Australian property and construction companies enjoy higher levels of trust compared with many of their international peers, a survey involving thousands of built environment professionals has found.

In its Trust Matters – The High Cost of Low Trust report prepared in conjunction with management consulting and investment banking firm FMI, design and construction software company Autodesk surveyed 2,527 architects, engineers, contractors, trade contractors and project owners from across eight countries about the trustworthiness of organisations for whom they worked.

Of the 178 respondents from Australia, 38 percent reported very high levels of trust in their organisation. This compared with 36 percent who reported likewise across all survey respondents.

In addition:

  • 42 percent of Australian respondents agreed that individual roles and responsibilities are well defined within their organisation. This compares with 32 percent across all survey respondents who indicated likewise.
  • 26 percent of Australian respondents agreed that most people within their organisation are explicit about their requests (why these are being made and objectives behind the request). This compares with 22 percent of respondents who indicated likewise across the survey.
  • 29 percent of Australian respondents agreed that their organisation provides candid feedback on their performance, compared with 28 percent across all survey respondents who indicated likewise.
  • However, fewer Australian respondents (20 percent) reported high levels of collaboration within their organisation. This compares with 24 percent survey-wide.

In its report, Autodesk said the importance of trust should not be underestimated.

Across organisations of respondents surveyed, it says those with high levels of trust have greater staff retention and fewer missed deadlines. This results in annual cost savings worth up to $US750,000 in needing to replace fewer staff and up to $US4 million associated with a lower incidence of deadline overruns.

This greater reliability in meeting deadlines is also driving more repeat business and higher gross margins to the tune of between two and seven percent.

Finally, organisations with high levels of trust benefit from greater productivity. Amongst workers with ‘very high’ trust in their organisations, 49 percent say they would go above and beyond what is expected of them. This compares to 24 percent who would do likewise across the average of those surveyed.

Adele Bernard, head of APAC Marketing at Autodesk Construction Solutions, said Australia’s construction sector had a favourable position in developing trust because of our relatively high uptake in technology.

Pointing to an earlier report which Autodesk published in conjunction with FMI in 2018, Bernard said many architecture, engineering, and construction firms in Australia had been early adopters in software which facilitates the sharing of data and information across project team members.

Notwithstanding well-publicised challenges in some areas of construction quality and payment practices, she says this has given contractors and employees greater clarity and certainty when undertaking their work.

“I am thrilled to see that because we adopted early, we are already seeing the benefits in Australian construction firms outperforming our international peers,” Bernard said in regards to construction technology.

“Due to high levels of trust and collaboration, employees are engaged, more productive and doing better quality work because they understand their roles and responsibilities. This dynamic leads to real benefits for productivity and the bottom line.”

Asked about practical differences which would be noticeable on work sites where trust is high, Bernard pointed to several factors.

These include:

  • Open sharing of data/information and transparency about why decisions are being made
  • Clear understanding among workers about their roles and what is expected of them
  • Clear allocation of responsibilities and tasks
  • A free flow of communication and understanding from workers about priorities and areas of focus.

Sites where trust is low, by contrast, may be characterised by ambiguity over responsibilities and tasks assigned, conflict, trepidation about raising concerns or suggesting improvements, poor information flows and second-guessing about what is going on.

Asked how trust can be developed, Bernard said two themes emerged from the research.

First, it was important to deliver as much certainty as possible on site. This can be done through greater transparency, clearly defined roles and responsibilities, regular performance feedback and open communication – the last point of which can occur through means such as getting together before work commences or weekly roundtables of knowledge sharing and ideas.

When going about this, Bernard says it is important to remain consistent and to avoid any unnecessary changes to projects and plans. Workers and contractors should also have easy access to up-to-date project information.

Second, processes for collaboration should be simplified. Here, Bernard says personal relationships and connection are critical. These can be facilitated by means such as social occasions and after-work drinks.

Finally, Bernard says the role of technology should not be underestimated.

Speaking particularly of her own company, Bernard says construction software tools such as Autodesk Construction Cloud facilitate the sharing of data throughout the project team and help to ensure that project team members are working off the same drawings and plans.

This, she says, can help facilitate greater connectivity across an otherwise fragmented industry.