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Talent + Technology = Success: Unleashing the Power of Technology, Flexible Remote Work, and Storytelling in Preconstruction
Steve Dell’Orto • 12 May 2023

Talent + Technology = Success: Unleashing the Power of Technology, Flexible Remote Work, and Storytelling in Preconstruction

Talent & Technology is a series created by ConCntric to discuss how technology is helping propel the possibilities for preconstruction teams and people to do their best work.

This discussion features ConCntric’s Founder and CEO, Steve Dell’Orto and Talent Expert, Gareth McGlynn, who is the Managing Director of Niche SSP, a firm of staffing experts that help connect companies with the most talented Estimators across the United States.

How are preconstruction professionals currently staying in touch with industry trends and advancements in technology?

Gareth McGlynn: When it comes to industry trends, I think there’s a lot of good data out there. At the moment there’s probably four or five different channels that you can go and get half decent data. However this data is not live data, it is probably four to six weeks old. We obviously know about Advancing Preconstruction, the largest gathering of preconstruction estimating professionals in the U.S., Steve and I will be heading down there to Phoenix at the end of May. We are really looking forward to that, but I think once a year is not enough! There’s no way that during the year, previous VP Directors of Preconstruction write down their questions and wait to ask the technology folk or the industry leaders come May. I think there’s a massive lack of community within the industry.

One community that I think is very good at acknowledging and keeping up with trends is BIM VDC. I think they are incredibly well versed in sharing best practices, processes and do’s and don’ts through YouTube channels, demos, live events, associations, memberships and subscriptions. However, we do not see that type of community in preconstruction. In the staffing industry, I am in a WhatsApp group, with Co-Founders and Founders of construction companies all over the U.S., Canada, South America, Australasia, Europe, UK and Ireland. If I have a question to do with anything in staffing, I put the question in the WhatsApp group and I get multiple answers from industry leaders—and that’s from the biggest companies, the biggest staffing firms in the world, and small startups. It is a really good tool. And for me, I think that the preconstruction industry needs something similar, especially when you talk about the advancements in technology, because it’s ever changing. I think to be able to get the answer to your question quickly from a peer, or someone within the industry—I’m talking within 48 hours—is incredibly important for moving the industry forward. I think waiting 12 months to talk about ideas and challenges at an annual preconstruction conference just doesn’t stack up for me.

Steve Dell’Orto: I would agree with Gareth. I think there’s a vast underrepresentation for the preconstruction professionals in the community. There is only one event a year that focuses solely on preconstruction professionals and that’s a shame. I hope we get better as an industry to collectively build a stronger network, with shared information and events that can bring people together so that we can all do better. Within a general contracting company, it’s even more opaque. There’s no opportunity to keep up with the advancements in technology, and what is otherwise available out there as there is no reliable source for professionals, besides Google. How do you find the right technology solution—if it exists—to meet the needs that you have? Or how do you learn about different forms of technology? Naturally, everybody can go online and learn more about open AI and ChatGPT, but that just depends on the individual. As a collective group within the industry, I don’t think it’s nearly as organized and focused as it could be. And if you look at the construction phase, there’s no shortage of conferences you can go to, whether that’s about safety or something as simple as concrete. It is unfortunate for those that are making a career out of preconstruction, that there is not more representation there. I think both Gareth and I and others have identified that, and we’re all doing what we can and working towards trying to bulk up that community and make things better for everybody that’s involved in the planning of projects in the preconstruction capacity.

We are noticing that talent is looking for flexibility in which location they work from in preconstruction—how does technology help enable successful remote work?

Gareth McGlynn: One of the things that we do here at Nishe SSP quite a lot is polls and data, to gather data for our clients and our candidates. It’s really important to us with such a large database and community through LinkedIn and our CRM, that we try and get actionable data points. We did a poll recently where you had four options: the first option was working 100% in the office, the second option was hybrid, the third option was 100% remote, and the fourth one was “other”. It was pretty evident that 48% are still working 100% from the office. We took that data and created another poll and asked people what they are looking for most in their next role or what they are not getting in their current role that would make them leave. Again, the big winner with 57% of the response was “flexibility”. These surveys also tied in with our salary survey that we do for every state. The salary survey has the salary from a Junior Estimator to a Director of Preconstruction and it gives you the range of the salary that those people are earning within that city. This year we added three extra data points and one of them was flexibility. It’s incredible to recognize the lack of flexibility being offered to preconstruction and estimating folks.

I am a huge proponent in the war room, in collaboration and in being in a room and bouncing ideas off of each other. But what I’m seeing most clients offering now—and again, this has come from the talent themselves pushing for it—is that flexibility of one day of work per week from home. One day at home gives these professionals the opportunity to take the time to focus on completing meaningful tasks that take more concentration, and it leaves the other days in the office for collaboration. To me, that is the biggest thing to come out of COVID, is that the employer has been able to offer flexibility. 

Steve Dell’Orto: We’ve seen the pendulum shift with COVID, and construction is an industry that is often characterized as already having an old school mentality. Construction itself is a very location-centric job, simply because you can’t work remotely when you’re hanging steel. But when you’re in the planning phase, and you’re a preconstruction professional, I think some of the opportunity there is to accommodate some of that flexibility. We saw the pendulum swing from full time in the office to nobody in the office, and what I always expected is that the pendulum would swing back, and there’d be an equilibrium found because people did appreciate the additional flexibility that working from home provided. But I think the workforce really desires and thrives off of that personal contact with people working shoulder to shoulder, having in-person meetings, as opposed to going from one Zoom call to the next. 

Ultimately, I think where we will land will be the right balance. There was a time in my former career where the old office that we were in was a really old building and it was broken up into a lot of offices. We’d often have one very seasoned estimator sitting right next to another seasoned estimator and they’re emailing each other questions, and they’re separated by a wall. That makes you start to realize that, if that person doesn’t get back to them, and they move on to do something else, then that topic may not get fully addressed—because I’s are not getting dotted, or T’s are not getting crossed. From there we moved to the complete opposite, with a completely open office floor plan with benches, and no physical barriers to encourage sharing, discussing and helping each other. With an office like that you could see the power of what people being together unlocked. We had older, veteran estimators who were brilliant at estimating, but struggled with use of technology, sitting next to somebody who just recently graduated from college, well versed in technology, and who was just learning the craft of estimating. Because they were sitting next to each other, those two were constantly asking each other questions and helping each other out. There was no barrier. In this situation I saw the power of true collaboration because physical barriers were not in between them. On Zoom, I have to schedule a time to talk to you within a 30 minute window and we cannot sit at a whiteboard and brainstorm. I feel like Zoom calls are almost like having offices separated by a partition— which is not ideal either.

Like anything, there’s a balance, and I think if people can do focused, concentrated work at any time with some amount of flexibility, but also commit to being part of a team that gets together physically to brainstorm ideas, even if it’s just through social happy hours, that’s incredibly powerful to the individuals’ growth and the growth of the company. It’s incredibly important to the overall culture of a company to have people that actually come together, work face-to-face, and enjoy each other’s company. Also at the same time, I agree that a little bit of flexibility can certainly be accommodated in the preconstruction group setting, because we don’t have to be physically onsite.

Gareth McGlynn: The construction industry often gets called out for being “dinosaurs” or being “backwards”. But if some of this talent that we’re looking to get from other industries come in and see the flexibility, and the collaboration and similar financial services that can be found in the tech world, then they’re going to be more receptive to it and more inclined to come on board and help us out. To me, it’s a big move that’s come out of COVID, and it’s only growing stronger. I see it every day, the amount of clients I know that are open to a more flexible environment. These clients are building more diversity because of their flexibility and they find it easier to recruit. 

Steve Dell’Orto: Gareth, I think that’s a great point. If you can embrace a more remote work format, you extend the borders for your talent recruitment. If you’re flexible, then there are talented people elsewhere in the country, elsewhere in the world, that you could now have access to. It’s a balance and there are different ways to make up a team. Seeing as how we are all searching for talent, a little bit of flexibility goes a long way.

Gareth McGlynn: That’s a perfect point. If you have all of the same people that graduated from the same school sitting in the same office in New York, they’re all going to think the same way. They’re not going to challenge each other because that’s what they were taught during university or college. Whereas, if you have a spark down in Florida, working with a mechanical guy out of Oklahoma, with an interiors guy in New York, you have a ton of diversity which often leads to a better product, a better project and a more satisfied client.

Can you speak to the importance of storytelling and bringing customers into the story in preconstruction in regards to data and visualization?

Steve Dell’Orto: The term storytelling sometimes sounds disingenuous, as if it’s not based on facts. The term has been very popular for the last two or three years, however, taking it at face value, I think is very important. The real takeaway for storytelling is that you need to be able to communicate the facts in a way that your audience is going to receive it—and you can’t take forever to do it either. You have to be able to lay it all out and do it in a way that doesn’t prompt too many questions, or a ton of confusion. You want people to get it, and you want people to easily understand it. You can’t just read off of a chart, you have to explain to people what the chart is giving them. For instance, what is the bottom line? What could be the results and what could be the consequences? You have to help convey all of the things that the numbers and the data and the information is telling you and not just regurgitate what’s on paper. I think that’s a huge facet of preconstruction and an important trait for people within preconstruction to have. Because you constantly have people coming together and those team members need an update on the project status— from the budget, to the design, to the timeline—which is somewhat elusive. 

Your job as the storyteller is to talk about how the project is going to be delivered. This is as simple as running an OAC meeting, and having it not be dry and unenjoyable. If your presentation is not captivating, people tend to check out and not pay attention. So the ability to communicate and help people understand by making the complex deliverables simple, really amplifies any presentation. What I think people don’t realize is that it’s one thing to be able to verbalize these concepts, but there are very few people that can present without any visual reference whatsoever and leave their audience inspired with no questions asked. A lot of our work requires some level of visualization to support the story that you’re telling. If there was ever an industry that could tell some pretty interesting stories, it’s ours, but we just have this incredibly dry and basic information that needs to be conveyed. There’s an old saying that says “it’s about lines, not dots”—which struck me pretty powerfully. Essentially it means, don’t tell me what it is today, tell me all of the other data points that otherwise form a line, because from the line I can form trends and understand the general direction of where things are going, and that’s essential to the story. It’s like the difference between a picture and a video; you get a lot more out of a video than you do a singular picture. 

We, as an industry, have to do a lot better at recognizing that other people’s roles on a project are much different than ours. We need to recognize that other stakeholders come from different backgrounds and they’re going to absorb the information you’re conveying to them in different ways. Particularly in preconstruction, we deal with a lot of data organized in a way that feels like a unique language to estimators, which is why you have to tell a story that everyone can understand. Imagine a meeting where you can convey raw, dry estimating information as a story and explain your plans, options and opportunities for the future to meet the overall objectives. Telling a story only reinforces the value your team members bring to the table by their ability to take the complex data and present it in a way that’s easily digestible. 

Gareth McGlynn: I love this topic as well, because it’s so important. I think Steve put it nicely as well. The general contractor and the builder are going to have different stories to tell to all different stakeholders. The visualization is going to be different, and the references are going to be different to not only the subcontractors, but the architect, the designer and the clients. And being able to deliver those good stories and bad stories while maintaining the relationship is where the real skill lies. That goes back to their ability to be empathetic, and their ability to have soft skills and emotional intelligence. It’s a tough skill to be able to be empathetic, but also blunt and straightforward. There are a lot of really good people out there that could present this type of information that may be in the wrong role. General contractors need to highlight and recognize these people and get them into preconstruction and get them up to speed quickly, because they could end up being a valuable asset to their company over the next five or ten years.

Are you heading to Advancing Preconstruction 2023? Happening from May 24th-May 26th, ConCntric is proud to be an exhibition partner at this event and would love for you to join us! If you happen to stop by, join us for our private happy hour event happening on May 25th. For more information about our happy hour, send us an email here.

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