How to Address COVID-19 Workforce Management Challenges

A man in an oxford shirt sends a text message.

Scheduling construction is difficult. And that was before we added the unforeseen communication and staffing issues that arrived with the coronavirus pandemic. 

During my lengthy career, I have never experienced a situation that presented challenges like COVID-19. There is no roadmap to follow. 

One of the significant challenges for the industry is workforce management. Contractors are in a position where they have to come up with rapid solutions to labor management problems from social distancing to abrupt project changes. 

If you manage labor, your employees are looking to you for leadership and timely information. And that starts with answering a very important question: how do I let my workforce know there’s a situation that requires their attention? 

Understanding Workforce Management Challenges During COVID-19

In the old days when something critical changed about a project, you’d pick up the phone and call the foreman. You could notify a few people at the site that there was an issue; but that was the best option. If you had a large crew spread out across a building, someone physically had to go and find each of them.  

That system was inefficient. It meant that everyone, whether they were in the office or the field, got information at different times. And if it was critical information -- here I’m thinking of the time we had a partial building collapse on a project site -- it led to a lot of anxiety in trying to figure out if every member of our team was safe. Thankfully, everyone was safe. But that moment showed me the value of real-time communication

The additional workforce management challenges -- social distancing and the possibility of a laborer testing positive for the coronavirus  -- introduced by COVID-19 have reinforced my belief that contractors need a digital platform that keeps everyone informed and connected.  

Social distancing is a unique challenge to solve. Job sites and prefabrication shops have a limited amount of space, which restricts the number of people allowed in a specific area. The ability to understand where your labor is located -- both on a project and in relation to each other -- is essential.

In addition to helping manage social distancing guidelines, management needs to account for the possibility of a positive COVID-19 test for a laborer. The right information being made available in real-time reduces the potential risk of exposure and allows you to communicate an exit strategy if workers need to leave a site suddenly. After the fact, knowing exactly where and when an employee was on a project is critical for understanding who may be at risk and how to effectively quarantine. 

Two construction workers having a conversation while social distancing with masks on.

How Digital Workforce Management Helps During and After COVID-19 

Contractors, more than ever, will rely on technology to navigate these uncertain waters. Thankfully, project management and financial platforms are widely used throughout the construction industry to help transition working from home, but a piece of technology not commonly used is labor management software. 

The majority of contractors still use spreadsheets or whiteboards. And the majority of current challenges are labor-related. So, you can see how that could be a concern. 

It’s time that the construction industry’s workforce management practices caught up with the technology long embraced by project and financial management teams. Instead of picking up the phone and trying to contact the foreman, you should explore real-time digital solutions to labor management problems. Instant messaging via email and text can help improve safety protocols and your ability to adapt to schedule changes. 

By finding a new digital path forward to address labor challenges during COVID-19, you’ll be better prepared for the next unforeseen challenges to field productivity. There will always be unexpected curveballs in construction and on job sites that have to be handled. Each of those curveballs will come with unique circumstances that can only be addressed with accurate and timely communication.

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Sr. Workforce Advisor
Gary Fuchs is a Senior Workforce Advisor at LaborChart. Prior to LaborChart, Gary was VP of Construction at Westphal Electric. He and his wife Cheryl are proud parents of three daughters and 10 grandchildren. Gary enjoys woodworking, golf, hunting, fishing, and working with LaborChart. In his past, Gary was a volunteer firefighter and basketball official.

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