Reader’s Note: The following guest post is provided by Patrick Hogan, Co-founder and CEO of Handle.com. AkitaBox would like to thank Patrick for his contribution to our industry blog.
Meet the Author:
Patrick Hogan is the CEO of Handle.com, an organization that specializes in software that helps contractors, subcontractors and material suppliers with late payments. Handle.com also provides funding for construction businesses in the form of invoice factoring, material supply trade credit, and mechanics lien purchasing.
It has been nearly eight months since the first recorded case of COVID-19 in the country, but the situation remains largely the same for the construction industry. While many states have eased their restrictions and stay-at-home orders to reopen the economy, construction business owners still have to handle the operational difficulties brought by the pandemic — global supply chain disruptions, workforce limitations, and health risks.
Many construction projects have now resumed with new systems and protocols in place to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. Construction workers start the day with a thermal scanner to their forehead and stand on floor markings to maintain social distancing.
With construction being one of the pillars of the economy, the reopening of construction sites offers a glimpse of a reawakening country. But even in the post-pandemic world, some problems inherent in the industry will remain—an aging workforce, payment issues, and the challenge of document management.
Construction Document Management During a Pandemic
Nobody likes paperwork and no one enters the construction industry because they love the piles upon piles of documents that are part of it. However, document management is a crucial part of the job. A lot of construction project participants dread the paperwork, but not knowing how to handle it effectively can lead to costly mistakes during a project itself.
But with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, construction business owners faced unprecedented situations that caught them off-guard. The issues brought by the pandemic have likely pushed document management down on the list of priorities. While this is unavoidable given the circumstances, effective document management can actually help construction business owners and project managers be better prepared for emergencies.
Benefits of Document Management During COVID-19
Having effective document management has always benefited contractors as it leads to a more organized process and better outcomes in their projects. However, the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted some of the flaws in the way many construction businesses handle their paperwork. The need for better document management systems has become more apparent.
Here are some of the benefits of document management during COVID-19:
1. Establishing the scope of work
Each construction project is made up of multiple contracts between stakeholders, and this makes participants prone to confusion concerning their scope of work. The scope of work clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of each project participant. If there’s no proper documentation of this, contractors can easily be overwhelmed by the complexities of the project and lead to scope creep. And with the limitation of resources caused by COVID-19, dealing with scope creep can be fatal to a business.
2. Preventing costly mistakes
Depending on the size of a project, architectural plans can go from less than a hundred to a thousand or more, not including the revisions that may be needed over the course of the project. There will be a lot of changes during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the shortage of material supplies and the need to look for alternative sources.
With many participants in a single project, a contractor working off of an outdated project plan will mean costly mistakes. Incurring additional expenses for something totally avoidable is something you do not want during this current crisis.
3. Preserving the right to get paid
Payment issues have always plagued the construction industry. More often than not, these issues stem from the lack of visibility among project participants. For instance, project owners normally want to be kept in the loop on the status of their projects. Not having any document to back up your claims of work may not bode well for when you need to send invoices.
Aside from this, the process of filing a mechanics lien has plenty of requirements such as preliminary notices in states like California, receipts, and lien waivers. Effective document management is a must if you want to preserve your right to get paid.
Steps to Better Construction Documentation During COVID-19
Here are some of the ways to improve construction document management in the wake of COVID-19.
1. Ditch the paper and go digital
Construction is one of the least digitized industries and chances are, you and your employees are still using physical paperwork to manage documentation. But with the workplace becoming increasingly remote due to the current pandemic, this is the perfect time to shift towards digital.
More than a change in your processes, it is also a cultural shift. There will likely be some resistance among your old-school staff members, but by changing their mindset given the current circumstances and making the effort to guide them, they will get used to it sooner than you think.
2. Choose one system and centralize document storage
There are plenty of construction document management systems currently available on the market. Whatever you choose, make sure you use just one and stick to it. Having only one system will ensure that everyone will end up with the same and updated information. In addition, there should be no changes issued through other means such as physical paper or email to prevent any confusion.
You should also store your documents in a central location. By having one place where all of your architectural plans, invoices, lien documents, contracts, and other important documents are located, you will save a lot of time looking for them when you need them.
3. Use cloud storage for accessibility
Even before COVID-19, construction work was already done in multiple locations—at home, in the office, and on the construction site. But because of the crisis, many employees are forced to work from home. It is crucial that your people have immediate access to information. Improve accessibility, even at home, by using the cloud to store them. This way, even if their digital devices do not have enough storage, they can still access information wherever they are.
Document Management Lessons to Learn From COVID-19
Management of documentation has always been one of the dreaded tasks in the construction process. It is labor-intensive, time-consuming, and really not the most exciting part of the industry. But the importance of construction document management has been made apparent by the need to have employees work from home due to the pandemic.
Construction businesses with legacy document management systems were trapped by the current situation. Workers who were ordered to stay at home were either unable to do work because they could not access the documents or declared essential and ordered to come back to the office to access them. Not only does this highlight the inefficiencies of the process, but it also endangers employees given the current situation.
Moving forward, all construction businesses should strategize with their document management. By shaping work culture, improving document accessibility, and leveraging new technologies, the construction industry can weather this crisis and advance to the new normal.