When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Shawna Guevara, managing director of McKinney, Texas-based Landmark Structural Builders, wanted to send as many people home as possible.
“If the job duty or job title was not obligated contractually to be on the jobsite, then we did open it up for that person or that position to become remote,” she said.
Despite workplace changes to better manage the pandemic over nearly four years, the remote option hasn’t changed for offsite workers such as estimators, she said.
“We noticed the ability to shift a little bit and allow for remote work to still be possible,” she said.
Landmark isn’t the only one. Here’s what hybrid and remote work looks like in construction today.
Challenging, but not impossible
In 2019, 3.15% of construction employees had a mixed or hybrid arrangement, and 8.01% worked from home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2021, the most recent year for which data is available, hybrid work bumped up slightly to 3.41%, and work from home to 10.16%
That work-from-home number is lower than the national average of 17.9%, according to the Census Bureau. Given the hands-on nature of construction, that’s not surprising.
“Hybrid work arrangements can be challenging in the construction industry due to the inherently on-site nature of the work,” said Brad Squibb, vice president of North America for Minneapolis-based Adzuna, a job aggregator firm that runs employment sites in several countries. “The hands-on and collaborative nature of construction projects often requires real-time coordination and communication, making it difficult to seamlessly integrate remote work.”
That doesn’t mean it’s not possible, or preferable, and a more flexible work environment can give a company a competitive edge.
“Offering hybrid or remote work can be a valuable differentiator for employers,” Squibb said, which can help contractors attract top talent, and foster a “dynamic, forward-thinking workplace culture.”
In fact, some workers value the option of staying home more than an increased salary. Employees equate remote policies to an 8% pay raise, research from Stanford University, the University of Chicago and Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico found.
From essential to beneficial
Like Landmark, Messer Construction Co. also sent their office-based staff to work from home during the pandemic, said Steven Bestard, chief operating officer of the Cincinnati-based firm.
By June 2020, corporate and regional offices re-opened under prescribed guidelines, and the company considered individual employee needs when it came to remote work over the following months.
Over the last year, Messer assessed flexible/remote work as part of their benefits. Currently, office-based personnel can stay at home one day a week, and have the flexibility to select their hours every day. The company also provides other incentives and payouts tied to attendance and vacation time for employees whose job functions don’t allow them to work remotely.
The company hasn’t reduced its office space even though every person may not be in the office at the same time, Bestard said.
Keeping in touch when apart
While going remote was a pandemic necessity, Landmark realized that the arrangement was beneficial.
Right now, about 60% of its workforce is remote, said Guevara. The company has offices in Northern and Southern California and Texas. They haven’t opened one in Florida yet even though they are actively working there, because their remote policies meant it was unnecessary, although it does plan to open a Florida office in the future, she added.
The company also found that older employees were quicker to embrace remote work than younger ones, and that younger employees still want to be able to learn on the job. Landmark pairs younger workers with a mentor, even though office arrangements differ from when the mentor entered the industry.
Transparency and communication are key to making these kinds of arrangements work, said Bestard. A trial period to see if a remote or hybrid arrangement is a fit may also be a good idea, because it can “build an opportunity for feedback and adjustments if needed.”
Analyzing employee preferences can help organizations determine which roles suit remote or hybrid options and which benefit most from collaboration in-person, experts say. It’s not a one-time decision, however: Follow up by tracking engagement levels and job satisfaction to help employers adjust and fine tune the policy over time.
Managers should also “build a system where feedback is encouraged,” said Squibb, which can help employees with challenges they may have with remote work, or share any concerns they have that remote or hybrid policies are not fair to everyone.
Doing so would provide a channel to “proactively address concerns and foster an inclusive environment, ensuring any resentment is identified and addressed promptly,” Squibb said.