Adaptation has always been the cornerstone of successful businesses. But perhaps never before has flexibility and resilience been as important in a post-pandemic world. Successfully navigating sudden and unforeseen changes to everything from our working environment to management models is a required skill.
Technology plays a central role in speedy and successful adaptation. We only need to look to the pivotal role video-conferencing technology, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, had in connecting workplaces during lockdowns for proof. In a recent article for Forbes, Founder and Managing Partner of Blumberg Capital David Blumberg spoke regarding the dramatic uptake in technology post-pandemic.
“Covid-19 has catalyzed the accelerated adoption of AI-based business analytics, workflow and process automation,” writes Blumberg. “A survey of 500 data professionals conducted in April 2020 discovered that 49% of companies were using data analytics “more or much more” than they did before Covid-19.”
Almost every construction company in Australia found itself introducing new technology over the last twelve months. However, what does this transition to upgraded technology systems and processes look like? How can we make it as streamlined as possible? We spoke to Emile Cloete, Digital Lead at Woollam Constructions, and Jamie Spooner, Team HSE Manager at Hutchinson Builders, about their real-world experience in adopting new technologies—and their advice for those navigating the ins and outs of new technology.
Take Adoption Slower for Success
The first step to implementing meaningful change is by establishing a realistic pace. Not everything can be tackled right away—in fact, committing to a slower pace is going to allow your team to calmly change their ways of working and get used to the changes.
“When it came to looking at what technology we wanted to adopt, we worked to separate what was an ‘innovation’ and was what an ‘essential need’,” says Emile. “Things that were a value proposition with a positive impact were great, but there was no rush to introduce them immediately.”
Emile explains the last two significant technological introductions at Woolam: Procore has been in play for around 18 months, while Open Space was introduced in April 2020. This staggered approach gave him time to consider two important questions: Firstly, how is the new technology being used within the company? And secondly, what needs do we still have for the future?
When creating a timeline, involve staff from all tiers. From the work site to your C-level meeting room, get a realistic view from the entire company structure on how long they’ll need to learn and adapt. Also, ask them what their expectations are for the future.
People and ‘Change Management’
It’s a term that’s thrown around pretty loosely in modern corporate environments, but ‘change management’ might actually be the most important part of introducing new technology to a workplace. It refers to the education, guidance and support you offer your employees as you ask them to shift routines and learn new skills. Without their support, your new systems simply will not work. It is as simple as that.
Jamie Spooner says that Hutchinson takes a ‘slowly, slowly’ approach to new technologies to allow for the maximum possible time for the staff to settle in. She says that you can’t skip out on providing the support your employees might need during this period.
“My most important advice is to make yourself fully available during training. Spend as much time as you can on the active job. You need to remember that your employees all have different abilities: Some will take to it easily; some won’t. Have the patience and time for those who don’t have the same interest levels as the others.”
Emile agrees, saying that he actually put himself through specific change management training ahead of the introduction of the Open Space program mid last year.
“I learned about key concepts of communication like being clear in advance and letting people know what was coming,” says Emile. He also points to the different modes of communication that they employed for different employee needs. “Everyone learns differently. Some absorb it best through live training; some prefer reading; some prefer audio. It was all about how we can engage people positively.”
One Step at a Time
Breaking down a new technology into bite-size pieces is a great way to reduce stress. It makes training large teams streamlined and achievable. You can organise weekly or monthly training units that address different parts of the technology or even set up round-robin sessions where different groups are assigned different sections and then train the others.
Here’s a simple pathway to breaking down a new technology:
- Logins and storage: where does this program live? How do I access it? Who is my contact if I can’t get in?
- Introduction: from a high level, what is the purpose of this program? What is it replacing or upgrading?
- Fundamentals: what are the ‘basic’ functionalities of this program? What are the three key tools, and how do they work?
- Advanced: building on my basic knowledge, what are the more complex functionalities? If I want to learn more, where is the training?
- Troubleshooting: what are some common problems with this program? Where is the best place to seek help?
Emile calls this approach ‘chunking down’. It helps look at a larger technology from a variety of angles.
“Simplifying the program is a big help for understanding,” explains Emile. “I’m a big fan of ‘chunking it down’ to reduce the risk of overwhelming. Make sure you establish clear and simple objectives to work through and communicate with the team.”
What’s In It For Us?
Maintaining a clear vision of your specific objectives and company needs will keep you focused as you look to introduce new technologies. It’s often really tempting to look to your peers and compare yourself, but with technology being such a large investment, you should ensure you’re covering everything you need—and nothing you don’t.
“Scope what you need, and find a product that fits you perfectly,” recommends Jamie. “Don’t fit the tech to your business, or you’ll end up spending more time fixing and correcting the process.”
Retrofitting a technology to your business model because it’s ‘trendy’ or a ‘must-have’ is a dangerous method. Whilst it may make you feel like you’re on-par with industry peers, it will be an unsatisfactory outlay of time and funds. With so many innovative offerings available in 2021, don’t rush your decision. Research and experiment, and you’ll be sure to find just the right fit. Emile also advises a thorough process of reflecting on your specialised challenges and company requirements.
“Take your time to recognise what’s unique about the business,” says Emile. “Look at your values and the core focus of your business.”
This means taking a close look at your company structure, demographics, budget restrictions, and training setup. It will be completely different from your competition, so keep your eye on the prize and don’t lose focus.
In the years to come, the construction industry will face a variety of new and unexpected challenges. This is quite simply the nature of the game—and to remain competitive, automation and technology must be utilised to increase output in smarter, faster, brighter ways. But as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to prove, construction is an industry that’s quick to respond and adapt, particularly with new technologies.
Take your time, do your research, and always keep your ear to the ground in listening to your employees when adopting new technologies. While the pace of change may feel frantic at the management levels, it’s vital to buffer your staff from feeling rushed or overwhelmed. They will be the secret sauce to pain-free technology introductions and the overall resilience of your company.