Remote working has become increasingly common post-pandemic. But can quantity surveyors effectively oversee what is happening on site if they are working from home?
Jeff, a contractor’s executive, told me the other day that all their site quantity surveyors and design managers were working from home.
“How? Surely, they can’t?!” I asked, bemused.
“Don’t go there, Dave. It’s a three-day debate to get anyone to come to site these days,” he sighed.
This exchange got me wondering if a site quantity surveyor really could work from home. Well, I guess they can, because they are. But are they working effectively?
In my opinion, they aren’t, because they need to be across the project and the detail of what’s happening on site.
Site quantity surveyors must be on top of the detail
With many of the contractors I have worked with, there seems to be an “us and them” divide between the operations folk and the quantity surveyors.
Operations people are notoriously bad at record-keeping, so it’s not as if the home-working quantity surveyors can rely on the modern equivalent of tablets of stone. It seems to me that things will get missed and the cost and value of change will be lost.
The relationship between the site project manager and the site quantity surveyor is key.
Operations people are notoriously bad at record-keeping, so it’s not as if the home-working quantity surveyors can rely on the modern equivalent of tablets of stone. It seems to me that things will get missed and the cost and value of change will be lost
I remember when I was a project manager, my most successful jobs were when this relationship was tight.
I was in the quantity surveyor’s office for half the time and he was in mine for the other half – talking strategy, tactics and detail – sometimes agreeing, mostly not, though we were talking all the time.
You see, on site you must be on top of the detail and I am not sure that is possible when you are working from home.
Here’s an example based on real events.
You have to be there to see it for yourself
Against my better judgement, we procured the cheapest brickwork subcontractor for a project.
I was persuaded by “he is £40k cheaper, so we can ‘manage’ him for that”, which meant we had to increase our level of supervision to ensure his operational and commercial performance. Here’s what happened…
Within two weeks of them starting on site, we were flooded with “paperwork” from their site manager: notices of delay, confirmation of verbal instructions, requests for information, daywork records and the like.
Every hour during those two weeks, our site quantity surveyor, Mike, was in my office, furiously complaining to me about their “lies, misrepresentation and scams”.
We talked it through and agreed that he would respond to each letter immediately, going out on site to check the situation and recording the facts with photographs.
We also agreed that when we were in the wrong, we would say so and record the details.
Mike responded with facts and without emotion.
This was a significant undertaking for Mike over the following four weeks as the paper war ramped up.
After a while, the subcontractor’s commercial director asked for a meeting to discuss their progress and account.
Round the table, we three worked through all the paperwork – their letters claiming delay and disruption, and Mike’s responses and photos.
Their commercial director withdrew most of their “fatuous” (his word) letters and thanked us for our disciplined and honest approach.
Later that afternoon, their site manager was replaced and from that point on relationships and productivity improved.
Mike could not have done that working from home. To effectively manage the cost of change, you must be all over the detail.
The same applies to the value side; contemporaneous records need to be kept and notices served and regularly reviewed with the client’s team in order to establish credibility and trust, and to get paid.
The site quantity surveyor needs to be on site.
But what about email?
“Yes, Dave,” I hear you saying, “but isn’t that a bit old-fashioned? We can do all that via email nowadays.”
OK, let’s talk emails. I’d guess most of you weren’t around before email.
It wasn’t great back then, but email has made communication worse. Back in the day we had to stand up, walk down the corridor and talk to each other.
For effective communication, you must hear and see your words (and all that goes with them) going in, and hear and see the other person’s words coming out. And you can’t do that working from home or, at least, not effectively
Email and its more modern equivalents are killing business and business people.
The reason emails don’t work as a replacement for walking down the corridor and talking is explained by Albert Mehrabian’s 7:38:55 rule.
This says that, in terms of the initiator’s emotion and attitude, 7% of the message is in the words, 38% in the tone of voice and 55% in the body language and most of that is in eye contact.
An email is only words, so the chances are 93% of the message is being lost.
For effective communication, you must hear and see your words (and all that goes with them) going in, and hear and see the other person’s words coming out. And you can’t do that working from home or, at least, not effectively.
I am pretty certain Mike would agree.
Who can work from home then?
I’d say the project director can work from home, but not all the time.
Many of the project directors I come across are way too close to the detail, sleeves rolled up in the thick of it, trying to solve other people’s problems while disempowering them in the process.
The project director is the leader and the leader’s job is to set the direction and establish an environment where everyone can do their best work.
To do that, they need some detachment to see what’s going on, to see the big picture and to envision a better future and decide what needs to change.
Then they get to site to consult with and inspire the people to make the change. This is the off-site work I do with the leader and their top team.
So, there we go: a site quantity surveyor needs to work on site. I rest my case.
And if the project director is leading effectively, the site quantity surveyor will want to be in the thick of it, on site, moving the project forward with the rest of the team.
Lots of opinions from me, so what’s yours?