Greening in Construction: What Chances for Workplace Innovation?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 10:15 AM
Room: 415
Distributed Paper
Monique RAMIOUL , HIVA-Research Institute for Work and Society, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
This paper investigates how construction companies innovate their organisations in response to the shift to energy-efficient construction. The changes in product and process induced by green construction confront companies with detailed technical instructions, severe accuracy requirements for all operations and no room for improvisation. As a result, construction involves more specialisation, a growing length and complexity of the value chain (with more contractors involved), more standardisation, the modularisation of construction components, a shortening of lead-times, etc. Overall the process becomes highly sensitive for disturbances and requires rigid coordination and logistics. To investigate the impact of these changes, case studies were carried out in two Belgian construction companies. Each included interviews with 6-7 management representatives, 5-6 workers and on-site visits. Two contrasting work organisations were observed. The first can be characterised as an ‘enlightened’ employee-centred organisation model based on participation. The work organisation combines the centralised design and off-site prefabrication of some components with on-site empowered teamwork and investments in skills of the workers. These aim at reinforcing decentralised process coordination and regulation capacities. Subcontractors are included as partners in the on-site construction teams. The need for contextualised knowledge, decentralised problem-solving and high involvement of all dominates in this corporate strategy. The second company, in contrast, opts for high levels of division of labour, standardised and short-cycled off-site preparation of prefabricated components, centralised and bureaucratised process coordination, risk-transfer based subcontracting and a strategy of constant productivity increases and rationalisation. High levels of control and process-orientation are the key-words in this corporate strategy. It appears that the ‘greening’ can as such not be identified as a main driver of workplace innovation in construction. The second corporate strategy may be reason for concerns for new risks affecting the sustainability of jobs in this industry against the background of an aging work force.