Construction is complex, with projects often requiring hundreds of team members, if not more. The stakeholders that have a say about the work, such as neighbors, end-users or the public, typically expect communication about what the project entails and how it will impact them.
As much as humans like to think that we are all great at communication, it is quite difficult to accurately correspond to all parties the complexities of the work involved on a given project. Today, we’ll discuss who needs information about projects and some of the ways to ensure that they receive it.
With good communication protocols in place, contractors and design teams can ensure all parties are informed about their projects.
Who Needs Communications About Projects?
Many stakeholders need information about projects, including, but not limited to many of the parties directly involved in the work:
- Building owners
- Third-party consultants
- Local jurisdiction
- General contractor and/or construction manager
- Utility providers
In addition to these relatively ‘direct’ stakeholders, there are often many less directly involved people in a given project, which may include:
- Neighboring building owners and tenants
- Building end-users, such as students, staff, etc.
- The public, in case of road closures, noise events, utility interruptions, etc.
- Funding sources, including public dollars, banks, non-profit boards and donors, etc.
This second group of people can impact projects in a variety of ways and their feedback may come in the form of curiosity, support or protests. For instance:
In the case of public funding or donated dollars, individuals want to know that money is being spent responsibly.
Public or neighborhood groups may express concern related to disruptions to their neighborhoods due to noise, added traffic, the removal of open space or blocked views.
Neighbors may be interested in the work and would like to be informed about the process, desired outcomes or end-users.
The means for communicating with each of these parties is often different and involves various methods and frequencies. Let’s take a closer look at communications strategies for these groups.
Communications Strategies for Direct Team Members
The most direct team members on a given project include the construction manager/general contractor, owner, and design teams, with subcontractors and suppliers needing extensive information and regular communications for third-party inspectors, jurisdictional entities and utility companies, as well.
Here are some of the most direct strategies used for communication in construction projects:
Design drawings & specifications
The drawings and specifications are the backbones of communication for project teams. These documents, which are now typically digital in lieu of printed, include all of the information that brings a vision to reality. These communicate dimensions, elevations, material types, structural details, quality control metrics, and more. They are not only the path forward but also a record of what was built and how.
Creating and distributing project schedules communicates who should be onsite and when. Maintaining their accuracy over time is critical for controlling expectations for all team members, including when to have materials and labor onsite, and deadlines for completion.
Request for Information (RFI)
RFI’s are a formal documentation process for clarifying construction details. Typically, a contractor (general or subcontractor) will pose a question to the design team and the response, with direction, is formalized via this process. Any changes are then built into the overarching project documentation.
Submittals are documentation of a product or building component that is submitted to the general contractor, design team and sometimes building owners for review and approval. These documents help to verify exact finishes, dimensions and details before final product orders are made.
The long name is Owner, Architect, Contractor meeting, which are held with all of the listed parties on a regular cadence to provide updates on the project status. These meetings will cover many topics and will change based on the activities underway. Topics of discussion may include:
- Materials lead times and order status
- Submittal milestones
- Team member concerns
Depending on the complexity of the project, these meetings will be held weekly, although some may choose to meet more or less often. Aside from the formal meeting topics, these are an opportunity for team members to build relationships, solve problems and optimize project results.
Traditional communications such as in-person conversations, emails and phone calls
While much of the construction process is all about formal communications, there is no substitute for traditional communications strategies, such as email, phone and in-person conversations.
Communications strategies with team members must be a priority to streamline and optimize construction projects.
Communications Strategies for Indirect Stakeholders
In addition to the team members directly involved in a given project, the surrounding community members often want – and need – communication, as well. Neighbors in the immediate vicinity, travelers impacted by interruptions to the right-of-way, or those who may experience permanent changes to their traffic patterns, view, or neighborhood experience appreciate being informed about the projects in their lives.
Communicating with these indirect stakeholders can be more challenging for a variety of reasons, primarily because they’re not engaged in the more direct discussions about the work. Emotions related to the project could be mixed, ranging anywhere from excitement to ambivalence, or even anger.
Some of the ways project teams can communicate with these stakeholders may include:
Town-hall style meetings
Hosting an open-house style or ‘town hall’ meeting gives neighborhoods the chance to meet and discuss projects with direct team members. These may be a single meeting or a series of them, held at various points in the project. These give team members an opportunity to share their vision, listen to concerns and engage citizens in the work.
Groundbreakings and grand openings
These ceremonies can provide neighborhoods with reason to celebrate new projects, engage with the team and bring media attention to the work.
Social media campaigns
Social media campaigns that include project information can be a great way to inform the community about new projects, updates, unique features and more.
Website landing pages
Combined with the social media campaigns, some projects may justify their own website that contains project goals, details and schedule information, as well as potential interruptions to traffic, utilities, and more. It’s possible to house a variety of information types on these sites, such as text descriptions, photos, live-stream videos and contact information to report emergencies or concerns.
In-person campaigns to notify neighbors in the case of traffic or utility interruptions can go a long way towards creating goodwill and patience from neighbors. Leave-behind documents with basic information about the project, the interruption and contact information for concerns are advisable.
All of these strategies should be considered relative to the size, complexity and impact on the neighborhood. Larger and more complex projects in urban areas are likely to gather more attention than smaller projects in commercial zones.
Communications are a critical component to making construction projects smooth, for both direct and indirect stakeholders. Refining communications protocols and processes help ensure that everyone is on the same page from start to finish, and that in the event of an emergency or neighbor concern, pathways to answers are clear.