Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association

Leveraging Tech to Combat COVID-19 Productivity Losses

IMG_4869_eric_tucker 400x600It’s been a tough year for construction margins. To bolster their chances of profitability, savvy contractors are leveraging software to meticulously document COVID-related delays, track productivity from the field, and automate COVID-related protocols wherever possible.

SMACNA contractors have experienced an average 17.9% decline in productivity since COVID-19 restrictions went into effect, according to a New Horizons Foundation (NHF) report. Social distancing, sanitization, materials handling, proper ingress and egress are all unavoidable challenges threatening contractors’ profits. While contractors can’t change this reality, they can track it, manage against it, and leverage automation.

Technology solutions help make higher productivity possible during challenging times like these. The strategies that follows apply to Procore users, but are valuable principles for all contractors pursuing profitability.

Track Productivity in the Field
When it comes to productivity, a couple of bad days could be the difference between making money or not. Your company needs to be able to capture and analyze productivity information quickly while keeping all stakeholders informed.

Field leaders should be given the ability to tightly track and manage productivity directly from the field. Specific cost codes, (some are outlined in Figure 10 in  the NHF report) should be set up to track time in the field spent on the following: 

  • Safety & Training
  • Distancing & Access Rules
  • Cleaning & Disinfecting
  • Administration

Specialty contractors can use software to build these codes directly into their budgets, then monitor labor costs against all their cost codes on a daily basis using field productivity tools. This allows leaders in the field to track time lost to COVID-specific activities and provide fast corrective guidance to their crews.

Meanwhile, management automatically gets access to the data. Having this information in a connected platform allows entire companies to benchmark productivity across projects and cost codes without waiting for payroll.

Double Down on Daily Reporting
Receiving compensation for lost productivity due to COVID mitigation often depends on the interpretation of the CM or GC on the project. Quality field reports aligned with each day of work can help paint a clear story about delays and productivity losses. Use a daily log tool designed for phones and tablets, to make it easy for field staff to keep dailies updated without any software training.

Common productivity issues to track include shipping delays, crews having to offload a truck to limit exposure, setting up equipment with other divisions or subs while trying to distance, or running out of sanitizer onsite, your teams should be tracking these issues in a reportable daily log system.

Using the appropriate software, every delay across projects can be reported on and compared with fluctuations in productivity. As a company, you can now identify your biggest indicators of productivity losses and take corrective action —either by process improvements or change orders for compensation requests. 

Automate Where Possible
As self-performing contractors, you have to document who you had on site each day and whether or not they were safe to be there. Here are a few ways to automate manual tasks and improve communication loops when it comes to tracking personnel. 

  • Health Surveys and Pre-Screening – Nyfty.AI, a workflow automation app. The health screening bot collects COVID-19 wellness checks from your employees and visitors via text message, analyzes the responses, and escalates any issues to you.
  • Timecard Punches and PPE Scanning – SmartBarrel. For projects that demand large crews, SmartBarrel provides a cost-effective kiosk that uses image recognition software to confirm worker identity and PPE to log timecard punches in seconds.
  • Labor Schedule Updates – LaborChart. Allows contractors to turn their resource schedule whiteboard into a communication hub, instantly updating the entire workforce on updates to schedules and project assignments, removing the confusion caused by phone calls and texts.

Shorten the Learning Curve
Solutions like these are designed to help your teams go faster. Adding net new processes does not make sense right now. Instead, think of your digital strategy as a way to better enable your people in their existing processes or to simplify or reduce the steps needed to complete a process.

Monterey Mechanical, an Oakland, Calif., mechanical contractor and SMACNA member specializing in industrial projects, has implemented productivity tracking in the field, as well as other digital documentation best practices. “The field teams aren’t really used to technology, so we were worried they might struggle with it, but that wasn’t the case at all. When we made it available to them, they latched onto it and ran with it,” said Division Manager Ed Moore.

The way we work during COVID-19 is a learning curve like adapting to new regulations or figuring out how to survive an economic downturn. Great data will always help you get over the curve faster, with more money in your pocket and happier employees to boot.

Eric Tucker leads partner strategy for specialty contractors at Procore.