An elevated experience starts with a strategy and an infusion of technology
Not all workplace tours are created equal. Tours will differ from one another based on several factors related to the tour designer’s overall strategy: what type of facility will house the tour (e.g., factory, office, work site, etc.); the target audience for whom the tour is designed; and the objectives for developing the tour in the first place.
Some tours are targeted at the general public, and are typically used to promote the company’s brands. Many factory tours fall into this category, although factory tours can also be aimed at fellow professionals. A tour of office facilities is almost always intended for other professionals: visitors from a home office, or time management experts, or human resource professionals.
Construction Site Tours
When the location to be toured is a construction site, strategies and plans must take a very different set of parameters into consideration. More often than not, the audience consists of people who are intimately involved in the process: architects, designers, construction professionals, equipment and material suppliers. And whether they’re students or seasoned veterans of the industry, they’re there in order to learn, in a situation that’s as real-world and hands-on as possible – not just to passively absorb factoids like a tourist on a brewery tour. They seek to actively engage with any and all information and insights offered, in order to become better at their own current or future jobs.
Learning on a site tour can be visual. It can also be tactile. But more than anything else, it’s auditory. The tour guide’s voice-over supplies critical context for any information conveyed through eyes, fingertips, or ears. But on-site noise levels present multiple hurdles to an effective tour, in terms of both safety and audio communication.
First, there are health-related issues. Sound levels associated with heavy construction equipment are typically in the 80-90 decibel range. This means the prevailing noise level at a construction site is right around OSHA’s recommended safety limit of 85 decibels. And in fact that noise level can be as high as 120 decibels, raising real concerns about potential hearing damage or other health effects. But the truth is that hearing protection is widely used, and enforced by rule, in virtually any workplace where noise is a threat to hearing health.
The second hurdle to creating an effective tour in the high-noise environment of a construction site is, of course, related to communication. The human voice typically projects in the 70-76 decibel range, meaning it will be drowned out during most times at most sites. Even a shout only reaches 88 decibels, theoretically loud enough to be heard at some points in the workday at a construction site – but who wants to conduct an entire tour in a shout?
Technology comes to the rescue, in the form of three devices that can ensure clear communication, before, during, and after the tour. This parallels the old rule for any good presentation: Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell it to them. Then tell them what you just told them. (And no, that won’t be overly repetitive or boring if you shift the way you frame your point for each iteration.)
First, tell them what you’re going to tell them
Consider a virtual tour in preparation for a physical tour. Virtual reality and even augmented reality can be a great complement to the physical experience of a site tour. Their application in construction is advancing rapidly. While some are using these technologies to replace physical site tours, they may better serve as preparation for the real experience. By overlaying tags or other projections onto real-world objects, augmented reality can be used to let tour participants know what to expect, how to keep themselves safe, and invest more time explaining key points than may be available on the tour itself.
Second, tell it (and show it) to them
Once the physical tour commences, make sure everyone is outfitted with a high noise communication headset incorporating a transceiver and receiver. Comfortable and easy to use, the beauty of these headsets as far as listener is concerned is that the sound of the speaker’s voice initiates immediately adjacent to his or her ear, making the noise-filled gap between lips and ear irrelevant. The need for shouting will be banished forever.
Lastly, tell them what you just told them
Investigate the best approach to recording each individual tour, so that all participants can return to their respective work stations with a personalized reference they can make use of again and again. A nicely packaged audio recording will work well (enabled, of course, by those high noise communication headsets). But imagine how powerful the spur to memory could be if the audio were synched with visual recordings. Today, more and more construction projects are making use of drones to create a visual record, but other approaches may include one of the many options for portable, human-operated, hands-free video recording.
Construction site tours developed and executed based on this overall framework can be powerfully effective in communicating the right information to the right people using the right technology. Participants from CEOs to recent trade school graduates will benefit – as will the tour developer themselves.
Rick Farrell, President, Plant-Tours.com
Rick is North America’s foremost expert in improving manufacturing group communication, education, training and group hospitality processes. He has over 40 years of group hospitality experience, most recently serving as President of Plant-Tours.com for the last 18 years. He has provided consulting services with the majority of Fortune 500 industrial corporations improving group communication dynamics of all types in manufacturing environments.