The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world as we know it. The global economy has taken quite a nosedive as businesses struggle to navigate through an era of social distancing and vaccines. Industries have been forced to reevaluate their operations from the ground up.

Construction is one of the industries that has been hit the hardest because of the coronavirus pandemic. This is partly due to the inherent nature of construction itself, as construction is one of the world’s least digitized industries, second only to agriculture. While other industries have embraced remote work with open arms, construction has lagged far behind.

As remote work becomes the industry standard, project managers must learn to adopt new technologies and handle construction work remotely. However, before we explore how remote project managers can effectively handle construction work, it’s important to realize that you cannot manage the employees if they don’t have access to the right technology. For any sort of communication to take place between the project manager and on-site workers, both need to have a high-speed internet connection and reliable devices like tablets or laptops. These amenities need to be available in the temporary housing for employees and on the job site. And this dictate is not just limited to the construction of housing projects, but other kinds of construction as well. Let’s take the example of oilfields. Oilfield construction is done in remote areas, so for effective communication to take place between on-site employees and project managers, the presence of the right technology and infrastructure is imperative in the oilfield man camp.

Before we digress further, let's discuss the six tips remote project managers need to start with.

1. Use an effective communication system

Effective communication and remote working go hand in hand. The changing dynamics of construction demand constant communication between project managers and on-site employees. Admittedly, it is difficult to replicate face-to-face communication with any sort of communication system. However, given that employees are scattered across multiple sites, communication can get messy if a system is not specified. Not to mention, you’ll waste valuable time and effort.

Since there are hundreds of communication systems available, you’ll have to compare multiple options. A good communication system should allow project managers to create separate groups for different teams. It should support text messaging, voice calls, and video calls for team meetings. You’ll also have to ensure that the chosen system has positive reviews online and isn’t prone to glitches or crashes.

Once you’ve found the right system, you must ensure that all employees start using it, and for that, they need proper training. Remember, effective communication is also essential in establishing a good rapport with your employees.

2. Stop micromanaging

Before the coronavirus pandemic, most project managers found themselves frantically moving from site to site to monitor employees' progress constantly. Not only is this approach outdated and ineffective, but this level of micromanagement is a surefire way to ruin remote work.

Constantly monitoring employees and expecting to know how they spend every second at work is not reasonable. Micromanagement lowers employee morale and inhibits creativity.

Instead, a healthy approach to remote work involves building trust with your employees. Once you’ve set deadlines that have been agreed upon, delegate one or two employees to overlook the work and brief you at the end of the day. This will show your employees trust and help establish rapport.

Once work has been assigned, project managers should only be concerned that any deadlines are met. They shouldn’t be concerned about the particularities of how employees work and meet those deadlines.

3. Use a project management system

Speaking of micromanagement, a project management system (PMS) can help project managers manage employees on a more holistic level. A good PMS not only allows you to assign tasks and set deadlines but also allows you to view the progress of each task. You can schedule new tasks to go live once previous ones have been completed. This will save you a lot of time in the long run and ensure that workers have tasks lined up or assigned regardless of your availability. On top of that, your employees will appreciate the increased autonomy. They can update the status of assigned tasks whenever any progress is made. They can also send you auto-generated reports at the end of the day. These reports can be especially useful if you want to keep your seniors informed.

So, coupled with a good communication system, a PMS is something every project manager needs in their toolbelt.

4. Provide remote training options

Project managers need to realize that the transition to remote work is just as stressful for employees as it is for them. Construction can be stressful on its own, and the added pressure of changing routines and new technologies can make things worse.

Ask your construction firm to provide employees access to training courses that employees can complete at their own pace. Similarly, employees must be provided access to short training videos whenever a new technology is introduced. This will improve the learning curve and encourage employees to use the new technology.

Instead of completely abandoning any hands-on training sessions your construction firm offered before the coronavirus pandemic, find alternatives. Some programs can simulate the experience of being on-site, which can make remote training sessions more interactive.

While, in some cases, remote training may not be as effective as physical training, it’s better than none at all.

5. Abandon manual time tracking methods

Many construction firms still use the age-old method of punch cards for tracking employees’ time. This method is highly unpractical and unreliable – some employees may simply ask colleagues to punch their cards in for them. Instead, project managers should invest in digital time tracking software. These typically use a phone’s GPS to create a virtual boundary for employees, called a geofence. This means that the software can automatically detect when employees arrive on and leave a site. Fortunately, it is difficult to fool digital time tracking software since GPS technologies have gotten exceptionally accurate over the last few years.

Automating this process also means that employees won't be surprised when they receive their payroll since digital time tracking software can provide a complete report of the time they've spent on-site.

6. Meet your team physically when possible

Perhaps the greatest weakness of remote work is that it undermines the human element of working together as a team. Webcams can’t replicate the authenticity of a face-to-face meeting.

Even if it’s once every few months, schedule physical meetings with your employees to discuss any issues and challenges they might be facing or their general feedback. This will strengthen your relationship with them, and they’ll start to think that you care about them. This, subsequently, will improve their overall morale.

Ending Thoughts

The global economy has barely come to terms with the idea of remote work, and for industries like construction, which haven’t yet embraced advanced technology with open arms, this transition is even more difficult. This puts a lot of pressure on project managers. Not only must they help their employees adapt to remote work, but they must also adapt to it themselves.

If you’re a project manager who’s struggling to handle remote construction work, the tips we’ve outlined above may help. However, there's one more thing you need to keep in mind – the pandemic has skyrocketed the stress levels amongst the general population, and your employees are no exception. Construction work is already stressful and demanding, and with the current situation, it has become more critical for you to show your employees support. As a project manager, you must ensure that your employees’ efforts are recognized, so their morale remains high.