Managing a workforce of any size, even a centralized one, is an adventure. Add to that employees working at several job sites in the field, completing a variety of potentially dangerous tasks, and arriving and departing without necessarily being accounted for—and you’ve got a real hotbox of communication issues that can go awry.
Let’s face it: In field-based industries, workforce management is a game of Whack-A-Mole: a new issue is guaranteed to pop up as soon as, or before, the first one is resolved.
Challenges of managing a remote workforce
Here are some of the workforce management issues you’re probably facing as well as some of their potential repercussions.
1) Loss of revenue due to late workers and inaccurate time cards.
As most contractors know, the daily late-shows and hour-rounding by dozens of workers isn’t a sudden KO, but it’ll pack a punch over time.
Firstly, there are those missed minutes at the beginning and end of the day. Those might not make a huge difference in one worker’s day-to-day, but an individual whose next steps are critical to a process can hold up a whole project. And when you get five or ten folks starting late or leaving early, you’re talking about real lag-time in kicking off a new task or completing an in-progress one.
The other issue is that when you add all those minutes you are paying for hours not worked, which can really kill your profit margins.
2) Communication failure within chain of command.
One of the most frustrating things to deal with in a management role is employees not following instructions. But as an owner or a project manager who isn’t always at the site, you want to get to the root of the problem. Are the employees not listening? Or are the channels of communication between higher ups and employees not cutting it?
Lack of communication on a supervisor’s part, or lack of respect on an employee’s part, can have many repercussions. One of them is late arrivals and early departures (see above). Other ways miscommunication can cost you is by allowing for too many surprises, including mistakes requiring rework and excessive OT.
3) Lack of good data about task completion time and other project details.
So they don’t remember when they started framing or trench-digging. This may not seem like an issue to you, if you don’t try to collect data on your task and project times—if you just rough them in mentally or take a guess when making your next bid.
But in this age of digital information and plenty of competition in the field, owners, subcontractors and customers expect a higher level of accuracy, and will not leave good reviews after jobs that drag out forever or when change orders get piled on and contractors charge way more than the original budget.
With paper time cards, there’s no accurate accounting for task or project times, which makes for painful sessions of grilling your team, “trying to remember” on your part and theirs, and some very rough “guesstimates”—which in turn yields to embarrassing missteps, awkward apologies and unhappy clients.
Finally, workers often complain that their paychecks don’t reflect the hours they really worked. As for referring to their timesheets, unfortunately your payroll manager threw those away last week. Or maybe their supervisor just recorded their times wrong. With pen and paper, sometimes there’s no looking back, and there’s certainly no definitive record.
4) Worker frustration toward management.
Most worker complaints you hear probably have a common thread: as your charges, they don’t feel they’re being respected, listened to or otherwise taken care of.
To be more specific, workers may feel that what is expected of them isn’t conveyed clearly enough. This means they don’t feel like their getting enough instruction, and so they aren’t able to perform up to management’s standards even if they want to.
They might also feel that when they encounter obstacles, their concerns are not being heeded by their supervisors or project managers, who are either too busy to hear them out or simply not in the right place to observe the problem.
Solution Talk // Words of Wisdom
We would be lying to say there’s one silver bullet that can make all your worker management challenges evaporate.
But these problems can all be reduced if not eliminated with real-time labor data that gives you a window onto what is really happening in the field, helping you catch things like job site hazards or mishaps, bloated completion times and excessive OT, before they get costly.
We know we’re a little bit biased in favor of technology, but we will say that a well-designed software and/or app can:
1) Relieve your paper time card woes
2) Provide real-time data into time spent on tasks
3) Make time tracking an exact science, saving you thousands
4) Allow for the creation of multimedia notes associated with a job or task that can be stored in one central location (i.e. in a web-based workforce management application)
5) Allow for digital scheduling creation so that specific instructions by way of scheduled shifts and tasks can keep workers informed of what’s expected of them
Workers are people, and people are complicated—but they do share in common the desire to be heard and for their truth to be respected. Communication will always be the biggest management challenge and one of the keys to success. Our advice: look for ways to take some of the obstacles out of the equation.