Subcontractors in residential construction


What is a subcontractor?

A subcontractor is an individual or company who agrees to complete a portion of the work outlined in another company’s project. In return, the contracting business pays the subcontractor for the completed work. For example, a company may use an advertising agency to help with specialized marketing.

In residential construction, a builder or remodeler will hire subcontractors (or “subs”) to complete smaller, specialized tasks throughout a build. Typically, builders and remodelers delegate jobs to electricians, flooring specialists, landscapers, and other trades to ensure every element of their project is completed well and on time.

Why are subcontractors important in residential construction?

Builders + remodelers are always running between job sites, catching up on lost time, and trying to juggle every vital element of their various projects. To mitigate stress and improve quality, they hire subcontractors thereby creating more time to coordinate projects and work on business-related administrative tasks and manage the client relationship. Experienced subcontractors are experts in their craft and create higher-quality products than builders who scramble to complete everything on their own.

While builders + remodelers have to provide health insurance and benefits to their own team members, a building company is not obligated to provide benefits to subcontractors. A subcontractor acts as their own legal entity and operates as a small business. This is one way building companies save money in an industry with such tight margins.

Vendors and trades work alongside a building company on a project. This personnel includes engineers, architects, designers, and others who are not direct team members of the building company. Other subcontractors include stonemasons, electricians, roofers, landscapers, carpenters, drywallers, and plumbers who offer specialized skills or trade work that typically require dedicated training.

How do builders + remodelers communicate with subcontractors?

Builders + remodelers communicate with subcontractors, trades, and vendors in a number of ways and leveraging a range of technological options.

1. Manual Methods

Traditional, manual methods such as phone calls, texts, and email accommodate individuals with varying comfort levels with technology. This mode of communication often gets the job done but can result in confusion over which project is under discussion, missed communication due to human error and oversight, and lost time attempting to track down that one text message with all the instructions. While these methods may work for smaller, less complex projects that don’t involve too many moving pieces, building firms still lose valuable organization to the holistic project with such a disparate communication style.

When builders + remodelers start working on multiple projects and work with a large number of different subcontractors, texting and emailing can get very chaotic. Separated from other project details, these manual communication methods quickly break down and cause confusion.

2. Communication Apps

Applications specializing in team communication, such as Slack, GroupMe, Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangouts, create a streamlined communication experience that keeps details in one place. These apps are convenient for managing large numbers of people and keeping them all on task. Communication is one of the toughest pain points for builders + remodelers because miscommunication results in scheduling headaches, delivery delays, rework, and confusion regarding compensation. Keeping communication organized and clear mitigates many of these struggles, and communication apps offer a platform that keeps everything in one place yet clearly organized.

While these apps allow users to sort, filter, tag, and otherwise organize communications for easy reference and to keep details straight, they operate outside other project details. Builders and remodelers, for example, may create a beautiful schedule in a schedule app but then communicate those details through a separate communication app. If that schedule changes, project managers have to remember to update any impacted subcontractors or team members. The “paper” documents and project details often live outside these communication tools, making it difficult to communicate updates and changes.

3. Integrated Construction Management Tools

An integrated construction management tool allows builders and remodelers to track project financials, communicate with their teams and subcontractors, and build schedules all in one program. These tools are a step above generic project management and communication software. In construction management platforms like CoConstruct, builders + remodelers can send scheduling updates to subcontractors straight from their project schedule. CoConstruct also allows for efficient 3-way communication between builders, clients, and subcontractors. When everything is integrated in a construction management software, builders + remodelers don’t need to cycle through old text messages and emails to track subcontractor communication.

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Joseph Hornbuckle
Joseph Hornbuckle

Joseph, a native of Atlanta, has been a strong advocate for better story telling to help builders + remodelers learn the software.