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New Tech Changing the Industry

Technology glasses
Image source: Vectors by Vecteezy

There's an impressive assortment of new construction technology on the market helping users complete more tasks while keeping their companies profitable and regularly securing work.

There are undeniable benefits associated with construction technology, but some of it poses downsides that managers should weigh before use. 

1. It could decrease injuries 

There is a full range of wearable tech in construction that varies from smart wristbands to full-body suits. Some gadgets measure a person's heart rate, body temperature and other bodily characteristics. They may detect that a person is tired and at a higher risk of having an accident.  

The Proxxi wearable is particularly designed for electrical workers. It warns workers of active power lines before they risk coming in contact with them. 

Another piece of wearable tech, full-body exoskeletons with robotic components to give wearers extra lifting capabilities. Those could reduce muscle strains and other injuries that may keep people out of work. 

However, a potential downside of these devices could be that they give false positives. A person may take medication or have a controlled chronic ailment that causes them to have an elevated heart rate without needing medical assistance or rest. In this case, the individual may not want to disclose the matter to their employer if it does not affect their ability to work. 

2. It helps companies keep track of their fleets and equipment

Businesses may also invest in tracking devices that give them the real-time locations of any tool, piece of equipment or vehicle. Manufacturers often market these as asset tracking and management solutions. Lost or stolen assets can slow the pace of project completion and negatively affect a company's bottom line. 

However, concerns have arisen that employers may use this equipment against to track their employees. What if a supervisor looks at the metrics and says, "I see you didn't use your crimper between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. yesterday. Were you really at work?" Alternately, paying close attention to metrics could cause a worker driving a company truck in heavy traffic to worry about getting reprimanded for having a high percentage of idle time. 

An excellent way to address privacy concerns associated with tracking technology is to be transparent with people about what gets tracked and why. Managers should emphasize that the goal is to study assets, not the workers themselves. It also may be necessary to set safety parameters by giving stipulations about things a tracker might detect, such as using a cellphone or driving over the speed limit. 

3. It could boost productivity

Keeping productivity levels high in the construction sector can be a challenge, especially during a labor shortage. Statistics indicate that between 70-80% of contractors have trouble finding skilled craftspeople for their projects. Construction technology alone can't solve that hiring crisis, but it could ease it. For example, tracking technology may mean workers don't waste time finding the tools they need for particular tasks. 

Smart glasses use augmented reality technology to overlay digital information onto parts of the physical environment. These can allow a person to view a digitized safety checklist before operating a piece of equipment. Other lenses enable wearers to transmit what they see to people located elsewhere, helping them receive remote expert insight.

Experts are wary, however, that particular productivity tools could make users afraid their bosses are spying on them and eroding any workplace privacy they once enjoyed. Some office-based productivity solutions can determine what percentage of the day a person spent doing activities that may not directly relate to their job duties, such as checking their email. 

If users fixate on the idea that their bosses are watching them, they might become so distracted that the preoccupation disrupts their workflow. Construction companies using tracking tools for productivity should explicitly state the specifics about what gets evaluated and when¾and they should quickly address any concerns.

4. It improves the time-tracking process

Punching in and out for work at the end of the day can become time-consuming, especially if a person must stand in line with dozens of other people to do it. Going through steps such as swiping a badge or typing in an employee number wastes precious seconds. Workers spend valuable time proving they showed up for work on time or completed a shift. 

Some manufacturers that sell time-tracking software offer biometric solutions allowing a person to clock in and out with facial recognition or fingerprint-scanning technology. Although those options are not widely used in the construction sector yet, that could change soon. 

For example, many construction workers already use their smartphones for project management purposes. Most phones have fingerprint readers too, and perhaps a time-tracking app can incorporate that piece of hardware to improve accuracy and efficiency.

Companies that want to deploy it must do so with care. Facial recognition technology is spreading around the world, and not everyone is happy about it. Many individuals assert that using face-scanning cameras in London is a threat to civil liberties because it can allow law enforcement officers to target innocent citizens. 

5. It keeps the workforce better informed

Some wearable tech in construction gives users more options for recognizing dangers in their environment or communicating with fellow workers. Researchers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas tested a construction site wearable that gave tactile warnings about safety hazards.  

Various construction businesses use wearables to alert them when lone workers are in trouble. One option employs artificial intelligence and automatically calls emergency services if a wearer does not respond to a "safety check" within a specified timeframe. 

Although these kinds of safety-based gadgets aren't as likely to cause privacy concerns as other forms of technology, there are other potential downsides to consider. For example, the cost of wearables for a whole workforce may be too great for small companies. 

6. It could improve worker motivation

Motivation is another benefit of construction technology. Several types of tracking technology measures a person's daily output and challenges them to beat it the next day. These metrics may also make it easier for managers to set targets that lead to promotions. 

Outside of individual performance, technology can give workers the perception that they're associated with forward-thinking businesses at the forefront of technological advancements. Feeling this way may make them more eager to come to work and recruit people they know.

One disadvantage is that workers may fear poor metrics alone could get them fired. Company leaders should discuss that this data is only one facet they evaluate, and coaching will always happen before termination. 

Technology for the construction sector is like any other innovation¾it has both pros and cons. However, it's worthwhile for construction managers and other people with decision-making authority to see what's available and how it might help their workforces.

About the Author

Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews is a technology writer whose work has appeared on VentureBeat, Metering & Smart Energy International, VICE and The Huffington Post. To read more posts by Kayla, you can visit her blog, Productivity Bytes.

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