Labor Productivity in the Construction Industry and How to Improve It

Construction is one of the largest industries in the world’s economy. And it will keep on growing. And as any other growing sector, it faces challenges like competition, budget overruns, delivery delays, bad forecasting, cash flow, construction site technology, and more. Managers and supervisors often struggle with keeping people operating safely, and a project running smoothly and on budget. 

One way out may be improving labor productivity. This is a complex approach that may include prioritizing technology and innovation, building technical expertise, automating routine processes. But before applying any fixes, you need to identify what factors affect your construction efficiency, which of them require immediate action, and which should  be addressed on the organizational level.

Factors Affecting Productivity

Numerous factors influence labor productivity in the construction field. Professional associations (for example, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)) release manuals or lists of factors impacting the industry, where main reasons behind worker performance are provided.

Such factors may differ depending on the country, association and even project type but typically they fall into the following categories: 

  • Skills (education, experience, leadership, discipline, communication, legacy data from previous projects)
  • Health (owerwork, mental health, fatigue, stress, recovery, vacation)
  • Job satisfaction (motivation, salary, perks, contract changes, conflicts, recognition, promotion)
  • HR (onboarding, training, planning, instructions, supervision)
  • Working conditions (noise, shift duration, security check, weather, hazardous work area)
  • Project characteristics (job size, complexity, location, materials, requirements)
  • Project organization (site accessibility, logistics, supply chain, security check, commute)
  • Equipment (equipment condition, maintenance, tool shortage, quality of meterials, new technology)
  • External factors (governmental policies, contractor change, economical cycle, stop-starts during holidays, shortage of resources, seasonal changes)

Ways of Improving Labor Productivity

Given such a diversity of the factors impacting productivity, there is no single solution that will change the situation all at once. However, there are areas improving which project managers would definitely contribute to the increased performance and productivity growth. 

1. Properly manage seasonal hiring

Construction projects have a cyclical nature. When the project is in progress, people may need to work shifts without days off or holidays. When there’s a delay or gap between several projects, people expect a cutback in work hours and eventually in payments. When such cutbacks happen on a regular basis, the employee turnover is high. And retaining a skilled workforce, especially managers and supervisors, is what ensures performance in the first place.

To keep employees loyal to your company, establish a site bonus system that will serve as a back up during project delays. Educate people on what financial incentives they get through all cycles of the project. And when everything goes perfect, and your crew meets a goal, offer extra rewards like a free meal at a local restaurant or tickets to a game or cinema, to make people feel appreciated and eager to do more quality work.

2. Cover commute

The longer the distance to the site, the more travel costs workers will have to cover. Commuting will take more time, people will spend more time apart from the family, will occasionally have to stay over the weekend, or skip important family dates which can affect morale and lower the effort. 

Proximity to the site is one approach to increase labor productivity. If it’s technically impossible and you offer relocation, consider offering corresponding compensation and family support for longer projects. Alternatively, consider covering your staff’s transportation, for example by arranging buses from residential premises at reduced cost.

3. Limit overtime

Mobile forms not only help allocate work hours but also help employees stick to the schedule better. Construction timesheets can help track the working hours and breaks so that a manager can tell whether people have been doing a shift for as long as they should. Aside from simplifying billing, timesheets prevent excessive overwork and fatigue, which are often the reasons behind site accidents.

You can improve productivity of your field crews
• Mobile forms and checklists
• Accurate data entry
• Toolbox talks and safety management
• Accessible training

4. Provide training and career options

Raise awareness of the career opportunities available within the organization, and make training available and easily accessible. Use automation tools like Fluix to make the training process comfortable for both organizations and participants, replacing paper with digital reports, automating scoring, and simplifying training manuals sharing.

And when a person steps into a new position, use onboarding checklists to introduce new hires to the company, explain their responsibilities, show the site around and facilitate getting started on a new position. When people see that the company wants to assist their work and even non-work issues, they’re more motivated to push forward. 

5. Arm field crews with technology

In addition to maintaining high-quality equipment and tools, make sure your field crews can take advantage of professional software that helps them manage projects better. It can be platforms for field data collection, workflow automation, drawing review, accounting, bidding, time tracking, safety management, planning, equipment management, and more.

Important, make sure people can use them remotely using mobile devices, and can perform basic actions, for example checklists filling, in the offline mode. Many jobsites have an unstable internet access, so being able to fill in the form when the connection is suddenly lost  is important for productivity.

6. Schedule access to limited equipment 

Construction projects typically involve several teams of differently skilled workers to work at the same time. When doing so, they may need simultaneous access to the same tools or can work at the same premise. 

To avoid mess and frustration in the workforce, plan your production and create schedules for different teams. If needed, prepare an extra set of tools, which you know will be required by most crews.

7. Set up communication between field and office

Communication is important for any industry, but it’s twice important for sectors that involve diverse teams. Project owners should be able to communicate progress to managers, and managers need to design clear guidelines to contractors and field crews. With properly designed construction workflows, every stakeholder knows what tasks they are responsible for, and managers have complete project visibility and accountability even when in-person meetings aren’t available.

Any issue happening on the site (safety accident, insufficient materials, low-quality components, change to a planned production) is reported in real time through quality inspections, safety reports, checklists, etc. This way, problems can be addressed soon after detection, minimizing delays and avoiding rework.

8. Have a Plan B

You can’t change external factors like weather but can mitigate their influence with proper planning. Site accessibility in heavy weather, rain, humidity, heat, noise, equipment resistance – you need to research about each aspect that may cause delays, analyze risks and come up with a Plan B and C. 

Make a list of processes crucial to project performance (resources, logistics, supply chain, procurement, quality control, finances etc.) and plan how you can fix disruptions in each if needed. Use construction management software to design integrated workflows so that all the parties (managers, contractors, engineers, electricians, builders, owners) stay updated on the project progress or its absence. 

Labor productivity can be difficult to measure and forecast, but options for its improvement are multiple. Identification of factors affecting productivity is the first step. The second is to design a strategy and implement it step by step on the company level. And Fluix can help your construction business with improving productivity and managing your projects better.

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