The professional relationships between general contractors and subcontractors have been rocky at times. While many projects do go off without a hitch, it only takes one bad experience to create an atmosphere of distrust between these two groups. Subcontractors complain about general contractors who don’t pay on time, or don’t pay at all. General contractors talk about subcontractors that do low-quality work and don’t take responsibility for it.
As the construction industry continues to grow around the world, despite a glaring global labor shortage, general contractors tackling big jobs must find a way to push production while navigating the sometimes precarious relationships with construction subcontractors.
There are ways to avoid some common problems that come along with managing subcontractors. Here are three tips for ensuring that your relationships with subcontractors stay strong and healthy.
Use Fair Contracts
It’s no secret that the less money general contractors pay for subcontracted work, the more they can keep as profit. For this reason, general contractors have sometimes used contract terms that could be perceived as taking advantage of subcontractors.
The contract is the first important milestone in a general/sub relationship, so it’s imperative that general contractors don’t use terms that fuel the atmosphere of distrust. That distrust is likely to carry throughout the project, which can cause much bigger problems later on.
The most contentious parts of any construction contract are the payment terms. Popular subcontractor payment terms include “paid-when-paid” and “paid-if-paid” clauses. These clauses are meant to safeguard the general contractor from having to pay subcontractors until after the building owner completes their end of the deal. This might seem like a smart move in the short-term, but it can injure general contractors’ relationships with subcontractors in the long-term. In addition, these clauses can be legally questionable.
For general contractors, it’s important to put yourselves in the shoes of your subcontractors. How would you feel if you weren’t paid for your efforts? Taking this perspective, it’s clear that subcontractors deserve to be paid for quality work. Using fair contracts can help promote trust from the get-go.
Maintain Strong Documentation
General contractors rely on a variety of subcontractors to complete vital tasks, and it is difficult to enforce their own standards and practices across every aspect of the project. This can create problems when incorrect or unsafe work goes unnoticed.
For example, if a subcontractor does a poor job installing electrical wiring and it’s not recognized until later in the project lifecycle, they might be forced to tear down entire walls to identify whether the issue was isolated to one area of the project or systemic throughout, and then fix the problem. A documentation service like Multivista, which uses professional construction photographers to maintain a visual record of every part of a construction site at every milestone, can safeguard against this scenario.
Visual documentation also increases accountability as work is being completed, because subcontractors are more likely to do their best work when they know it’s being documented and will be utilized as a long term facility record for decades. In addition, services like live webcams can help general contractors keep an eye on more parts of a jobsite at once.
Complete documentation also enables general contractors to fix any problems that do arise more quickly. With so much visibility into what is underneath, behind, and in between walls and other structures, identifying exactly where a problem lies only takes a few clicks of a mouse.
Focus on Relationships, Not Quick Payouts
Many of the persistent problems between general contractors and subcontractors come down to one core issue: short-term thinking.
When general contractors view subcontractors as obstacles to success, it creates animosity between the two parties. Unfair contract terms, lack of respect, and hostile work conditions make it likely that general contractors and subcontractors won’t work together again. Choosing to hire an inexpensive subcontractor or underpay the one you’ve hired might increase profits in the short-term, but when your next project comes around, you’ll be left searching for help among a smaller and smaller pool of reliable subcontractors.
On the other hand, thinking long-term can be beneficial for everyone. If a general contractor has a reliable network of subcontractors with whom they’ve built longstanding relationships, many of the typical problems with subcontracted work can be avoided.
A construction site can be a stressful place when not managed well, and trust is vital to maintaining high standards of work and safety. Using great documentation, promoting fairness, and thinking long-term are all useful tools for improving subcontractor management.