We all know what email is; it has changed how we communicate in the modern day and age.
But have you ever thought about how you write or use email?
It sounds silly, but email is not always the most effective form of communication in the construction industry. From what I have experienced, most people rarely use their email correctly.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. You should still maintain your professionalism when sending emails to people outside of your organization.
When emailing people within your organization, you can have a more casual tone.
My point is, you don’t want to get caught up spending too much time sending emails. Some people’s inboxes are so full that they may take days to respond or miss the email entirely.
In this article, I will discuss the effective use of email in construction project management.
You might be wondering, what’s so hard about sending emails?
It’s not hard to send emails, but there are ways to use it more effectively. For example, you don’t want to write out novels or be unclear in your message to the recipient.
I’ll give you some example emails that you can use as a reference when writing your own.
We will look at when you should use email versus calling a person. Also, I’ll talk about why you should avoid getting stuck only sending emails or wasting too much time with it.
The Benefits of Using Email in Construction Project Management
Email can be a valuable tool in the project manager’s arsenal. Knowing how to use it best will help you to succeed in this industry.
Let’s look at some of the primary benefits of using email.
- It can be great for communication with multiple people at once when utilizing CC and BCCs.
- This is also important when it comes to coordinating a significant construction activity. You can hold a meeting, but sending a recap via email is recommended so all parties have something to reference later.
- Use email to document something an individual has stated in writing. If you need to record a written approval via email, you can print an email to PDF and file it. Should an issue arise, you can refer to that email as a backup for approval to proceed with additional work.
- Email is suitable for sharing files with others. Most emails have a limitation on the file size, but you shouldn’t have an issue with most of the documents you send.
You can see why email has become popular in every industry with these benefits, but let’s look at its challenges.
The Challenges of Using Email in Construction Project Management
I’ve fallen into this trap before. You work on such a detailed and well-written email, sometimes spending up to an hour just writing it out.
You hit send, and the response you receive is so low effort you wonder why you went through all the effort in the first place.
So why did you go through the effort of writing all that out in email? Was a lot accomplished by doing that? Would it have been better to hold a meeting?
Many of these questions could be going through your head, and that’s ok. I’m here to tell you that you don’t always need these long emails to convey your message.
The more you try to add to your email, the more it could confuse someone. You end up spending so much time on emails when you could’ve been doing more productive things for the project.
It also increases your time working because you never get anything done. Only sending out emails thinking you’re getting somewhere when realistically you’re not.
You need to think about your message and get straight to the point. I know, easier said than done.
I’ll give you some examples you can follow to see what I mean by getting to the point.
Another challenge with email is that it’s not always the most effective form of communication.
Sometimes, people won’t respond to your email. That happens to me all the time!
If that happens, you may need to pick up the phone and call the person. Find out how different people you work with operate and their preferred form of communication.
Avoid getting caught up in back-and-forth emails; it just prolongs getting something solved. Instead, have a meeting where you can hash things out and solve the issue together. It’s much more effective than email.
These are some challenges that I have faced so far in my career. The email situation changes with the people you work with; keep that in mind.
Using Email to Manage Specific Aspects of Construction
Now, we can look at some examples! I’ll give you some scenarios, then write what I would say to someone or a team in my email.
Scenario 1: Using email to coordinate a task or schedule
I would start by emailing the superintendent or whoever oversees the field team. I would also include the email addresses in the CC section for those involved with the work.
It’s critical that the information gets to the team leader. If you don’t get a response, expect to follow up with a phone call later.
Here’s the example email:
Please see the attached construction schedule for your review. Let me know if you have any conflicts with the schedule so I can adjust accordingly.
I wanted to mention a few critical items in the schedule:
- We will have an electrical outage for the building on 11/22.
- A crane lift is scheduled for the AHU on 12/3.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to let me know.
The email would also include a construction schedule in PDF format for the recipient to review.
Let’s dive deeper into the email and why it is written this way.
You start with your greeting. I always use either “Hello” or “Hi” when starting my emails. You can also remove those and just type in the recipient’s name.
Do not use “Hey” in an email. That’s too casual. You’re not emailing your friend and want to be professional, so ditch the “Hey” in your email.
Next, right away, I’m letting them know what I need them to look over to schedule their work. I want to leave it open to any corrections that need to be made to the schedule, so I included the second sentence.
One helpful thing you can do, is mention the critical activities. Not only does it help make the recipient aware of it, but it can save them the time from having to dig through the schedule.
They should review the schedule regardless but this helps them to catch the critical activities.
Before my signature, I want to ensure the recipient knows they can contact me should they have any questions. It’s more a formality, so I include it in most emails.
Ok! Now, let’s move on to another scenario.
Scenario 2: Using email to track progress and report on status
You don’t have to go very in-depth for a follow-up email. All it takes is to request an update on the status of something and be clear about what you’re following up on.
I most commonly follow up on change orders, submittals, and RFIs. These get stuck in the review phase and sometimes need some push to get them through.
For this example, we’ll pretend that you’re reaching out for the status of a submittal.
Here’s the email:
Can you please provide an update on the status of submittal No.01 – Chiller Data Sheet.
Please note that further delay of the chiller submittal could result in a potential escalation cost.
You might be wondering, what’s up with the second sentence? I thought the email was going to be simple.
That second sentence is quite critical to include sometimes. It’s not always necessary, but I include it only when I think there’s a potential cost or schedule impact risk.
Another example is if you’re waiting on the approval of a change order. It would be best if you always got something in writing that a change is approved before you proceed with additional work.
Sometimes, a customer or general contractor might push for the work to start, but they haven’t given you written approval. That’s when you follow up and let them know you will not proceed without something in writing.
Follow-up emails are simple, but they cover your neck because you can document that you notified the recipient of what could happen with the delays. This means you can both protect yourself and help push something along by following up.
Next, we look at how to use email to resolve an issue or conflict.
Scenario 3: Using Email to Resolve an Issue of Conflict
Take caution before going down the route of using email to solve issues with a project. Most times, it’s best to handle issues by holding an on-site meeting, preferably so that everyone can look at the issue together.
When you begin by sending emails to address problems, you run into this issue where sometimes nothing gets solved. You send emails back and forth, getting nowhere and wasting time.
Before any of that happens, just decide to have a meeting so everyone can get on the same page. Trust me, you’ll save a lot of time and headaches.
To get the ball rolling, you could email to start. Depending on the issue’s complexity, this could be difficult to convey in an email.
I’ll give you a real-world example I recently dealt with on one of my projects.
We had to connect a new device for the HVAC controls to the building’s network. The plans had no precise location, so I sent an RFI.
The RFI allows me to document the issue should it result in additional cost or schedule impact.
The email went something like this:
We’re looking for a location to connect our HVAC controls to the building’s network. The plans do not indicate a place to connect to the system, so we request additional information from the building’s IT department.
I’ve provided detailed information about what we require from the IT department; please see the attached RFI.
Additionally, I’d like to request a meeting to address this at your earliest convenience. Please let me know when the parties are available to meet.
If you have any questions regarding the RFI, let me know.
Here, I kept the email itself pretty simple. I reserved the more detailed information for the RFI sent to the engineer and owner for review.
The formal way to receive answers to design issues is to submit the RFI. You won’t get anywhere trying to do this through email.
Note: If you’re working direct-to-customer jobs that don’t have a plan and spec, you might get away with design questions via email.
In the email above, you can see I kept the following structure.
- Stated the problem.
- Let the recipient know about any attachments in the email.
- Requested a meeting to expedite the process and find a solution.
- Allow the recipient to ask any questions that they might have about the email and attachment.
Avoid stuffing the email too much because it might become unclear, and you’ll have trouble getting your message across.
With the examples I’ve provided, I hope you have a better idea of how to write emails effectively.
Before you go, I want to share some emailing tips that you can follow for your career ahead.
4 Tips for Using Email to Communicate with Others Effectively
Know Your Audience
You need to know what type of person you’re sending an email to. Some will not check their email much, and it may be best to reach them by text or phone.
I’ve worked with companies with only 1 or 2 people running the operations. Their emails are so overwhelmed, or they just don’t have time to check them; those people you need to call.
If you’re someone who thinks you can send an email and everything will be good, you’ll be sorely mistaken. You need to get a response that the recipient has agreed to or received the email you sent.
If you don’t get a response in a day or two, follow up with another email. If you still don’t get a response, call them.
Importance of the Subject Line
The subject line is the first thing your recipient will see. It’s simple to write a compelling subject line.
Always start with the project name, if applicable, a hyphen, and the topic for discussion. Here’s an example:
Replace Roofs Building 50 & 110 – Pay Application No.01 June 2023
To avoid confusion, you shouldn’t begin covering a subject that is irrelevant to the topic. I’ve had people call me confused because we had used an email chain, and the topic of discussion changed at some point.
Instead of continuing using that email chain, I should’ve created a new email or changed the subject line.
Creating a good subject line will also be helpful when referring back to emails in the future. If you need to dig or search for a particular email, having a well-made subject line will help you identify it quickly.
Make it Easy to Read
As I mentioned earlier, make your emails clear and concise. Eliminate any fluff if possible.
Get straight to the point and avoid straying from the topic of discussion. Your goal here is to reduce the chance of confusion when someone is reading your email.
I try to limit my paragraphs to 2-3 sentences max. Also, keep the sentences short if possible.
The easier your email reads, the better your communication with the recipient.
Making use of CC and BCC
Using CC and BCC can be effective when sending emails.
I will always use the CC feature; rarely does an email go to a single person.
I do this because, usually, the project information should be known by your other team members. By including my team in the CCs for project-related emails, I keep them informed.
You should think about who you CC. If your boss wants you to CC them, then go for it. I don’t think it’s necessary for all things, just the items with greater importance.
Here’s something that I learned in my experience in the construction industry. If you’re struggling to reach someone, and they won’t respond to your emails, you CC their boss.
If you don’t know their bosses email, this can be tough. You’ll need to go up the chain and see if you can get ahold of someone in the supervisory position.
Caution: when doing this, you’re calling the person out and making their boss aware they’re not responding/doing their job. Some may see this as you’re going behind their back to get them in trouble.
You’re just trying to do your job, but just be aware of what could happen; this has only happened to me once.
When it comes to using BCC, don’t expect to use it often, if at all. It hides the recipients, but there’s no reason you should hide the other emails unless requested by someone.
We’ve covered what you need to know regarding email in construction. You don’t want to get stuck sending emails all day as a project manager.
Don’t focus too much energy writing long emails because that wastes time and effort.
Instead, focus on what the job demands. If you need to send out an attachment or if coordination is required, then sure, send out that email. Just don’t spend half your day doing it.
Of course, there are many different ways to look at this. I have found that email can become more of a distraction.
To this day, I have my email notifications turned off to help me concentrate on my project tasks. I know I can return to my email and send responses periodically.
There’s no need for the response to occur immediately. After all you’re not using instant messaging here!
That’s all on emails for now.
Thanks for reading!
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