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In 2019, it is more likely that the last communication with your best friend was through a screen rather than face to face. This is not an article on millennials; rather, I want you to consider how you’re communicating on your projects today versus five or 10 years ago.
This is what the AIA A201 document says about communication.
“4.2.4 Communications: The Owner and Contractor shall include the Architect in all communications that relate to or affect the Architect’s services or professional responsibilities. The Owner shall promptly notify the Architect of the substance of any direct communications between the Owner and the Contractor otherwise relating to the Project. Communications by and with the Architect’s consultants shall be through the Architect. Communications by and with Subcontractors and suppliers shall be through the Contractor. Communications by and with Separate Contractors shall be through the Owner. The Contract Documents may specify other communication protocols.”
Was anyone else expecting more? Basically, what I just read felt like a conversation between my divorced parents and my third-grade teacher. “If you talk with him, then you need to keep me in the loop.”
I do like that they open the window at the end for all parties to discuss other communication protocols. My place of employment has added amendments to our contracts to define communication protocols that both parties can be happy with. I suggest you know what your projects have added to the agreement regarding communication protocols.
Contracts are important. However, day-to-day communication on a project might be more critical to a project’s success. I probably text more than half of our project team, both internal and external, on a weekly basis. If you look at the Outlook calendar of the leadership team on a large project, it can be near impossible to find a gap in the day where you can all meet. Sometimes a simple text is all you need.
Some questions come to mind when you start introducing text communication into your place of business. Is a text too informal for what you’re trying to communicate? Do you text with your client? Should you text with your client? Are you careful with the informality of a text? Is it too late in the day or too early in the morning for a text? Is there a legal record of any decisions made via text?
Here is a text between myself and an unnamed contractor regarding an on-site situation that probably needed more formality.
Mechanical Contractor: Morning, Cory.
Me: Hey man. What’s going on?
Mechanical Contractor: I’ve got a problem that I’m trying to figure out.
Me: How can I help?
Mechanical Contractor: The exam room isolation valves, do you want them on the west side or east side of the corridor on the north-south running corridor from the ASC elevator?
Mechanical Contractor: Do you want the valves on the inside or outside of the room?
Me: Well, I think I know the answer, but I think we should either have a quick phone call to discuss and look at some plans, or we may want to submit an RFI. Want to make sure we’re talking about the same valves.
Mechanical Contractor: Yeah, that might be better. Was trying to keep my field guy moving. Call you at 9?
Me: Sure. Then we can submit an official RFI or email to keep the CM informed.
It was a good thing we had a phone call since the valves in question had absolutely nothing to do with the exam rooms, and the facilities engineer wanted the main floor isolation valves in the housekeeping closet.
The other item to consider when writing texts and emails is that they are going to be read by someone who may not be in the same mindset you are. They may have no clue you wrote the word “Super!!!” with sarcasm. Inflection will be lost by the reader and can get you in trouble if you’re not careful. This is true with all forms of written communication, but due to the casual nature of a text, you may not realize you are using it.
What did engineers do before texting and instant messaging? I had to do some research on this. From what some of the senior engineers in the office tell me, engineers would pick up the phone and had a conversation, or they may have even gone to another person’s office and met face to face. Could you read the sarcasm there?
But it’s something worth talking about in our industry. We have to make sure we’re using the tools we have appropriately, and not choosing speed and convenience over patience and effectiveness. Even though we are communicating in ways that would make my seventh-grade English teacher frown doesn’t mean we’re wrong; it just means we’ve evolved, and we need to adapt and possibly review some of the rules. TTYL!