Drive Construction Productivity Through Digitization

Contractors can take small steps towards digitization by starting with a digital timesheet, then implementing real-time entry with real-time allocation of job costs.
By Mike Merrill
June 9, 2020

In a global economy where productivity is often monitored to the last minute, labor productivity has grown by 2.8% over the past two decades according to McKinsey. The construction industry lags behind that with 1% productivity increase over the same time period. The good news is that through technology, the construction industry can now catch up to these other world industries and by doing so would add $1.6 trillion to the global economy. The same report showed that construction companies that embrace digitization, new materials and advanced automation increase overall productivity by 50 – 60%.

To drive productivity, it needs to be measured. There are easy to use solutions that offer multiple options to digitize time, job costs and productivity tracking. Technology has the power to simplify how data is collected, allowing fast and accurate time and productivity tracking so stakeholders can effectively manage schedules and budgets. New technology gives the option to allocate key data to relevant projects, tasks or cost codes to help keep it all organized.

For example, construction companies can implement an employee time tracking solution that collects and allocates job costs with live field data in real-time or after-the-fact entry, depending on when they are able to collect the data and at the frequency they want.

A company can take small steps towards digitization by starting with a digital timesheet, then moving towards real-time entry with real-time allocation of job costs. Productivity data can be automatically integrated into any of the popular payroll and accounting solutions to accurately track job costs and completed work and compare it to the budget. But not every collection method will work for every situation––there are pros and cons for each.

Most accurate collection and best allocation

When employees or supervisors enter time and production in real time and allocate job costs in real time, construction businesses will achieve the most accurate data to instantly see what’s happening on the project. They can take action immediately before going over budget. With today’s modern software, an individual can clock in or out of a system in 5 seconds. When a user logs into a cloud-based time tracking solution with live field data, most systems capture GPS and facial recognition data to ensure that employees are not logging hours to a project when they are not at the physical job site location.

Construction businesses that collect and allocate these job costs in real-time using GPS and face recognition know they have the right employee in the right location and they’re tracking their tasks and completed work to the right project. Even when something isn’t right at the time of the clock in/out, such as a bad image collection or weak GPS satellite that location––the user is still able to finish the login and get to work. The system simply flags the activity for review by a supervisor or payroll administrator at a later time.

This gives supervisors insights into key productivity metrics of labor hours and the production units of the completed work per task, so they can manage multiple sites and compare different teams and individuals––even enabling them to manage more projects remotely.

Consistency is key, as real-time data collection requires workers to clock in every time they arrive onsite and whenever they switch tasks.

Achieving accurate time entry, production and job cost allocations

A concrete worker has three tasks on a given day––mixing concrete, pouring concrete slabs and finishing the concrete slabs. In a real-time job tracking system, the concrete worker clocks in at the beginning of the shift and selects the task or cost code for mixing concrete. After the mixing is complete, the worker clocks in for pouring concrete slabs by entering the quantity of concrete mixed. When that task is finished, the worker enters how many cubic yards were poured and selects the next task for finishing slabs. When finishing is complete, the worker enters the number of square feet finished and clocks out.

This creates an accurate picture of the worker’s activity, how long it took to do it and how much work was completed. This helps identify the most productive employees or crews and establishes best practices to improve productivity across an entire organization. Estimators and business owners can maximize profitability by providing an accurate historical job cost information for more accurate bids on future similar projects.

Most accurate collection and better allocation

The concrete worker was responsible for clocking in; entering information on mixing, pouring and finishing the cement slabs; and clocking out. In another possible workflow, the supervisor reviews the crew’s time and “allocate” after the fact the crew’s tasks, cost codes and productivity units completed for each shift.

This workflow has positives and negatives. It will still achieve a high level of accuracy with the total number of labor hours, but the accuracy of the hours associated with each task and the quantities completed per task are more likely estimates than true actuals. As a result, the project could end up over budget or having a missed deadline from these assumptions versus verified accurate results.

Improved collection and better allocation

Construction businesses can still realize the benefits of digitization with productivity gains using a digital timesheet. Digital timesheets allow employees or supervisors to enter hours worked, assign it to a project and task, and also enter production quantities at any time prior to payroll being processed. This form of tracking is most comparable to a paper or spreadsheet-based timesheet. In addition, the data from a previous day or weekly timesheet can be copied and recreated into the new timesheet.

Digital tracking is a good starting point for a company that currently uses paper or spreadsheets to track labor and allocations. Advantages to digitizing timesheets are accuracy of the labor hours, job costs and production.

With a digital timesheet, payroll employees spend less time auditing each timesheet because the time tracking solution automatically and accurately applies overtime, shift rules and pay groups, reducing payroll processing time by 50%. The digital timesheet can be used by both hourly and salaried employees.

Although it isn’t perfect and the data is typically the least accurate compared to the other options described above-- it is the most familiar process of the three tracking options. Digital timesheets rely on employees' memories of what happened at the end of the day or payroll period. This can result in higher labor costs and inaccurate reporting of completed work on a project.

Take the first step today

The best part of today’s technology is that it is based in the cloud, with offerings as nimble as a busy team needs. Each workflow tracking approach will increase a team’s productivity and can be seamlessly worked into current practices. Starting is as easy as beginning with the digital entry of time and allocations for a single team and slowly expanding to all teams––eventually processing the live field data in real time.

Technology is needed, now more than ever, for companies and contractors to remain viable and profitable. Whichever method is most fitting for the time tracking digitization needs can be determined by the importance of accuracy in the reporting for the hours per task and quantities completed. Proper digitized tracking can take the guesswork out of managing remote projects with increased accuracy and productivity, allowing the team to get back to work on what really matters.

by Mike Merrill
Mike Merrill is the co-founder and chief evangelist of WorkMax by AboutTime Technologies and host of The Mobile Workforce Podcast. Mike has been an entrepreneur and business owner in the construction and technology industry for nearly three decades.

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