The post-Covid workplace looks quite a bit different than it did about two short years ago, doesn’t it? Let us be the first to acknowledge that we don’t know the answer to the question of how the future construction workplace will work itself out. But we did ask a group of very successful contractors what they think about this matter, and their answers may surprise you!
Please tune in this week as Wayne relates the unanimous opinion of a diverse group of contractors. They had nine specific reasons for why they think the way they do, and we’d really appreciate you weighing in with your opinions in the comments section.
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I am the Director of Accounting and I can do everything that I do in the office from home. I am in constant contact with people and have video conferences all the time, so we do not lose that communication and collaboration piece. I even did the project accounting for an office in Denver for a year and a half from our DC office. It can be done, but you have to use technology to make sure that you don’t lose the communication and collaboration. I even volunteered and participated on several committees. I also hate wasting 2 hours on the road when I could be using those 2 hours to be working.
I know it is different for Superintendents, but that is the career they chose and they usually live to be on the jobsite. Their particular role is impossible to do remotely because they have to be present for so many different entities and need to be available at all times for decision making or taking action in an emergency.
One question on this Wayne… what was the average age of the contractors you were speaking with?
While I agree with many of their points, what I heard in the background when you listed them was mostly ‘this isn’t how we’ve always done it.’
At a time when the supply of talent is far less than the demand we (companies, leaders, etc) are not in a position to get to decide how the market works… the workers are. It will be different, and require careful thought and planning to ensure success, but the future of work is different than it was before and most definitely more flexible.
Construction has historically lagged other industries in the adoption of nearly every step forward in productivity and workplace practices… mostly because of the attitude I mentioned above. When are we going to wake up?
Quite frankly… the fact that so many in our industry think this way is great by me. It makes it much easier to compete against them.
End of rant.. just my two cents. 😉
Great perspective, Ben! The ages ranged from early sixties in the high side to early forties on the low. Pretty good, age-diverse group of CEOs…
Wayne, ‘thanks’ for this insightful Blog on ‘remote and hybrid work.’ I’ve rephrased the quote with which you ended the session.
“We win by solving problems and exploring opportunities together…and that’s much more difficult in a remote setting!”
Well said, Donald. Thank you.
Our Queen City Round Table discussed this at our meeting this week. We can add another to your list. When employees work remotely, they become easier targets for poaching by “head-hunters” and competitors. Whether they realize it or not, they can become disconnected from their teammates and leadership and when that happens it becomes easier to feel adrift and unanchored. When that happens they are much more likely to fall prey to the pitch that the “grass is greener elsewhere.” While many in this group do offer some form of hybrid remote work, they all agree that connection with each other and leadership is a critical factor in the “war for talent.”
Thanks, John and the Queen City Group!
Sometimes it is easy to forget that contractors have always had a “remote work” model. Unlike most industries, we have always produced our product away from the home office. Not only superintendents but also project engineers and project managers have worked in field offices away from the home office. Obviously expanding this model to workers that have typically been tethered to the office (finance, estimating, some project management) has required a big learning curve for us. My experience has been that most of our team members appreciate the opportunity to work remotely if needed. I think the “flex” model that works is one that moves away from a command and control organization to one where people have more choice on how they manage their work. It is not for everyone, and some of our team members did not do well in this less structured environment (they no longer work for us). I do think it does require a particular culture to make it work.
I am highly skeptical regarding the assertion that the future will bring a return to “normal” organizational behavior. Progress is progress, and change is always and constantly happening.
Great observations, Mario. Thank you.
There were many good arguments against remote work. However, the arguments against working remotely because it is unequitable and inconsistent are preposterous. Construction work is inevitably inequitable and inconsistent by the very nature of the work. The field workers work outside, while office workers work inside. The office workers have heat and air conditioning as desired, while the field troops suffer freezing temperatures and blistering heat. The office folks work 8-5 while the field is often on site by 4 AM to beat the heat. Should the office workers be mandated to use Porta Potties to show their solidarity with the field guys? Hard physical labor is not equitably or consistently performed by office and field workers. The DEI attempt to pretend that there is, or could be, equity and consistency in work rules, standards, and routines across disparate job descriptions is a fool’s errand. Trying to force rules not based in reality to further a Utopian goal of uniformity will only cause team strife and corporate culture decline.
Don’t be shy; tell us how you really feel, Alan! Great observations. Thank you.
Wayne, I don’t ever recall one of your blogs having nearly this much engagement! Congratulations. I think the ‘jury’ is still out on remote work for most companies with concerns around developing/maintaining culture, development of talent, etc. With regard to construction, for years we’ve all struggled with the field personnel feeling like they sometimes are ‘second class citizens,’ and we haven’t been smart enough to figure out how remote work would do anything but exacerbate this. We provide manager’s discretion for an individual to work from home if there are some extenuating circumstances on a temp basis.
It’s a new world isn’t it, Kent?
It is my opinion that the vast majority of jobs lose productivity when performed remotely. There obviously are exceptions, but not many. I find it interesting how many entitled, mostly younger workers are complaining about having to go back to the office. I don’t agree with Elon Musk on a lot of things, but he right concerning this.
Thanks, Jon. Ready to join a roundtable and engage your construction peers directly in this kind of discussion? You’d be a great fit!
Thanks for sharing this Wayne, it is indeed a challenging subject, not only for the construction industry but for all industries. I own a wholesale business that has 5 full-time staff members and they have been working remotely for 2+ years now. They much prefer to work from home (who wouldn’t:) and yet I have already seen a decline in the ‘connectedness’ of the company culture since Covid hit. It’s not that they don’t get the work done, because they do, although it could be argued that the amount of work being done and the timeliness of that work getting done is not as efficient as it used to be. (although not to a significant degree) I trust my staff as much as I can, and yet every single person that I have spoken with who has been working remotely since Covid has told me that they work less and are less efficient working at home. (I’m sure this is not the case for everyone, yet for most people I believe it is) Where I really see a decline is in the culture of the company, not being together on a daily basis has created a far more ‘individualistic’ atmosphere, the brainstorming and energy towards building the company has dropped off by somewhere in the 10-15% range at the least. (it’s a very challenging number to quantify, it’s more of a ‘feel’ thing) It has been my experience that emails, phone calls and even zoom meetings cannot replace being together in the same space. I understand that having to commute is not fun, I understand that Covid is still here (to a much lesser extent mind you) and yet I can say first hand that my company has lost some of the ‘magic’ that it had pre-Covid because my staff are no longer together on a daily basis. I will probably implement a hybrid-style working schedule and see how it goes, I want to be open-minded about this and I definitely want my staff to be happy, and yet I feel that things may never be the same. Perhaps a hybrid-style will work, only time will tell.