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It's time to solve the building productivity puzzle

8 February, 2022

Today’s businesses are increasingly embracing digital technologies, driven by the need for improved efficiencies, cost reductions and decision making. However, in the Construction industry, firms are facing massive pressures to quickly address poor productivity and efficiencies amidst cost pressures rising.  

New research by Turner & Townsend has revealed the UK Construction sector needs to act fast to improve productivity and mitigate rising costs, especially with labour and material costs rising. The UK Market Intelligence Report (UKMI) shows central forecasts for real estate and infrastructure tender price rises in 2022 are 4.5% and 4% respectively, up from autumn 2021 predictions of 3.5% for both, with long term forecasts up to 5% as far ahead as 2025. 

Turner & Townsend believes this cost pressure puts the industry in a ‘vulnerable’ position, but that a quick focus on driving efficiency and productivity improvements could solve the issue, including a focus on embracing digital tools and off-site construction. 

Andy Outram, Lead Real Estate Director for Scotland at Turner & Townsend, said, “The pressures being experienced across the UK construction industry are mirrored in Scotland. We have seen recent tender results where clients have struggled to obtain competitive tenders, simply as the supply chain is struggling to source labour and materials at competitive rates. 

“This is certainly raising the need for change in our approach to design and process by clients and designers, which is encouraging more use of digital applications and looking at MMC and OSM solutions. This drive for change in construction innovation through industry bodies such as the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre is the way forward for our industry to maintain a sustained recovery as we emerge from the pandemic.” 

Elsewhere, build cost inflation is hitting 45% on some housing projects, with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan recently stating there will be a ‘significant impact’ on affordable home building without government cash. The impact of Brexit and the pandemic was slowing housebuilding progress, with the cost of materials for housing rising by more than a fifth on average in the capital. Architects have also reported similar stories of large cost hikes. These cost hikes come after the Federation of Master Builders issued a new State of Trade Survey which found 95% of builders were seeing a rise in material costs, with 74% having put up their prices for work and 91% expecting material costs to increase in the first part of 2022. 

Revisiting 'modernise or die'

Five years after his stark ‘Modernise or Die’ report, which urged the Construction industry to embrace new ways of working, Mark Farmer, CEO of Cast Consultancy, wrote an article on where the industry is. 

In the report, he said: “I saw a productivity challenge coming that looked deeply worrying due to a decline in base numbers employed in the sector relative to GDP and total available workforce. How were we going to improve productivity without fundamentally reforming the wider processes we adopt from brief to handover and critically, modernising the physical way we built things?” 

So this isn’t a new problem. However, with the battle for talent intensifying, the need to do more with less (or even the same) has never been greater. Mark goes on in his article to say: “What is very clear is that talk of declining resiliency, lack of skills or labour and fragile supply chains is now all around us – the recent petrol supply crisis is evidence of that. Resiliency is no longer a chronic construction industry problem that is under the radar, making our projects cost more, take longer and have increasingly variable quality.” 

“Construction is going to struggle in the war for new talent despite best efforts to redefine the narrative as to what a career in our industry represents. More than ever we need to address productivity and identify how we will do more with the same or less resource.” 

He finishes with: “I said in 2016 that the industry had five-to-ten years to get serious about change before it faced irreversible decline. We are at the halfway point now and all eyes are focused on where we might be by 2026, and how the seeds of modernisation increasingly being sowed now need to take root quickly.” 

Embracing digital solutions to solve the productivity and efficiency puzzle

While winning the battle to retain and attract talent remains a long term aim, digital transformation presents an opportunity to enable better ways of working. Essentially, technology allows the industry to operate faster, more efficiently, collaboratively, and make better decisions. 

One area of continual productivity drain which presents an opportunity to modernise is the management of information. Unfortunately, many digital strategies rarely incorporate data management or a data strategy. Equally, low levels of system integration hinders technology success, ROI and overall productivity. 

While BIM methods have long been emphasised to improve building safety, collaboration and productivity, there are still massive opportunities for firms to improve their processes and use information and data as a competitive advantage.  

For instance, unstructured information, such as Teams messages and important project emails, cost businesses significant amounts of admin time, as well as a headache when they can't find the information they are looking for. Resolving this doesn’t require tens of thousands of pounds worth of investment like a full-scale document management system, nor does it take a month to implement. There are quick-win opportunities to manage information better.  

How can better email management improve productivity and efficiencies?

So, where does email management fit into the equation? According to CareerBuilder, email ranks as one of the top productivity killers in the workplace, while 61% of UK workers say that email stops them from getting work done. That supports our own research that found 32% of employees spend nearly one working day per week managing their inbox. Poor email management drains productivity and encumbers business processes. 

Think about these questions: 

  • How long does it take you to file or find important project emails? 

  • How much time does rework cost you because of poor communication? 

  • Is email the primary method of client and team communication on a project? 

  • Can you find important email correspondence about a project from years back? 

  • Do you have access to correspondence relating to the project you are working on? 

  • Is your inbox overflowing and hard to stay on top of? 

Almost every Construction business we speak to finds that managing their important project emails is not only a time-consuming effort, which results in fee-earners doing admin instead of billable work, but also increases the chances of rework and lost information. Plus, these companies are increasingly annoyed with never being able to find important project emails, particularly historic ones, and the time they have to spend filing emails (or they don’t file emails at all). 

Time is money, so with pressures rising, you don’t want to be wasting time trying to find important information, or on arduous admin filing. 

How does Mail Manager help?

  • Business efficiencies: Find any email relating to any project or client within seconds. 

  • Cost-reduction: Less time spent on admin. More time spent on profitable work.  

  • ROI: Overnight implementation, saving approximately 3 hours per week, per employee. 

  • System integration: Integrate with existing document management solutions, such as SharePoint, Viewpoint and Procore.  

  • Productivity: Automated email filing ensures important correspondence is filed securely to the right location, meaning less time spent on filing and information is visible across the relevant project team. 

Mail Manager helps firms solve their email headache overnight, giving control of how commercially sensitive correspondence is managed. 

We’ve got a track record of helping clients speed up project delivery and improve productivity and efficiency across the board. Here’s what some of our clients say about using Mail Manager:  

Kirsty Hamilton, Business Development, Offshore Design Engineering (ODE): “It’s about making working across different locations and departments very transparent.” 

ODE’s benefits included greater transparency across multiple offices and departments, being able to quickly find historic company data buried within emails, and improved productivity and speed of project delivery. 

Monica Parrot, Quality Manager, Gensler: “We calculated that by implementing Mail Manager, the weekly savings would be enormous compared to the cost of the software per person per day making it a 'no brainer' decision to implement.” 

Gensler saved 5 hours per week per person in administrative printing, file coding and hard copy filing, as well as enabled Gensler to comply with many quality assurance and statutory standards. 

Kenan Coetzee, BIM Manager, Oswald Professional Engineers: “Without Mail Manager, we’d have to manually be conscious about our email management, which is a complicated and time-consuming process. It would cost me an extra hours’ work a day.” 

Oswald Professional Engineers found benefits in removing manual processes, managing leavers inboxes better, and standardising email management processes across the business. 

Mark Behrmann, Principal Associate, WSP: “The single biggest benefit is a very fast, searchable means of finding information, in a centralised repository. Previously, it was slow and not indexed, plus we didn’t have time to scroll through everything. Mail Manager has solved that. Once all the emails were in a central location and we could start searching for something we were all impressed how fast it finds information.” 

WSP found significant benefits in the speed of finding information, greater business efficiency as they can spend more time on real work, and improved project visibility by capturing both sides of the conversation (sent and received emails). 

Martin Holmstedt, Group Manager, Transport Analysis, Sweco: “It certainly saves me time. Time saved and productivity improvements are the two biggest benefits. Equally, as a manager, when employees leave the business or teams change, email is by far and away the most important source of information for me.” 

The Sweco team are able to file all project emails to a central, visible location, quickly search and find the information they are looking for, saving significant amounts of time, and retain project information residing within email, even when staff leave the business. 

Suffering from email overload? Check out our blog on productivity hacks in the age of email overload. 

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