that. Combined with image data, some job sites are using this to enforce social distancing rules, or at least ensure lower job site density.  Up until this point, this tech was primarily used to detect falls, but social distancing could open up a whole new set of uses.

Even as social distancing measures recede, expect to see a lot of this technology staying in place. Not only has this pandemic taught many business owners that working remotely is possible, but more and more employees are likely to demand it. Even if you live in an area where restrictions are being lifted, it’s well worth it to try and explore this technology. Not only can it help promote general safety around your construction sites, but it can be a potential recruitment draw.

At the same time, you want to be smart with your implementation. New tech is only as good as the plan behind it. Make sure that whatever you invest in is easy to onboard, so your team can start reaping the benefits right away.

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