By Cheryl Bikowski

A lack of communication on construction sites can lead to costly delays and much worse. The wrong materials could be installed or a significant element overlooked. Find ways to improve communications and establish guidelines for preventing miscommunication. Here are five ways to get your construction staff on the right track.

Use meetings properly

Most construction groups hold weekly or even daily safety meetings. Covering the required safety topics is important, but this time should also be used to cover any other important issues on the agenda. To keep meetings orderly, one individual should be in charge of the discussion. Each group supervisor can create a list of their current problems, including parts shortages or change orders. The designated employee can go over the areas and keep conversations from wandering to eliminate wasted time. Simply arranging for all workers to meet for five or 10 minutes before or after a shift will provide the time needed for keeping everyone updated.

Post notices

Gang boxes and break areas are good locations for posting notices. Use a system of having employees initial notices after reading them. This will allow you to know which workers may have missed the information and you can reach out to them directly. Notices can provide information on everything from change orders to scheduled meetings.

Be approachable

This can be a critical issue on construction sites. As a general manager or supervisor, your time is often spent chasing down problems. Staying in one location for any length of time is difficult. Paying attention to every small problem is even more difficult. Unfortunately, if workers feel they cannot communicate with you, things will get out of control quickly. If your situation does not allow for individual contact, make sure that supervisors are available to all workers on crews. Employees must be able to go to a supervisor when problems develop, and the small problems are often the ones that quickly become major work interruptions.

Follow a chain of command

Because communication errors can be so costly, you need to make sure that you establish a strong chain of command. Again, you may not always be available, which leaves crew supervisors in the position of making critical decisions. The responsibility level of each supervisor depends of the exact nature of your business, but all workers must know where to go to get the answers they require. Your supervisors can then contact you or handle problems and advise you of the solutions later.

Use technology for all workers

Communication will be greatly improved when issues are relayed immediately. Cellphones are not always the answer on construction sites, especially for heavy equipment operators. Tablets or laptop computers can be used to store current blueprints and can be updated quickly through wireless technology. These can be easily mounted in heavy equipment to provide operators with the latest data they need to get their work done the right way. By adding GPS tracking, supervisors will always know where operators are, reducing the time spent locating operators and equipment. Making technology work for you will reduce communication delays and mistakes. Each supervisor has the ability to use their own device to keep in touch with crew members. Changes to blueprints can be made without finding each outstanding hard copy and replacing it. While this may not eliminate all errors, it will make your daily operations easier while providing more control over individual stages.

Cheryl Bikowski (left) is the Marketing Communications Supervisor at Gamber-Johnson. Gamber-Johnson is the leading provider of computer and tablet mounts for forklifts and other heavy equipment vehicles in the construction industry.        

Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact [email protected] or [email protected].

By Hunter Hoffmann Six years after the 2008 financial crisis, the construction, architectural and engineering businesses are looking up. According to the recently released 6th annual Hiscox Small Business Insurance DNA of an Entrepreneur report, optimism among building and construction small business owners (SBOs) is higher going into 2015 than it was last year. More than half (51 percent) of building and construction SBOs are optimistic about the year ahead for their businesses, compared to only 43 percent in last year’s study. But, there are still some concerns. Here’s what small business owners within the construction, architectural and engineering market sectors are most worried about for the year ahead:
  • Stress continues to build in the construction industry: Although optimism has risen, stress among construction small business owners has been constant over the past two years. According to the report, 40 percent of U.S.-based construction small business owners are suffering from increased stress due to the economic climate.
  • Fearful of delivering cost increases, and clients who don’t pay: One of the biggest fears for small construction businesses in the United States is passing cost increases on to their customers, as 51 percent of participants reported. Although they are fearful of passing on costs, an equal number see not being paid by clients as a major risk to their business that they don’t have insurance for — down slightly from 58 percent reported last year.
  • Government bureaucracy is a major barrier: Construction is one of the most regulated industries, so it may not come as a surprise that 77 percent of industry respondents believe government bureaucracy is a major barrier to setting up their own business. Construction small business owners spend more than two hours, or 123 minutes, per week dealing with government rules and regulations.
Although there are still some areas of concern, the construction industry is seeing a positive uptick and increased activity thanks to the economic environment. Architectural and engineering small business owners should be optimistic as they turn the corner into the new year. Hunter Hoffmann is head of US communications at Hiscox Small Business Insurance and is responsible for media relations, social media, internal communications and executive messaging. Hunter lives in New York City with his wife and two sons – Walker and Otis. In his spare time, he moonlights as chief marketing officer and deliveryman for Junior’s Fresh, a fresh baby and toddler food delivery service and pre-school meal provider in New York City founded by his wife, Michelle. Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact [email protected] or [email protected].

By David Smith

Nowadays, like it or not, we are all global companies. Many of our suppliers are based overseas, some of our staff were trained or grew up overseas, and many of the products we use were manufactured and designed overseas. While this means you may be facing stiff competition at home, the Chinese saying “when the wind blows, you can build a shelter or a windmill" is worth bearing in mind. In these global times, it’s never been easier to find foreign construction opportunities and grow your business overseas.

The basic process for finding foreign opportunities is pretty similar to the process you use to find opportunities at home. Firstly, identify suitable opportunities. This can be done via a great variety of websites, journals and professional associations. Most countries have something like a business council or chamber of commerce which will definitely help you find suitable opportunities. Nowadays, they are usually affordable and run regular and useful events. Some countries such as China make very significant efforts to attract foreign partners and will do a lot of the leg-work for you.

Once you’ve identified the opportunities, the next step is to put yourself forward. This can be a bit harder than bidding on local contracts. The language barrier can be an issue for example, as can dealing with foreign currencies, time zones, and work and labor regulations. The good thing is that once you’ve been through the process, and you’ve got all your information ready, it’s much easier to apply for the next suitable contact. That’s why I would recommend doing a “dry run” where you follow the process for bidding for a client and get all the documents they would require, but don’t submit them. Instead, you can keep them and be ready to use them for real the next time. This means you have much less time pressure in preparing your presentation. Just a quick warning at this point: It is often necessary to pay for the “tender document.” If it’s relatively affordable, it’s worth a try, but do your research before hand, as you won’t be able to make use of it if it’s totally out of your skill set. I’ve seen a few “tender documents” which just seemed like an excuse to sell tender documents in the past, so do some research beforehand. Watch out for spammy websites offering to sell the documents at half the price. Once your name is out there, you may start being invited to bid on invitational tenders which are not open to the public, so even if the tender doesn’t lead to any work, it will definitely be a big benefit to your company moving forwards. Then hopefully you’ll start either getting feedback or actually winning some foreign contracts.

The entire process must seem very daunting, especially to smaller, younger companies, but I can say from my own experience, it has certainly been worthwhile. Having a few foreign jobs means you’ll have some other currencies coming in, which can protect against depreciation of the dollar. You’ll also be insulated against anything but a completely global recession or slowdown. The initial effort isn’t going to be easy, but it’s not as difficult as people expect. If your company really offers a good product or service, then why wouldn’t clients in the rest of the world want to work with you?

David Smith was born in the United Kingdom, and studied physics and astronomy at University College London, graduating in 1997. After this, he lived in China for almost a decade. During his stay in Beijing, he completed a graduate program in civil engineering. He then obtained a Master’s degree in technical translation at Imperial College London. Since graduating, David is now director of "technical translation company," Constructive Translations. David is a member of the Institute of Linguists and of the Institute of Translators and Interpreters. He enjoys combining his two main passions – engineering and the Chinese language – for his work. He can be contacted at [email protected].
Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact [email protected] or [email protected].  

By Jennifer Friedman

The threat of identity theft isn’t just something individuals need to fear. Businesses too can fall victim, and often with detrimental consequences. While keeping your business identity information secure is critical, it is not always easy to do. Corporations and LLCs are easy targets for identity thieves because many important pieces of information, such as your federal tax employer identification number, are often public and available through the secretary of state’s office. Armed with these records, identity thieves can impersonate your business to open fraudulent credit cards and charge thousands of dollars to your business. Understanding how to monitor for suspicious business activity will ensure your business is protected against identity thieves who can tarnish both your bottom line and reputation. Keep the following tips in mind to drastically minimize your risk of business identity theft.

File Your Annual Report on Time

To avoid falling victim to business identity theft, you should stay on target to complete all necessary business forms and reports, which includes renewing your annual report on time. Failure to renew your annual report on time is a signal to thieves that you are not paying close attention to your business standing.

Obtain a Commercial Credit Report

Be sure to request a commercial credit report annually to review your company’s credit summary, key personnel and other significant factors to ensure there are no unexpected – or unexplainable – changes. This is a nearly foolproof way for you to spot unauthorized actions. It also lets you take a big picture look at how your company is performing and how potential partners and investors view the business. In addition to regularly checking your finances, another tip is to keep an eye out for businesses with similar names by doing a trademark search. This will prevent important documents from getting mixed up and help creditors differentiate your business easily.

Communicate with your Registered Agent

A common business identity theft tactic that criminals employ is changing a business’ registered agent so important notices and statements are rerouted. Since a registered agent is tasked with accepting tax and legal notices, this leaves you in the dark when government agencies try to alert you of abnormal transactions. Secretaries of State often operate under “good faith filing” and generally accept filed information and revision without reviewing or confirming information. Stay in contact with your registered agent to check in on your business documents to ensure everything is up to date and secure.

Dissolve Your Business When the Time Comes

Another way to avoid identity theft is to make sure you properly dissolve your company. When you decide to stop your business, there are many potential risks if you don’t dissolve it correctly. For example, identity thieves can take advantage of the business that you are no longer monitoring. Protecting your business identity is essential. Good faith guidelines and publicly available information make small businesses especially susceptible to identity theft, and resolving identity theft issues can be an arduous process that drains both time and money. Stay on top of necessary legal document filings and meet with advisers such as your registered agent to greatly improve your security and help you avoid trouble in the first place.

Jennifer Friedman is the CMO of the small business segment of CT, a Wolters Kluwer Company, which provides legal compliance solutions to the small-business community. In this role, she directs all activities related to digital marketing and advertising to help build the brand through innovation, partnerships, and enhancing the customer experience.

Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact [email protected] or [email protected].  

By John Doherty

People are an increasingly valuable source of sustainable competitive advantage for organizations such as engineering and construction firms operating in a global economy that’s characterized by only one certainty – change. Chronic skill gaps combined with a mismatch between demand and supply of talent mean that getting and keeping the right people in the right places at the right time has never been more challenging. Against this background, CEOs of engineering and construction companies are once again citing a lack of key skills as one of the hottest issues on their agenda. HR leaders are being challenged to mobilize talent to help businesses grow. This is prompting many companies to ask if it is time to reevaluate talent management strategies?

Measure to Manage

Research indicates that only a minority of CEOs are getting comprehensive HR management information for the measures they say are important. Analytics research shows some interesting correlations:

  • Organizations with higher revenues relative to their human capital investment (i.e., people productivity) are experiencing higher rates of revenue growth (less than 20 percent per year) compared to their competitors. They invest more in recruiting and display better quartile performance in improved acceptance rates for job offers and more rapid time to hire.
  •  In terms of people management, organizations with lower rates of employee absenteeism and resignation as well as a greater performance-related component in their reward (compared to competitors), display stronger revenue productivity relative to human capital investment and grow their revenues more quickly over time than competitors.
  • On a similar basis, these higher performing organizations typically invest more in training.

Managing Talent to Deliver Value

Over many years working with 90 percent of the engineering and construction firms  in the Fortune 500, I have found  organizations each see ‘talent’ in a unique way, based on business strategy and goals. For instance, there are some businesses that need to rapidly upscale their operations, while others struggle to incentivize and keep their star performers in pivotal roles. But overall, getting talent management right means firms should worry less about their talent problems and more about their business opportunities. This will enable them to identify the specific areas of talent management that could add the most value to their business and the improvements that deliver the best return on investment.

John Doherty serves as PwC’s US engineering and construction advisory leader. He has more than 35 years of experience in industry and expertise in the areas of strategic planning, large capital program management, project risk assessment, project bidding, buyout optimization, project execution improvement, supply chain management, strategic planning and IT management and application implementation. John received his Bachelor of Science in Geology from Boston College, a Master of Science in Geology from Dartmouth College, and an MBA from Boston University’s Graduate School of Business.

Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact [email protected] or [email protected].

By Mike Karlskind

Ensuring a safe work environment can be accomplished relatively easily when individuals work in a controlled office environment, but it becomes exponentially more complicated when employees are mobile, traveling from one job or worksite to another. While many organizations implement mobile workforce management solutions to make their operations and staff more efficient, there is another less known, but perhaps even more important, benefit: the ability to offer greater protection of those workers. Here’s a quick look at some ways that mobile workforce management solutions can help keep workers safe by simply knowing their location.

Find Your Employees at a Moment’s Notice

GPS technology is standard in today’s mobile devices. By providing staff with GPS-enabled mobile phones, managers can use an application to make sure that employees are where they’re supposed to be and all work is progressing as planned. GPS also lets managers quickly check on the location of an employee if he or she hasn’t checked in recently. By way of example, a non-profit organization, Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina, relies on GPS and a mobile workforce management solution to find drivers who are picking up donations from homes and transferring merchandise from their donation centers to retails stores. If a driver does not arrive as planned, managers can use GPS in the driver's phone to see if he or she is en route or at the expected destination.

Know If and When Employees Enter or Leave Specific Areas

Geofencing enables employers to denote a specific geographic territory for their mobile workers. With geofencing, managers can easily set up geographic boundaries where, and only where, employees are needed to be and have the app send a notification if an individual crosses in or out of that area. For example, public safety organizations, including police departments in major U.S. cities, use geofencing to proactively identify whether an officer has entered an area where they might typically need back-up. Once such a movement has been identified, additional officers can be dispatched immediately to provide assistance before something goes wrong.

Mike Karlskind has more than 15 years of experience streamlining processes and optimizing decisions for service organizations in a wide variety of industries including computer services, utilities, telecommunications, capital equipment, home services, retail services, construction, insurance, and medical equipment.

Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact [email protected] or [email protected].    

By Todd Bryant

When a federal or state government is seeking to offset some of the cost for a public works project, they can choose to engage in a public private partnership, or P3, project. According to the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, P3s "are public-private agreements in which the private sector takes on some of the risks and rewards of financing, constructing (or leasing), and operating and maintaining a facility in exchange for the right to future revenues or payments for a specified terms.” For the government, the appeal is to harness the expertise and efficiency of the private sector to a project. For the private sector, the incentive to invest their own assets is to receive a share of the profits.

How do P3’s differ from other public works projects?

In a traditional public works project, a government agency has designed a project. The specific parameters have been set, and bids from private firms are solicited. Once the lowest responsible bidder has been chosen, they undertake the project. Once it’s been constructed, the public agency is responsible for the maintenance of the project. A P3 project differs in that the private party enters the project earlier, and is capable of greater decision-making power. The bidding process works in a similar way as with conventional public works projects. However, rather than coming on at the construction stage, the private entity can participate in earlier stages like design and financing or later stages like operation and maintenance of the now-completed project. Ultimately, these are the 5 points at which a private entity can engage in a P3 project: design, financing, construction, operation and maintenance.

Who are the participants?

P3 projects are often referred to as concessions, because the government agency concedes additional aspects of the project to the private sector. Consequently, the private actor is often referred to as the private concessionaire. The public partner is often a traditional public agency: federal or state governments, state governors, local governments or the US Department of Transportation. Private concessionaires are often equity investors, bondholders, commercial lenders, or concessions companies. Concessions companies are often established as Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs), which speak to the size and complexity of projects.

What’s so special about SPVs?

One of the most compelling reasons for making a public-works project a P3 project is the size and cost of a project. Often, there isn’t enough money in a government budget to pay for the entire project. This is the sort of situation that usually creates a P3 concession. According to the Comptroller of the State of New York, “an SPV — sometimes known as a consortium, a sole purpose entity or a project company — might be created by a construction company working with a private bank, an engineering firm and a number of smaller firms, to design, build, finance, operate and maintain new infrastructure. Each participating company contributes expertise and resources to the project while the SPV structure limits the exposure of the parent companies to potential losses.”

Protect Your Investments

For a P3 project, which typically involves large sums of money, contract bonds are a must. Contract bonds, often incorrectly called construction bonds, cover a variety of categories of three-party agreement. For a private entity seeking to engage in a P3 project, bid and performance bonds will be first on the list. These surety bonds guarantee that a contractor can fulfill the terms of their contract and are the first step to becoming a concessionaire.

Todd Bryant is the President and Founder of Bryant Surety Bonds. He is a surety bonds expert with years of experience in helping contractors get bonded and start their business.

Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact [email protected] or [email protected].

By Dustin Rohrbach

Construction managers across the U.S. are being challenged to develop creative solutions in response to rising construction costs.  According to Engineering News Record, costs for commercial construction building and materials were up more than two percent above inflation when compared to a year ago. As construction activity increases, firms can become more selective in the projects they pursue, resulting in decreased competition in the marketplace. The cost of common materials also rises as the supply is reduced and demand elevated. Prior to 2014, most construction managers accounted for zero to three percent inflation and/or general escalation.  However, the most recent market trends now dictate five to seven percent annual inflation and/or escalation factors for projects that will be delivered in 2015 and beyond.

Below are tips owners or facility managers can use to control increasing costs:

  • Avoid escalation. This is probably the most important recommendation. Some components of a project (roofing/insulation as an example), may require adding up to seven percent to an estimate for appreciation.  It sounds simple, but if you are considering a construction project, the advice is straightforward: build it now because there will be a premium if you wait.
  • Invest in the architect. One aspect of a commercial construction job worth the added expense is at the planning and design stage. The best protection against rising construction costs during a project is to lower the risk of unplanned changes. Missed details or sloppy work in commercial construction design can end up costing a lot. Disordered preparation can result in changes that amounted to 10 to 15 percent of the original total commercial construction costs. It’s smarter and less nerve-racking to pay sound architects well, rather than stressing over the work of an inexperienced group that may seem like good deal. If the architect is strong, you could save in excess of five percent in change orders alone due to bad details, incomplete drawings, unsubstantiated assumptions, etc.
  • Consider a Design-Build Approach. If you want to really lessen the chance of a planning-stage disaster, go with a design/build delivery method. The main advantages an owner gains with a design-build contract is a complete shift of risk from the owner to the design-build team, one sole source contract (which means streamlined communication/gained efficiencies), a reduction in the project schedule (up to 33 percent), and an average decrease in cost overruns by 12.6 percent.
  • Reclaim materials and systems when possible. On commercial construction retrofits and over hauls, if feasible, use existing materials or systems such as air conditioners and plumbing. The savings can be significant. When working with your construction manager to estimate commercial construction costs, ask them to evaluate the current condition of major building systems rather than simply ordering new. This helps avoid rising costs of construction from material pricing escalation.
  • Use a builder that builds or has a field workforce.  This sounds basic, but not all construction managers build. Using a builder that employs its own workforce drives efficiencies that can’t be offered by any construction manager. Construction managers that self-perform are more nimble, can start earlier and can go faster. They even have the ability to quickly step-in when subcontractors are under performing.

There is no one answer to hedge against rising costs in general, but a good commercial construction manager should be able to approach the task holistically and find several ways to keep commercial construction costs predictable.

Dustin Rohrbach is vice president in charge of the Columbus office of Danis Building Construction.

Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact [email protected] or [email protected].


By Jenna Puckett

You’ve probably heard about the benefits of construction project management software, such as analytics and reporting tools that can streamline operations and provide accurate, real time insights into project cost and efficiency. However, if you haven’t gotten around to implementing such software yet, you’re not alone. Construction companies spend less on IT than any other industry and continually struggle to both manage project data and use it to their advantage.

Centralizing Construction Information Is Key

Incredible organization is required to successfully manage large architecture, engineering, and construction projects with countless moving parts. Each part of a construction project generates vast amounts of data. When all of this information is kept in separate spreadsheets and documents, it’s difficult to make fast, data-driven decisions. Let’s examine some of the ways these tools can improve your operations.

Collaboration Through Document Sharing

Vast amounts of documents are exchanged during a project: purchase orders, change orders, requests for information, drawing sets, contracts, submittals, photos, and so on. Electronically managing documents improves communication between all parties. Additionally, with all your documents organized in one place, it’s possible to streamline the search process. Many platforms have advanced search functions designed to help locate relevant information by inspecting document contents or metadata tags, erasing the need to manually sort through papers.

Labor Tracking and Performance Management

Project management tools can replace handwritten field reports, daily logs, and timesheets with employee time tracking solutions. Tracking labor progress as it happens allows managers to remotely capture accurate time and attendance records, which tells them where workers and what kind of labor costs they should expect. If one group is running over budget, managers can “drill-down” to see the source of inefficiency, such as labor or supply. This can help answer questions such as, should you replace your plumbing subcontractor or just buy from a different supplier?

Equipment Tracking

Asset management, equipment tracking, and tool assignment are all features that allow managers to know where tools and equipment are. These features allow you to track, and record metrics like equipment use, location, hours used, and mileage. This data can also be used to verify payroll hours, determine if additional equipment is needed, and assess operator performance.

Real-time Information for Swift Decisions

The opportunity to manage construction operations remotely is a major benefit of project management tools and the data they can generate. From increased collaboration and organization, to labor tracking and equipment management, such data allows managers to view bottlenecks and immediately determine if a project is on schedule. This information doesn’t just help streamline projects. It can also be used to build more accurate bids in the future. Companies can look at past projects and estimate the time, cost, and resources necessary for similar future projects. For companies looking to gain a competitive edge by streamlining their operations, project management tools and data are key.

Jenna Puckett is a staff writer for TechnologyAdvice. She covers topics related to gamification, employee performance, project management, and other emerging tech trends. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact [email protected] or [email protected].  

By Anna Karadzhova

The job of a construction project manager is extremely heavy with responsibility. It requires a great set of skills, which is perhaps one of the reasons construction companies are struggling to fill positions for construction project managers. To make your work more cost-effective and streamlined, look no further than these five expert tips.

No. 1 – Use Great Software Software for construction project management can automate and streamline as much or as little of your work as you want, helping you finish tasks on time and stay within budget. Depending on how much you can spend, there are different options to consider. Some software providers, such as Build Tools, can create a custom solution that has only the features you want, so you don’t pay for anything extra. If your budget is tight, cheap or free construction apps can still go a long way.

No. 2 – Reduce Construction Bond Cost A great way to make you public construction project bid as low as possible without sacrificing quality, is to save money on your construction bonds. The easiest way to get a good premium is to contact a surety bond agency that has many partnering sureties. The agents will do the shopping for you and match you with the surety that offers the best deal. Good agents can also give you additional tips on decreasing your construction bond cost, such as showing strong financial statements and putting all of your experience on your resume.

No. 3 – Improve Your Communication Skills You don't just have to deal with employees, but also with project owners, clients, engineers, architects and the construction crew, making good communication skills an absolute must. Try this quick quiz to get an idea of how you're currently doing. One of the most crucial parts is being able to identify conflicts, so you can settle them before they turn into full-blown problems. You don’t want a dispute that goes out of hand to delay your project and get you into additional trouble.

No. 4 – Log Daily Activities Some projects will require you to write a log for reasons of compliance, but you can go beyond that to really keep the chaos at bay. Keeping a log of daily activities, all details included, can help resolve disputes that arise later on, be it with your boss or with a dissatisfied client. This can also give you peace of mind. In order to avoid getting lost in a big project due to the many tasks you're tackle at once, you can create “milestones” which will help you touch base with the main timeline.

No. 5 – Choose Reliable Subcontractors You may be a diligent worker, but your success also depends on the people you engage. You can't fully protect yourself from accidents, but you can minimize the risk by choosing your subcontractors wisely. Working with the same subcontractors is great if you are happy with their work. But if you're not satisfied, check out apps like SmartBidNet, to look for subcontractors that best match your needs.

Anna Karadzhova loves delving into the nitty gritty details of bonding for the construction industry. She regularly contributes premium content for JW Surety Bonds.

Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact [email protected] or [email protected].

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