Project managers are the primary point of contact with Boston Green Building’s clients, Hourihan says, and they communicate daily by email, texting, phone calls or face to face. “We gave all our guys iPhones, and we don’t know what we would do without them,” he says.
Boston Green Building’s communication plan begins with the initial contact and includes pre-construction meetings, weekly updates, an electrical walk-through after rough framing, and a blog on which photos and updates for the project are posted several times a week. In addition, the company creates an interactive “binder,” a cloud-based document containing project specifications, plans and schedules. The initial version of the binder is shared with the homeowner, while a version for the trades is available, as well.
“It sounds like a lot, but it’s not a crazy additional cost to offer this kind of service; it actually makes it easier for us to move forward and keep on schedule,” Hourihan says.
Use Appropriate Means
How one communicates depends a lot on circumstances. “Sometimes you have to have a face-to-face meeting. That’s determined by your gut feeling and relationship with the client, as well as the topic of discussion,” says Neil Bailey, project manager at Lynn Donaldson and Associates in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
“Telephone calls about some things totally suffice, but we found the memory of a phone call is very short-lived,” Bailey says. “If it’s not in writing it didn’t happen. It’s not that clients are trying to catch us on something; it’s that conversations on the fly are difficult to recall.”
Bailey recommends the use of project-management software, such as Basecamp (see “Project Management Software,” page 30), which allows notes and documents to be interactively shared with clients, subcontractors and others involved in a project. Notes from phone calls can be stored and retrieved as a hedge against memory lapses.
Just as phone calls have limitations, Bailey cautions against assuming texting and email are appropriate for every situation. “Ours is a very personal business. You’re in [your clients’] homes and you’re ripping apart their lives. There are times when it is only appropriate to go there, shake their hand, smile and look them in the eye, so they know you’re human, too, and you’re on their side as part of the team.
“Tone, inflection and body language are 60 percent of communication,” he cautions. “If you only communicate with written words, the possibility of misinterpretation is massive.”
Bernie Smith, chief executive officer of Roswell, Ga.-based MasterWorks Atlanta, thinks many businesses are approaching a tipping point at which technology will begin to exert a greater role. Remodeling, he admits, may be a little slower to reach that point than some. “We just aren’t a technology-based industry and therefore we don’t have a lot of mentors to follow. You need to have the ability to reach out and discover things,” he says.
Nevertheless, he adds, “I think technology has brought our society to where we expect a very quick return on communication.
“It really comforts customers to get a response, even if it’s to say, ‘I don’t have an answer, but I did receive your communication and will get back to you.’ It’s much better than waiting until you have the information and getting back to them a day or two later. It’s a huge plus in keeping good rapport with them,” Smith says.
Texting is something Smith says he is seeing more of, but he cautions texts should be followed up by an email to make sure everybody has a document to refer back to. He also sees online databases growing in importance.
“I think the more information you share the better,” Smith says. “The question is how much; you have to be careful which documents you share.” He currently has a server-based intranet through which project information is shared, primarily among staff and subcontractors. Clients, however, do not have access to it.
As far as hardware, Smith recommends an iPad or Android tablet, depending on the operating system used in the business, and a smartphone that can link to it. He finds a tablet convenient to take to client meetings and an effective substitute for a laptop.