How to Prevent Burnout and Encourage Engagement in a Remote Construction Workforce

remote construction workforce engagement

The construction workforce of today looks very different from even a couple of years ago. More construction professionals are remote than ever before due to social distancing requirements and health regulations. Even with a large portion of professionals now back on the jobsite, new processes and procedures have altered their work environment for the foreseeable future.

While many firms are entering a year or even longer of remote work, challenges to employee engagement remain. On the operations side, many firms have adapted their workflows and processes for their remote and hybrid workforces. Still, burnout is a real issue that has the potential to impact all employees. 

Employee engagement is essential to business success, particularly in the areas of productivity and retention. How can firms keep employees engaged when there is so much uncertainty present? According to business management experts at Harvard Business Research, “If you want your teams to be engaged in their work, you have to make their work engaging.”  Let’s explore top strategies for keeping your remote workforce connected in a disconnected world. 

1: Give Employees the Freedom to Explore New Ideas

One of the biggest drivers of burnout besides workload? Monotony. For today’s remote workforce, the lines between working and non-working hours and even the workweek and weekend are blurred. Repetitive, uniform tasks only increase boredom and raise the risk of burnout

To make work engaging, you have to give people the opportunity to explore new ideas and valuable concepts. People want to feel like they’re solving problems that matter. While the actual problems will differ across roles and departments, beginning with a high-level question is a great way to start exploring potential issues and solutions. For the operations side, that might look like, “How can we maximize our resources?” On the customer side of things, you might ask, “What can we add or take away from our customer experience?” These 30,000-foot questions help to generate conversation so you can narrow things down to an identifiable problem and actionable steps. 

employee engagement
The ability to experiment and solve meaningful problems drives motivation, with or without employee choice on where to work.

Top construction firms around the world are already taking the lead to empower their employees to solve real and complex problems at their companies. For instance, the team at Buro Happold, a British engineering consulting and advising firm, sought to answer the question, “How can we help clients solve big problems with advanced technology?” Emidio Piermarini, Associate Director and Lead of Computational Consulting, answered this question by launching the computational consulting department to assist clients involved in real estate development and infrastructure projects solve some challenges using computation and advanced analytics.  

Emidio took an experimental and innovative approach to promoting the service internally by leading the firm’s Hackademy 3.0. During the virtual program, Emidio shared updates from the department, engaged with teams across the firm, and demonstrated new ways to approach engineering through the application of computation.

At Mott MacDonald, a global consulting firm, Maria Mingallon leaned on social purpose to engage and include a larger community of people in design technologies. As the Technical Director of Automation and Computational Design, she focuses on how to deliver tangible outcomes through automation and computational design. When the pandemic began, Maria went into problem-solving mode, pivoting the format to a virtual coding club and using her expertise to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. By collaborating with the Coronavirus Makers Movement, she helped frontline workers by 3D printing face shields and other protective equipment to fight COVID-19. As a result of her 3D printing activism and enthusiasm, several Mott MacDonald offices now include 3D printing as a great design and prototyping tool. 

How do you build a communication strategy to ensure quality project delivery in the times of COVID-19? That’s the question Weston Short, Vice President of Business and Engineering Services at Gaylor Electric, Inc., sought to answer this past year. He needed to be creative in how his engineering team engaged with on-site electricians, field supervision, and customers. Instead of resorting to merely video calls and emails, Weston experimented with the VR/AR capabilities of Revit. By collecting video footage and pushing content to Oculus headsets, Gaylor Electric’s engineering team engaged in real-time collaboration with the jobsite and the fabrication department. Owners were even able to virtually walk through and inspect jobsites from the comfort of their own homes or offices. This innovative solution helped to solve the problem of multi-site collaboration while driving a better employee and customer experience. 

2: Build Trust and Provide a Safe Space

Over the last two decades, society as a whole has faced increasing rates of mental health conditions and emotional distress. The pandemic has only exacerbated these feelings as most people have lost their traditional outlets for relieving stress and connecting socially. Emotional pressure is a concern for all employees but has been shown to be a key demotivating factor for remote employees.

Managers and colleagues can help support employees by establishing a trusting environment and safe space to keep morale up. Trust impacts every aspect of work, particularly the willingness of employees to go the extra mile. Research shows that employees are more likely to go above and beyond at firms with high levels of trust.

As one example, Donald P. Hill, Project Manager at Hensel Phelps demonstrated how to create an inclusive environment through his role as the subcommittee chair for the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement (DICE) Committee at Hensel Phelps. Alongside the DICE committee, Don educated employees on the meaning and importance of Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates the enslaved African American people’s emancipation in the United States. The event not only received overwhelmingly positive feedback but also increased the momentum for the team to engage in challenging conversations in a safe space. 

3: Centralize Technology to Combat App Fatigue

Technology can help to simplify work but it can also introduce more complexities. Technology overload is a contributing factor to burnout. Employees jump from platform to platform and app to app over 1,100 times per day on average. Some remote powerhouse tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams are relatively easy to use, others have much steeper learning curves. This only frustrates and demotivates employees through cumbersome and time-consuming mechanisms. 

So how do you make doing great work simple? It isn’t a matter of forgoing technology and its benefits altogether. Instead, it’s about centralizing technology as much as possible. When employees can work from one system as much as possible, they have a greater opportunity to engage in deep, focused work. Integrations can be used to fill gaps when more than one tool is needed, especially integrations that are automated to reduce manual, tedious work.

4: Nurture Professional Growth and Leadership

A lack of purpose is another key demotivator. Employees who feel their work does not contribute to the success of their organization are more likely to experience burnout. By investing in your employees professionally, you can help them to better understand their purpose and role in the future. 

Training shouldn’t be limited to certifications and once-a-year events. Instead, a continuous learning program can be used to foster engagement, spark new ideas, and encourage buy-in. If a full-scale internal training program is outside the scope of your organization, share industry trade conferences, webinars, and other events on a regular basis. Likewise, investing in the development of future industry leaders will help to encourage talent development and retention. 

Engagement: A Balance of Autonomy and Support

In 2020, only 36% of workers described themselves as engaged, defined by Gallup as “highly involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” As we continue to embrace hybrid and remote working models, we can encourage engagement by giving employees the opportunity to explore challenges and provide the support they need to solve them. 

Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.