Why Public Perception Can Challenge Productivity

With years of belt tightening and cancelled projects (hopefully) behind us, it’s a good time to reflect on why people without any formal experience in construction have suddenly found themselves with considerable influence over projects we work on. First, let’s consider what appears to have happened, then we’ll get into the reality.

I’ve never known a time quite like the present when everyone wants to stick their proverbial nose into things that they know nothing about whatsoever. It can be incredibly frustrating for project managers to lose time explaining to local residents why their day to day lives are being disrupted by large lorry deliveries, the nuisance of noisy building sites and so on. I’ll be honest, I don’t particularly like any of those things either, but I would dislike the alternative ways to get steel girders and other bulky materials to site even more.

What appears to be happening is people feel more included in society’s problems as a whole, and in turn take a greater interest in what’s happening on their doorstep and the immediate area. Don’t get me wrong, that’s certainly no bad thing, as it’s a giant step back towards the ‘good old days’. If you take a moment to think about how your parents would feel about progress on a building site as a project progresses, you’ll probably see what happens as this generalisation meets reality.

People see a hive of activity at the beginning of a build. Lots of fencing being erected, workmen measuring out the plots and marking out the land. The diggers roll in, sometimes with reclamation work, sometimes straight into foundation digging. Perhaps the land needs to be levelled or otherwise modified. Then the concrete arrives and gets poured into the trenches, and everything….stops. At least that’s the impression. The general public don’t understand how long the gap can be before we can safely continue to build upwards, but as we know, that certainly doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Planning continues, and there’s probably a lot of assessments continuing on site. To the untrained eye, however, it’s just the odd person in a fluorescent jacket wandering around, probably being mistaken for a security guard or caretaker. The chances are that it’s a very well qualified caretaker! It probably doesn’t help either that we’re very good at attracting attention to what we’re up to by having our jobsite radios blaring away throughout the working day.

The point is that we need to remember the effect of perception. We’re working very close to a lot of people’s day to day life, and people like to get about their business as usual. Change has always been divisive. There will be people that have walked their dogs on that bit of wasteland you’re developing, or used it as a short-cut to the newsagent to buy their daily paper for decades. The pressure of deadlines and the boss in earshot doesn’t help us remember, understand and empathise with those people when they look on disapprovingly or start up a lively debate. That doesn’t mean they aren’t entitled to their opinion though, and a little understanding might change the aggravation every morning of obstructive residents into an understanding greeting. They still won’t like it, but they’ll likely understand you don’t make the decisions, and resign themselves to ‘progress’, whatever that means.