We all like a good gossip, and texting, WhatsApp, and even the granddaddy Skype itself make it easier than ever to chat. But there’s a new kid on the block, and it’s hangin’ tough in the construction industry.
Launched in 2018, FieldChat is storming the industry with productivity features that reduce chaos, accelerate progress, and leave Skype wondering whether to retire.
It all started when Katrin Lepik and Stephen Smith came up with the idea of a construction-specific messaging service. With the help of a mutual friend, they spent four months talking to hundreds of construction professionals across 30 different companies before arriving at an unflattering picture of communication on today’s jobsite—a chaotic hodgepodge of emails, text messages, voicemails and phone calls.
Construction is notoriously hard work. Technology should be there to make life easier and support teams rather than make it even harder. However, many of today’s standard communication options are clearly not working for construction teams.
Having worked with construction teams and spent many years in office settings, I knew that effective communication was key to an efficient team.
“Having worked with construction teams and spent many years in office settings, I knew that effective communication was key to an efficient team. It’s no different whether you’re in the office or on the construction site,” explained Stephen Smith, FieldChat Co-founder and Head of Product.
Ironically, when you consider that construction is the last bastion of a labour-intensive industry, it’s surprising it has been overlooked.
“Project profitability is linked to the management of labour, and communication is what pulls everything together. Manage labour well [via communication], and you manage the profitability of the project,” Smith said.
With these insights in mind, Lepik and Smith got to work developing the FieldChat app. Launched as a lightweight tool, FieldChat was built for construction teams to communicate better, with hopes to accelerate progress, improve quality and reduce chaos by keeping everyone on the same page.
With almost 50 years’ of combined experience in technology, engineering and construction, the FieldChat team launched the app in the fall and hasn’t looked back. Although less than 12 months old, the app is already being used on ICI and residential projects across the U.S. and Canada and most recently integrated with Procore.
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“On many jobsites, people are familiar with their own unique software, and they don’t have the time to learn new technology,” Smith explained. “The beauty of FieldChat is that it integrates with text messaging, and everyone knows how to text message.”
The FieldChat team claim there’s no learning curve, so even the tech novice can use it instantly.
One scheduling slip-up can bring a jobsite to a stand-still, which is why FieldChat’s ability to schedule messages is proving very popular. Smith adds, “sending people reminders or asking about potential issues at the beginning of the workday is a powerful way to ensure that issues are top of mind and nothing gets missed. People really love the ability to schedule a message to be delivered at the perfect moment.”
When we actually went onto the job site, we saw text message overload, with some people getting as many as a hundred messages a day.
“When we actually went onto the jobsite, we saw text message overload, with some people getting as many as a 100 messages a day,” recalled Smith. “Texting was the best thing they’d found.”
Since every contractor and subcontractor is likely to be using different technologies, texting seemed like the only viable solution to work together.
The text message backbone allows text, pictures and documents to be shared via many-to-many, one-to-many, or one-to-one channels. In fact, who can see the content depends strictly on who is tagged in a conversation. Not only does the application reduce the number of messages, but it also stores and organizes the information, making it easily searchable.
Another key FieldChat feature is connectivity with Procore’s suite of project management products. FieldChat automatically integrates project directories from Procore, making all contacts immediately available.
“You don’t need to re-key anything, so it’s very easy to add someone to a conversation,” Smith added.
The team also have synchronized the login process so users can log into FieldChat with their Procore credentials.
The one-year-old app is continually evolving based on user feedback. A new feature currently in beta testing allows users to run FieldChat embedded inside the Procore web application so that there’s no need to switch between different interfaces or browser tabs.
Smith is keeping tight-lipped about future releases, so while animojis and filters are probably not in development, only time will tell whether we see live video chats or conference calling via FieldChat.