Productivity is particularly important in construction because it’s how contractors make money, and it greatly affects a project’s schedule. Construction productivity has been trending down in the past few years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction productivity has been declining from 2007 to 2019 in single-family and multi-family residential and highway, street, and bridge construction. The only sector that increased production was industrial. More recent statistics show a similar pattern, with both highway and industrial construction showing losses in production rates from 2019-2021.
There are many factors that can influence construction productivity rates, including:
- Worker absences
- Time of day
- Length of shift
- Efficiency of tools
- Lack of materials
- Unclear instructions
- Experience and skill level
- Lack of information
- Quality of supervision
- Safety requirements
- Coworker and team relationships
- Supply chain
Increasing construction productivity requires contractors to do everything they can to address as many of these issues as possible.
7 Ways to improve productivity in construction
1. Track productivity
It may seem obvious that you need to track productivity in order to improve it, but many contractors simply don’t. It’s good to know where you’re starting from so you can set reasonable goals and accurately measure your progress towards that goal.
To start, figure out what metrics are important to your business success. To measure productivity, you can begin with one or both of the following:
- Labor hours versus estimated – A measure comparing the actual number of labor hours a project or activity took versus the estimated number of hours.
- Labor downtime – A measure of the number of hours workers spend actually working versus downtime.
Both metrics will give you an idea of how efficient your workers are, as well as begin to identify the obstacles to efficiency. Once you’ve identified the problems, then you can develop a plan to deal with the challenges and set reasonable, timely goals.
2. Invest in technology
Construction has traditionally been the slowest industry to adopt technological advancements. Many contractors still run their companies on paper-based communication methods which can slow down communication between the office and the field, potentially slowing production. Workers on site have to chase down the proper documentation or are unaware of recent design changes and are working off old drawings. This can lead to expensive rework or delays while workers wait for the proper documentation to get to them.
Tools like cloud-based systems for storing plans and communicating with workers can help bridge the gap between the field and the office. With mobile technology, everyone has access to the latest version of the drawings and specifications at their fingertips. Workers on site are always working off the correct version of the drawings and don’t have to wait for plans to be printed and delivered before starting work.
Additional assets like integrated project management and accounting software allows teams to manage projects and get the latest cost information from wherever they are. Data entry mistakes due to human error are limited due to the single point of entry and automation of data collection.
3. Prioritize safety
Safety is important not only for worker protection, but also because of the effect it can have on productivity and profitability. The cost of an injury that required medical attention in 2021was $42,000. Overall, work injuries in 2021 cost companies $167 billion and led to 70 million time loss days.
Focusing on proper safety training, providing the correct PPE, and providing oversight on safety issues can help contractors improve their safety records, save on costs, and help workers be more productive when working on site.
4. Communicate better
As was mentioned above, communication on construction projects can always be improved. In particular, the gap between the office and the field can seem insurmountable at times, especially when contractors rely on outdated communication styles, like phone calls, emails, and paper documents or drawings.
Today’s projects require almost constant communication about the status of work in the field and changes to the design or scope of work. To facilitate this flow of information, teams rely on mobile devices, cloud storage, digital cameras, and online collaboration to stay up to date. The rise of videoconferencing during the pandemic has improved teams’ ability to collaborate and work together on the fly to address field issues. These types of innovations need to continue to be developed so workers know what work to perform without delays.
5. Offer training
Providing skills training is important for several reasons. It improves workers’ skills, leading to increased performance, it provides an incentive for workers to stay with their current employer, and workers can become more comfortable with technology and its innovations. As workers become more experienced and learn more about their trade, their production rate will improve, and they can then help others increase their skills and knowledge. Learning and teamwork provide cohesion among workers, which can also lead to improved productivity.
6. Organize the job site
A clean and organized job site can help increase productivity as workers know where materials are stored, they are properly staged near the installation site, and workers don’t have to navigate around trash or other site debris to get to them. Each site should have a clearly marked staging area for building materials to protect them from theft or damage. This helps ensure that workers have the materials they need when they need them. The staging area may need to be modified or moved as the project progresses, but it should be clearly identified, and all subcontractors should be informed of its new location.
7. Provide incentives
Everyone likes to receive a reward for a job well done, and providing an incentive for improved productivity can affect how workers perform. Incentives don’t always have to be monetary. You can also offer:
- Time off
- Praise in front of coworkers
- Logoed apparel
In the end it takes the whole team to improve low production in the construction industry. From management on down, everyone has a part to play in ensuring that workers produce as much as is possible. Focusing on the strategies above will help your team be as efficient as possible.
PlanHub is a leading provider of comprehensive bid management solutions for the construction industry. Our platform simplifies and streamlines the bidding process, connecting subcontractors and general contractors to facilitate collaboration and drive project success. With a commitment
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