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By Mark Lyons
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New (and constantly improving) mobile technologies have turned the jobsite into a cloudsite – a workplace that is approachable from a remote location; viewable from anywhere, at any time and in great detail.
These mobile project management technologies empower both project managers and field workers by giving them the ability to maintain real time communication and accountability, no matter how far apart they may be geographically.
However, this technology is more than a “next best thing to being there” fallback. Mobile construction tech has a number of standard features that also disentangle the project manager from all the busy work that once decreased productivity. The digitizing of paperwork that is inherent to mobile technology frees the project manager from the file cabinet, allowing him to roam with uninterrupted 24/7 access to vital docs and project info, no matter how remote the jobsite is.
Mobile technology also prominently features cloud-based dashboards into which the field workers themselves input data, so progress across the project’s daily benchmarks can be tracked in real time by management (even remote management). The dashboards themselves are designed to provide precisely the sort of project-critical field reporting that really moves the ball. Mobile construction technology allows the remote manager to not only view progress in actionable detail from afar, but to communicate and discuss findings with the individual worker whose progress is being overseen.
Naturally, this much technical magnificence will not go unpunished, and remote project management is rife with small pitfalls which, in total, can affect already slim project margins. It’s all about overcoming distance with management strategies that compensate for the remoteness.
Here are four of the most critical things to watch out for in a remote project management scenario:
Consistency is crucial, and is typically the first thing jettisoned when the manager is away from the site. This is not so much a “cat’s away so the mice will play” situation, as it is the natural tendency for workers of all types to lose sight of benchmarks and deadlines when the supervising taskmaster is not around.
When managing remotely, it’s important that scheduled statuses and updates, at both the team and individual level, be congenially but firmly maintained. “Accountability drift” in the absence of direct supervision is normal and doesn’t mean the worker is not performing, but the detailed reporting inherent to mobile tech means the worker’s progress can be remotely viewed in detail, and spurred and communicated.
For the worker this takes away concern about having “ducks in a row” on the manager’s return (or next scheduled virtual visit), since the project manager’s expectations will have been communicated all along. Build into the remotely managed project both detailed status reports and regularly scheduled virtual meetings with team leaders. Use the aggregated team reporting to keep teams and individual workers apprised of the project’s bird’s-eye status. Don’t use remote tech to unpleasantly surprise the worker, but to pleasantly allow an informed autonomy.
Keeping team members pumped up from a remote location is a big deal. Period.
How is this done from a distance? Personalize your “remote” approach by having some personal info about each worker. Know names, disciplines, and skill sets (of course), and something colorful and unique about the worker. With several crews in play it isn’t possible (or advisable) to get too granular with this sort of individual ‘get to know you’ info, but communicating with your remote worker with a little informed familiarity will go a long way towards closing the psychological distance between the project manager and those on the site. This will work magic for worker morale and a willing accountability on the worker’s part.
A tactically light touch is a vitally important element of successful remote project managing. Mobile construction tech allows the project manager fairly unprecedented insight into what individuals are doing and how punctually they are doing it, but the worker who feels he is being “monitored” from afar will bridle at the idea and become distracted by it.
Worker buy-in is, needless to say, a better booster of project ownership and productivity than fear of oversight. If the remote project manager is seen (or even perceived) to be using the mobile tools as a way to virtually hover over the jobsite and nitpick the worker, there will be actual, not virtual, resentment. Keep the touch light but completely regular, so that the workers know when status updates are expected and how best to clarify what is happening. Make the remote management notably friendly; even friendlier than interpersonal onsite contact.
If the remote project management oversight is seen to be as serious as, but more comfortable than, an onsite interface, the worker will happily make the extra effort at successfully communicating productivity and good news.
Remote project management can be everything it’s cut out to be, and needn’t be considered the troublesome price one pays to be able to manage several jobsites at once. The distance between the project manager and the jobsite can and should be leveraged to actually make the worker more comfortably autonomous.
A good rule of thumb is this: the more remote the jobsite, the less remote the human project manager. In other words, it’s possible to not only bridge the distance between the project manager and the worker, but to embrace the opportunity to pleasantly surprise the worker with a remote persona that is anything but remote.
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