Office vs. Field...how to get on the same page
In construction, there has always been the challenge of getting workers in the field and the office staff or management on the same page. In order to run an efficient, profitable construction company, the field needs to be run with clear direction and planning. In addition, the field must understand management’s expectations. Once you get alignment between the office and the field, the operation runs smoother with less chaos and waste.
In this blog, we’ll cover many topics that need to be managed in order to achieve clear understanding of expectations. As an owner of a 40+ employee business, I can say first hand how important it is to establish this understanding with the work crews.
How to get on the same page
In construction, it’s not uncommon for workers to be added to a crew and learn the ways of the company by verbal communication. A new worker might ask about what tools they need to have or how to do their time card or what to do when they need to buy some supplies for a job. If you only have a small crew of five or six workers, that may work fine. Once you grow to a larger scale, you must have written policies and procedures that each employee reviews and agrees to. An employee manual or handbook is a common tool for communicating many company policies and procedures. Here are some common topics found in a construction employee handbook:
1. Work Hours
Depending on what trade your company is in, the work hours may vary. Also, if you do residential or commercial work, that will impact the typical work hours. Define that expectation clearly so you can hold people accountable if they show up late.
2. Dress Code
If your company has shirts with the company logo and you want that to be warn, make sure that is in the handbook. Also, don’t forget to address jeans without holes or wearing shorts. This can be a very awkward problem when you have a worker that is not dressing to meat the company standards. Having a well defined policy is key to communicating that expectation and enforcing it.
Every contractor handles getting materials to job sites differently. Make sure this is outlined so everyone knows what to expect. If they are expected to pickup materials or receive deliveries or if you have a material delivery person, make sure spell that out so everyone is on the same page. It can be frustrating to have workers stop and go to get materials when you have a more efficient way to make that happen. Another item with materials is how to deal with excess materials. What is the expectation? This material is the property of the company and it should be clearly stated what you expect. To me, it needs to be clear that taking company materials for side jobs is theft unless approved by the owner. I have seen this done many times and if it’s not managed properly, it can get out of hand quickly.
4. Behavior on job sites
Basic expectations regarding worker behavior on job sites should be addressed. Using foul language or fighting or horse play, etc should be included in the policy. Decide if you are ok with music being played. How do you expect workers to resolve conflicts? The more you can outline and address, the more clear your expectations will be met by the crews. One example is that we recently had some crew members that were not getting along and didn’t want to be put on the same job sites. Scheduling workers became a real problem because of this conflict. We finally had a meeting with the crew and stated that we expect everyone to get along and be professional and respectful of each other. If they have a conflict, then they must be willing to resolve it with the other person. We will no longer tolerate this situation and if you can’t abide by this expectation, then you may find yourself sitting at home since we can’t place you projects as a result of this conflict. Since this meeting, our crews have worked things out and this is no longer an issue.
5. Drugs and Alcohol
Make sure your employee handbook clearly states that illegal drug use and consuming alcohol during work hours is not tolerated and may result in termination. Don’t risk your company’s reputation by letting workers break this rule. It’s simply not worth it.
Keeping accurate time cards is critical to any construction company. Clearly state how your time tracking system works and when you expect to get time cards for processing payroll. Payroll needs to be done in a timely manner and missing or lost timecards can derail that process. Many construction companies are moving to time tracking apps like buildcenter.com so that crews enter their time and the office has all the information they need to process payroll without the hassle of tracking down time cards.
7. Overtime policies
Overtime policies are a good item to include in a handbook. You want to decide who can approve overtime and what that process looks like. Without clear direction on how to manage overtime, it can get out of hand costing a lot of unexpected expenses. Again, apps like buildcenter can help you manage this with it’s overtime approval process.
8. Work schedules
How are workers scheduled to go to jobs? Does someone call or text them nightly? Are they told during the day where to go tomorrow? Outline how this works so they don’t assume the wrong thing. You may want to implement a crew scheduling tool like buildcenter.com so that crew’s can see on their phone where to go, when to be there and what to bring.
9. Side-work policies
Side jobs in construction are very common. It would be nearly impossible to prohibit this activity so I don’t suggest a hard line on this. I do, however, recommend that you clear state some rules and parameters around side work. For example, we require workers to notify management if they intend to work on a project that is related to a competitor. It allows us to talk this through with the worker to avoid conflicts of interest.
How to implement these policies & procedures
The first step is to document and write out all the policies and procedures that you want your field crews to understand and agree to. Next, have a company wide meeting to discuss it and ask if anyone has any questions. If you can, have this meeting at the office and maybe even bring in food or a snack to lighten the mood. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. We have made annual updates to our handbook so we have each employee re-sign it every year.
Once you have discussed the topics and answered any questions, you should have each employee sign the handbook and turn it in. Put these in a file somewhere safe in case you have to refer to it later. Any disciplinary action that is in violation of the handbook policies should be also saved and filed away in the employee file.
Managing work crews is not easy. If you can get on the same page, however, it goes a long way in making the crews function more efficiently and effectively. Establish your policies in a handbook and then get the crews on board with it. Once you have this in place, you can hold everyone accountable and maintain high standards for your company. Use this strategy to elevate your construction business.
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