Construction needs to get to grips about flexible working

A female engineer

Construction is heading for a perfect storm and needs to make itself more attractive to new entrants or face some potentially difficult consequences. Flexible working has a leading role to play, according to Carol Massay, head of construction at The Access Group

In Q1 this year, there were 2.1m people employed or self-employed in construction, according to ONS data. It won’t come as a great surprise, but 86% of those were male and research confirms the demographics to be disproportionately older, with the over-60 group growing fastest and under-30s reducing quickest.

Flexible working to reduce workforce crisis

Many businesses introduced new working models during the pandemic, while others have been left behind in terms of providing more flexibility. The construction sector involves location-based work and often a culture of long hours. The increasing challenges with the ageing workforce, the lack of gender diversity and skills shortage have contributed to wellbeing issues among workers and forced the industry to search for long-term solutions.

In construction, flexible and remote working seemed impossible; however, now it looks to become a standard demand from employees. Providing flexible options to construction teams means giving them greater control of their working pattern. I also believe it has a major role to play in making some positive changes and improving motivation for office staff.

Introducing a new flexible policy in construction in site-based roles doesn’t come without significant challenges, though, due to specific roles on site and fixed constraints – such as site opening times, interdependence between teams and trades, limited access and tight timescales.

A new approach for appealing flexible working

Construction leaders can take this as an opportunity to introduce a new output-based model, which means teams can schedule the work to suit them instead of turning up for a fixed number of hours each day.

This mentality can be adopted for site-based teams if projects are broken down into tasks or sections. An ideal solution would be to use the activities that were used to build up the price in the first place. In this way, site managers could provide the various teams involved in an activity with the fixed constraints (price, timescale, output) and let them decide how to arrange themselves best to get it done.

This doesn’t absolve the site manager of all responsibility, however, as the teams are now more focused on efficiency, there may be a natural focus on quality. Arguably, an hours-based approach doesn’t focus on quality either so perhaps nothing changes from this perspective.

Once teams are empowered to arrange their own work based on outputs rather than time, they are more likely to embrace flexibility.

Little changes, big impact

Flexibility in itself is not homogenous, different people want different things. In my experience as head of construction, a small amount of flexibility makes a big impact on people’s lives – such as leaving early for appointments, being in for deliveries, having a few hours off for sports day.

Aside from the practical side, changes such as this can be difficult to swallow from a cultural standpoint too, especially within management, who often equate time spent on site to output. This culture of long hours should disappear and businesses should encourage on-site workers to dare to ask to work differently without the fear of being judged.

The question remains over how this can be achieved without disruption to sites and projects. The motivation for hourly-paid workers (employed or self-employed) is to work as many hours as possible, which can be at direct odds to getting the work done quickly.

Projects are priced by activity, which build up to create an overall cost, that cost being somewhat fixed to save for variations. In the traditional setup, there is actually a disconnect between project and worker, which has been allowed to exist due to the belief that maximising worker hours means efficient project completion.

More construction companies might have to start saying that as long as the work gets done and core functions are provided, they allow workers to work based on their own schedule – meaning not everyone needs to be on-site all of the time.

An attractive construction industry to new entrants

The construction industry needs to make changes. Implementing flexible working for site-based workers, as well as office staff, is achievable and, if managed sensibly, would make construction more appealing to the workforce, including women who tend to opt out of non-flexible patterns due to caring responsibilities.

Permanent flexible working frameworks, including staggered start and end times, flexible breaks, part-time work, job-sharing and phased retirement are beneficial to the whole industry.

If construction businesses start to take a different approach to create a new working scheme, flexibility will make a huge difference in productivity and work-life balance in a sector that hasn’t evolved much in a long time.

If you’d like to read more about The Access Group, please visit this site.


Source: pbc today

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