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October 30, 2020

How technology can reduce stress and conflict in construction

When we created Veyor, our main objective was to increase productivity and avoid common site communication problems. We hoped to eliminate wasted time and money caused by logistical issues.

We believed that tailored digital solutions could help plan and coordinate workflows much better than whiteboards and phone calls. Based on feedback from construction workers and the continued uptake and endorsement of Veyor by the industry, we believe this validates that we're on the right track. We were however surprised to hear that our technology was also helping with another issue that is commonplace at construction sites: stress and conflict.

We began talking more openly with customers to understand the issues better, and recently ran a survey about it with managers, supervisors, traffic controllers and crane riggers. We were pleasantly surprised by the results. Almost 80% of the respondents (79.57%) said that Veyor helps to reduce arguments and stress. A similar number of respondents (76.39%) said the app helped to minimise clashes and unexpected changes to plans when compared to projects that don't use the technology.

Construction workers report that the lack of technology increases stress in several ways:

  • Ad Hoc planning: Materials handling staff such as traffic controllers, crane crews, and forklift operators need schedules with planned breaks to work safely and effectively. When unexpected trucks pull up, they need to adjust their schedules on the fly. Without a more controlled schedule, which digital tools can help provide, this ad hoc planning can generate anxiety and impact workers’ ability to take adequate breaks and do their jobs safely.
  • Lack of transparency: Relying on whiteboards for communication and coordination means effective communication cannot take place unless everyone is standing around the whiteboard. There may be limited opportunity to plan collaboratively outside of the whiteboard session, leading to conflict, tension and shouting matches between subcontractors when they eventually do get together. A combative approach can take hold, with everyone fighting to get their hands on the assets they need, without regard to the big picture.
  • Uncertainty: Subcontractors often pay workers by the hour but are only paid by the builder based on output. Supervisors are responsible for keeping their teams productive. It can be very stressful if materials aren't on-site as required, and workers have no way to get work done. Supervisors and company owners then have to scramble to find other works for them, on the same site or a different site, to minimise the losses.
  • Time loss: Inefficiency leads to time loss, unscheduled waiting times and overtime. Most workers don't mind working overtime they see as essential but get frustrated when asked to do overtime that could easily have been avoided through better forward planning.

These are not just productivity issues but also mental health issues. Brad Parker, CEO of MATES in Construction NSW*, a charity helping construction workers fight mental health issues and suicide, told us: "There are many challenges we need to tackle to improve the mental health of construction workers. It's not just about raising awareness about the issue but also equipping those affected with the tools to overcome these challenges and thrive. Investing in proven, evidenced-based, wellbeing programs should help improve mental health outcomes on-site or in the workplace. Combining this with technology can help these outcomes and could lead to a more pleasant, less stressful working environment."

One of the conclusions of our survey is that better planning and communication are crucial to reducing stress. In our survey, 96% of those interviewed said they were able to plan better with Veyor. 

Guy Newman, Site Supervisor from DB Scaffold, put it like this: "In all my years in the industry, I've lost count of how many hours and days I've wasted waiting for trucks to arrive with the material I needed. It's very stressful when you're on a tight schedule and see your team doing nothing because they are waiting for a truck that never arrives. Fixing simple issues like this has such a huge impact on team morale." 

Finding more efficient ways for site teams to operate, through innovative technologies will allow more collaboration and less conflict, arguments and stress. Just as office and managerial staff have benefited from digitalisation, construction site workers should as well. It's time to change.

*You can contact MATES in Construction via their website

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