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Email remains the predominant form of communication for construction projects, both within a construction team and between the team and external stakeholders. In fact, a recent study conducted by Newforma and Dodge Construction Network cites email as the primary communication method across the project lifecycle.

For example, 60% of survey respondents indicated that project decisions are tracked and documented through email. Another 67% reported that model clashes or issues are also communicated via email. Email is also a top choice for transferring submittal and RFI information particularly with engineers (59%) and contractors (45%).  

Email is part of our daily routine. However, inboxes are often inundated with messages that do not pertain to particular work. Skimming subject lines and ignoring the nonurgent emails has become second nature. But it is worth considering how these email habits may be impacting project performance and overall profitability.

Email Pitfalls Impacting Project Performance 

Email is often used to provide project updates and progress reports to stakeholders, including clients, contractors and subcontractors. These updates can include details on construction timelines, changes to the scope of work and any issues or delays that have arisen.

There are several pitfalls associated with communicating through email information that is time-sensitive or has cost implications. 

When survey respondents were asked, “What are the main challenges you have with communications between your firm and external parties?” all respondents—architects, engineers and contractors—cited incomplete information as the top issue, as well as receiving unclear information and not receiving information in a timely manner. In addition, teams also indicated that they had difficulty tracking project decisions due to reliance on email communication. 

Impact of the Human Factor of Email Communication

One major impact on collaboration is human error. Humans make decisions on what information to include in an email and how to phrase their intent. They must also type the information in the email correctly. In addition, sending and receiving information in a timely manner is dependent upon humans sending or opening the email on time. It is no surprise that these human aspects of communicating via email can result in parties receiving incomplete or untimely information. Although email is a common way to communicate project information, there are no guard rails or standardization to prevent miscommunication from occurring. 

Tracking and documenting project decisions through email is also a practice that may be slowing teams down. It’s not uncommon for staff members to spend an hour over the course of a day searching through their email folders to find information related to project decisions. When the time lost searching through email is multiplied across multiple staff members and projects it can add up to hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars lost. 

Impact of Email on Submittal and RFI Workflows 

Several daily workflows for construction projects are also centered around email including construction administration, submittals and RFIs. 

Survey respondents ranked submittal and RFI reviews as the workflow processes in most need of improvement. In addition, email was the top answer to the question, “For most projects, how is your firm exchanging submittal and RFI information?”

In addition to the issues resulting in incomplete or untimely communication, submittal and RFI information communicated via email requires manual administrative work to download, upload and transfer this information between each party’s system. Historical data estimates that 12 minutes is wasted receiving and responding to each submittal or RFI. This can also result in hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars lost over the lifecycle of a project.

How Software and Automation Help Clean Up Email Communication

Given the pervasiveness of email across the construction industry, it is highly unlikely that email will go away anytime soon. However, there are key areas where automation and software can have a major impact on reducing the errors, time delays and miscommunication associated with email.  

Creating a Centralized Hub for Project Email

Firms can immediately benefit from implementing policies, procedures and technology, which resolve issues related to project communication that is siloed in staff email inboxes. Many firms have established a project email strategy for staff members to file project-related emails to firm-wide project folders. Filing emails to a specified project folder ensures that critical information is available to all project team members who need it. It eliminates the problems that occur when email is not forwarded in a timely manner. It also ensures that critical project decisions are not lost or misplaced if a staff member is on vacation, transitions to another project or leaves the firm.

Project information management (PIM) solutions available today enable staff members to easily file project email directly from Microsoft Outlook. With email filing integration through Outlook, staff members do not need to significantly alter their email habits.  

Once an email is filed to a project folder, that email can then be related to other project information such as RFIs or change orders to provide a complete picture of the project. In addition, the email and associated attachments can be searched for quickly, eliminating the need to spend hours finding project information. 

Reducing Email for Submittal and RFI Workflows

Challenges related to project stakeholders' use of different platforms include the manual tasks of uploading, emailing and downloading information between systems. It may not be feasible for all parties to use the same software application. However, systems can be connected via standard application programming interfaces (APIs). Information that must be shared between systems is mapped through the API to ensure it is complete and accurate. By taking the human element associated with email out of the submittal/RFI review equation, project teams can save a significant amount of time that is often wasted with back-and-forth email communication.

When complete and accurate information is sent the first time, there is a higher probability of meeting deadlines. In addition, delays and errors that are introduced with manual administrative tasks associated with email communication are greatly reduced.   

Cleaning Up Communications to Improve Productivity and Profitability 

As firms look for ways to reduce costs and increase productivity, cleaning up email communication may be a hidden opportunity. Leading firms have implemented email management and submittal/RFI workflow automation with minimal cost and disruption to their organization. By addressing issues that take valuable time away from staff members daily, the focus can be shifted to more profitable work.


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