Since its invention, paper has been playing a central role in communication and documentation. We have been working and communicating with paper for such a long time that it’s almost impossible to imagine a workplace without paper. But recently, changes are happening. Over the past few years, more and more industries have been actively digitalizing their communication and hopping on the “cloud”. In this article, the question we want to address is how construction industry is responding to this growing trend towards less paper.
At Smart Construction, we had a conversation with a few of our amazing customers to talk about their paper usage. We discussed their current ways of communication and information management. Together with them, we also exchanged our opinion on the possibility of a paperless jobsite in the near future. So, are jobsites ready to go paperless? We discovered some solid reasons to get rid of paper jam, but still, the answer is not black and white.
Hours lost due to paper damage at jobsites
On construction jobsites, a lot can go wrong when working with paper. One of the biggest problems is that paper files can be easily damaged. We are all familiar with a jobsite office with reports and delivery notes lying around on the desk next to coffees and lunch. In such situations, the safety of paper files is often at stake because, in the blink of an eye, paper files can get damaged by a cup of spilled coffee. Among all the hustle and bustle of a jobsite office, we can imagine that this type of accident is hard to avoid. Another common situation where files get damaged is when people carry a piece of A4 or A0 paper to the field and fold it several times to fit it into a pocket. After a long working day, plus if the weather happens to be bad, an unpleasant surprise might be some unreadable words or marks.
In both situations, that piece of wavy and wrinkled paper would cost people some extra time to prepare the document. If the printer is not close by and people choose to guess what’s written under the coffee stain, there are also serious risks of misunderstandings and errors.
Difficulties in keeping everyone updated
A further issue related to paper-based communication is that paper can hardly keep everyone up-to-date. Things evolve all the time on jobsites. So when a change is made to the original plan, the new plan needs to be printed out and made available to everyone again. This process can take quite some time and it is still possible that some people are not informed. If multiple design plans are lying around in the office, people always need to ask themselves whether they are looking at the latest one. Unfortunately, despite these efforts, they can still take the wrong version by mistake.
This difficulty is also encountered by jobsite managers when completing their daily report. On most conventional jobsites, jobsite managers need to collect various information by relying on paper-based delivery documents and memory. Sometimes they need to run from one machine to another to get the latest update. This procedure can be very exhausting and the information gathered might not be precise.
Too much guesswork
Another shortcoming of paper files is the limited possibility of visualization. When a 3D design plan gets printed on paper, it can look much less intuitive and people often rely on imagination to picture how the project will look like in the end. Too much guesswork can increase the risk of errors and thus rework. Also, stakeholders often need to keep each other updated about their working progress. In these situations, paper-based reports only offer very minimal visual information about the jobsite, if not only numbers.
The emerging trend of paperless jobsites
From our customers’ experience, we can clearly identify an emerging trend towards working with less and less paper on jobsites. For example, delivery notes are sometimes sent out by emails, in addition to the paper versions, and jobsite managers often choose to refer to the electronic versions for documentation and accounting. If delivery notes only come in paper versions, jobsite managers usually take a picture and forward it to other colleagues via WhatsApp.
Many construction companies have already implemented digital solutions in a more organized way. Microsoft OneDrive, for example, is used to store all digital documents. For jobsite managers, the search function is the most convenient, because instead of following a filing system, they can directly find the folder he is looking for. Even if they are on vacation, other co-workers can easily find what they need by simply searching for keywords. With OneDrive, it’s also handy for them to keep track of all documents and share the latest versions with other team members.
Solutions designed for jobsite managers
OneDrive is practical and has many different functions, but not all of them are suitable for construction professionals. Is there any solution that explicitly targets the common issues faced by jobsite managers?
Smart Construction Field is specially designed to ensure effective planning and seamless collaboration while reducing paper jam. With the mobile application of Smart Construction Field, workers can directly clock in for their shift, upload digital copies of material delivery notes and report ongoing problems on site. Even weather conditions are automatically registered, and all information is directly shipped off to the central server. After a long day of work, jobsite managers can prepare their daily report by simply pressing one button. Smart Construction Field allows jobsite managers to gain clear insights into what happens on the field with no delay.
To report on the precise cubic meters of soil that are moved to and from the jobsite, Smart Construction Fleet is there to help. Smart Construction Fleet uses a black box or a mobile phone application to log all actions a machine, such as the frequency and duration of loading cycles. Similar to Smart Construction Field, an automatic report is ready through a simple click. The report contains various data like idle time, machine locations and how many cubic meters were transferred by a given vehicle.
If you want to share your work progress with your team or other stakeholders, Smart Construction Dashboard can help you do so by visualizing exactly how the project looks like at this very moment. Areas that still need to be cut or filled are displayed in different colors, and the amount of soil to be moved is also specified. The whole team can access this information online, and the reporting function can make your work progress available to other stakeholders.
Printed versions will not disappear
Despite many downsides of paper-based systems, we still believe that they will not disappear from jobsites. The reason is simple: It just feels so right to grab a red pencil and mark up a drawing on a piece of paper! You can express your ideas on paper without having to think about manipulating your cursor. It is also more practical for multiple team members to review a drawing together or exchange feedbacks around a large printed design. Plus, directly making notes on paper can help you better digest information and allows you to be a more focused and active participant in the discussion.
Besides, there are also administrative reasons for keeping paper-based systems. For example, when transporting hazardous materials across borders, authorities can require official documents and only paper-based original versions are recognized.