George Orwell’s book, Nineteen Eighty-Four, coined the phrase ‘Big Brother is watching you.’ This was in reference to the Government’s surveillance of its citizens as a means of controlling and suppressing their will. Because of the negative connotations associated with being closely watched, the idea of construction cameras or other video equipment is often met with mistrust. That’s why getting the balance right when using surveillance to monitor large-scale projects is so important.
In today’s internet rich world, the opportunities for operational oversight are limitless. However, striking the right balance is a delicate but crucial task to ensure the symbiosis between worker satisfaction and job completion.
It’s easy to go too far when trying to optimize oversight. Although it’s necessary to track progress and ensure the project remains on-budget – especially in the construction industry – the risk of going too far can actually have the opposite effect by decreasing performance and productivity. Workers that feel closely monitored are less satisfied than those who aren’t, although there are some who will take having a camera monitor their every move in their stride, using it as an opportunity to excel.
So, what can be done to strike a balance?
Establish a baseline with all parties
How a project is set-up and run can involve several processes. First and foremost, what your client’s needs and wants are should come first. Their wishes can range from a 24/7 feed of the site to the occasional live stream, so establishing their baseline is imperative to ensuring their satisfaction. The consequences of increasing or reducing your oversight need to be clear from the outset. This is to avoid mistrust between all parties involved in the project, over complication of the requirements, and any time delays that may arise. Find out when the updates are expected and make sure you stick to the agreement.
Carefully consult your workers
Once the baseline has been agreed, the next step is to connect with your workers and relay the basic oversight that’s expected between all parties. There may not be anything to say, however this is an important step to establish trust and open communication between you and your workers. Ultimately, it’s down to who’s in charge, but unmotivated employees are far less inclined to work their hardest. Try to go into the conversation with an open mind, and be willing to genuinely listen to the feedback given. Ask your workers how they feel about the level of oversight, e.g., Do we monitor you too much? Or ‘Would you rather we tracked progress differently?’ The answers you receive need to inform your next steps, because with GDPR now implemented (and the subsequent publicity in its wake) the collection of private data needs to be transparent and justified. Most workers will appreciate you taking the time to get their feedback, even if the result is that you still have to monitor them closely.
Give flexibility where possible
Tracking physical work to ensure project deadlines, especially on construction sites, is one necessity, but other areas of the business can include paperwork, admin, and other supporting tasks, which require less monitoring. In these situations, you can allow your workers more flexibility and less scrutiny. They will thank-you for it. Afterall, you hired them for a reason, so trusting them, their expertise, and their professionalism will come back in loyalty, mutual trust and respect.
Remember that the digital world provides several opportunities for people away from their desks and standard office life. The internet is full of online tools to implement business ideas that even someone with no entrepreneurial skills can use to make money. Workers are no longer limited, nor do they feel that way, so anyone competent and confident needs to be treated as an asset, or they’ll leave and find an employer who values them.
Lead don’t manage
This brings us onto one key aspect of optimizing oversight, and that is to lead, not manage. Even if you’re a manager and the word ‘manage’ is in your title, there are often common mistakes those in charge can make that hinder worker satisfaction, decrease productivity, and foster resentment and poor worker retention.
For example, a leader:
- Coaches their workers to bring the best out of them (bottom up management)
- Drives performance on goodwill
- Generates enthusiasm for the tasks at hand
- Speaks as a collective, using words like ‘we’ and ‘let’s go’
- Fixes or helps to solve any problems that arise
- Leads by example. Shows how it’s done
- Develops their workers
- Gives credit where it’s due
- Asks questions and collaborates with their staff
As opposed to a boss/manager, who:
- Drives employees to work from the top down
- Depends on their authority to optimize performance
- Inspires a fear culture
- Speaks in the first person, using ‘I’ statements
- Blames problems on their workers instead of helping to resolve them
- Knows how things are done rather than shows others the best way to do it
- Sees people as tools, not assets
- Takes the credit for other people’s hard work
- Commands instead of asks for tasks to be completed
A balancing act is a tricky task to perform. However, when done properly it’s a rewarding and helpful skill that ensures the best possible outcomes for all involved. To be motivated, employees all need to be able to breathe, feel trusted, and be empowered to succeed; while oversight is essential for ensuring a project is delivered on time, the investment is protected, and the client’s wishes are met in terms of progress reports and site visits.
Using the tips we’ve outlined above, you can successfully lead a project into completion using happy and satisfied workers. Your reputation as both an employer and business will thank you.
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