How to Improve Construction Productivity (Tips From the Pros)

May 13th, 2022

If you've landed here, that means you already understand one of the most difficult problems to solve for construction companies: the productivity of your workers. The productivity of your labor force is critical because your ability to effectively measure and manage their productivity will have a direct impact on how much money your business is losing or making.

One of the best ways to do that is to manage productivity is to make sure you have the right labor tracking technology in place. Without labor tracking, you have no way of knowing whether or not your labor is actually efficient.

For many construction business owners, this is daunting. Trying to implement technology you can trust, understanding the data, and having the know-how to make meaningful changes to improve your labor force while running your business is a task that many owners simply don't have time to do.

I was there once. I didn't start in tech; I own a labor-driven business, just like you. When the Great Recession hit in 2008, I started looking critically at how I could save money with my roofing business, with labor being the most powerful lever I could pull.

It didn’t take long before my real problem became apparent. In reviewing the data I had on time-tracking for my crews, I discovered a ton of inconsistencies, which meant I was losing money. I needed an accurate time-tracking solution to fix that. The market didn't have an answer to this problem, so I made one myself. I founded Labor Sync in order to create an effective, powerful, labor tracking tool to empower labor-driven businesses.

Related: The Ultimate Labor Tracking Guide

Through this experience, I learned that solving labor productivity problems (whether for construction crews or other types of businesses) requires a two-pronged approach. First, you need to have the right technology in place so you can actually see and track your labor. Next, you need to have the right soft skills to connect and motivate your employees. Let's take a look at some of the best tips I've learned over the past decade to improve construction productivity.

1. You Need a Labor Tracking Solution

Whether you choose Labor Sync or another platform, you must have some way to track your labor. After all, you can't identify pain points, understand why labor may not be productive, or even know if your changes are meaningful if you don't have a way to track and analyze your labor in a meaningful way.

Choosing the right labor tracking solution isn't complicated, but it does require a few key considerations and actions on your part:

  • Look inside your organization and be acutely aware of your unique, specific needs

  • Take time to develop a rollout program and consider a pilot program

  • Understand your relationship with employees and understand how to best motivate them to accept and use the labor tracking solution

  • Consider the support you need from a potential labor tracking solution and the pricing model that best fits your business

Remember, the key to the success of any labor tracking solution will depend on your commitment to its adoption and your willingness to take the necessary preparation steps in-house. Great technology can't fix everything.

Remember, great technology can't fix everything. The key to success of any labor tracking solution will depend on your willingness to create a clear plan of implementation and your commitment to following through with its adoption.

2. Hire and Develop Good Managers

After you have a way to track your labor costs, you can start to develop strategies on how to increase construction productivity. Of course, even if you have the best labor tracking technology and have a 100% accurate view of your labor costs and inefficiencies, you can't make changes if you have bad managers.

First, take a look at the managers you have. Are they equipped to keep employees productive? Are they facing roadblocks that might be preventing them from following action plans to reduce labor waste? You won't know if you don't have clear lines of communication with them, or if you haven't established a report that allows your managers to be open, honest, and when needed, blunt.

What if you can communicate clearly with your managers, but they just don't know how to implement the changes you want? You may need to offer professional development, off-site training, or other opportunities for them to develop the skills they need to manage in a way that helps to keep construction productivity high.

Once you have a framework of what you need from your managers, you'll know what to look for when hiring new ones in the future. You want to avoid firing managers if at all possible, and most management teams are willing and able to participate in new strategies that have a clear incentive for them to participate. That might be the training I've mentioned, or it could be something more straightforward, like bonuses connected to lowering labor costs.

3. Keep Your Labor Force Happy and Motivated

Let's be clear about this tip. Keeping your workforce “happy and motivated” does not mean acquiescing to every demand or whim that your employees have. A problem companies often see when they implement labor tracking is their employees hate it. And they don't hate it because it's a new policy, they hate it because they liked having more autonomy without the scrutiny.

If you already have a toxic work environment, the pushback you get from employees isn't necessarily a sign that you didn't plan implementation well. It could be a sign that they don't want to be held accountable for honest labor hours. If employees quit because they don't want to be held accountable, then those aren't employees you wanted anyway.

Now, having said that, you do want to keep high-quality, honest employees motivated and happy. These kinds of workers are key to your company operating efficiently, and you don't want to frustrate them with poor management or badly outlined operational expectations.

Again, motivating good employees feels like common sense but can be extremely difficult to execute. The following tips are ones that have worked extremely well for me in the past, and they also cost little to nothing to implement. While you'll want to pick the strategies that are the best fit for your business, you should at least consider everything below.

Here are some general tips that I've found to be impactful ways to manage your employees in effective, efficient ways. This isn't an all-inclusive list, but these are strategies that have worked extremely well for me and other clients I've helped to implement labor tracking.

Regularly Communicate and Provide Clear Expectations

It's easy to frustrate employees if communication is inconsistent or unclear. It'll take a bit of effort but taking the time to establish clear lines of communication and present expectations can keep workers moving towards a goal they can see and understand.

Not sure how to clearly or regularly communicate? Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Daily meetings (especially at the beginning of the day)

  • Take time to learn how specific direct reports like to communicate. For example, eat lunch with employees and discover the best ways they communicate and receive information.

  • If employees are accustomed to emails, send important emails about the project at the same time of day in the same kind of format.

This list is not all-inclusive, so feel free to use creative thinking in how you can effectively communicate with your employees.

Recognize Achievements and Roadblocks

If you see employees working hard and being productive, tell them! Simple verbal statements affirming that employees are seen and appreciated go a long way.

This also applies to when employees are struggling with meeting expectations. Affirming that you believe employees have the tools to meet expectations, coaching them to help improve performance, and even listening to the reasons why they are struggling to meet expectations can keep morale high even when the job is very difficult.

Be Positive and Encouraging

Finally, managers should be positive and encouraging. Sounds simple, right? Leaders that have a positive outlook on the outcome of projects, speak to and treat employees with kindness and respect, and otherwise have a generally positive attitude can easily keep employee morale high. And the best part? It costs precisely zero dollars to do this.

This is important on demanding projects with tight deadlines. Positive managers who are visibly working hard and leading by example can easily inspire employees to follow suit.

Where to Begin Improving Construction Productivity

I've given you a lot of information to consider, but don't think that you need to try everything at once! It will take time for you to take an in-depth look into the specific needs of your business to see where the biggest pain points are and how to address them. What's important is that you start the process and begin moving forward in being able to improve construction productivity.

If you're at a loss at where to start, then I recommend choosing a labor tracking solution. If you don't have one, this must be your first step. As I mentioned, you can't see where labor waste is or if the techniques you implement are working if you aren't able to track it in the first place.