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Improving Project Communications Management Practices in the Construction Sector during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Malaysian Scenario

Improving Project Communications Management Practices in the Construction Sector during the... buildings Article Improving Project Communications Management Practices in the Construction Sector during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Malaysian Scenario 1 1 , 1 Chitdrakantan Subramaniam , Syuhaida Ismail *, Wan Nurul Mardiah Wan Mohd Rani 2 , and Amir Mahdiyar * Razak Faculty of Technology and Informatics, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Sultan Yahya Petra, Kuala Lumpur 54100, Malaysia School of Housing, Building and Planning, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Gelugor 11800, Malaysia * Correspondence: syuhaida.kl@utm.my (S.I.); amirmahdiyar@usm.my (A.M.) Abstract: The construction industry remains an important economic sector that supports the growth of a nation. It is vital to maintain the industry’s momentum when facing the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, or similar in the future, to ensure employability and decent jobs for every indi- vidual in the industry, especially foreign labourers who are always regarded as vulnerable. Improving existing project communications management practices is essential to suppressing infection among labourers; however, there are only a few efforts made to understand the current condition. This study explores the communications management barriers and the potential improvement measures amid the COVID-19 outbreak sweeping across the Malaysian construction industry. The findings disclose that out of eleven communication channels, only six communications management barrier variables with eight items, and three communications management improvement measure variables Citation: Subramaniam, C.; Ismail, S.; with seven items, are classified as highly critical, based on a systematic literature review (SLR), and a Rani, W.N.M.W.M.; Mahdiyar, A. questionnaire survey on 100 foreign labourers and management team members, respectively, where Improving Project Communications the data gathered were analysed using the Rasch measurement model. The finding also suggests that Management Practices in the Construction Sector during the site review meetings, team meeting discussions and project reports require immediate attention to COVID-19 Pandemic: A Malaysian ensure the construction industry remains robust without significant interruption during the course of Scenario. Buildings 2022, 12, 1291. the pandemic. https://doi.org/10.3390/ buildings12091291 Keywords: construction project; project communications management; foreign labourers; COVID-19 Academic Editor: Davide Settembre-Blundo Received: 30 June 2022 1. Introduction Accepted: 10 August 2022 The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is causing widespread disruption Published: 23 August 2022 across the globe and, as a result, a number of countries including Malaysia, have been forced Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral to implement lockdowns in an effort to stop the virus from spreading [1]. The COVID-19 with regard to jurisdictional claims in pandemic has infected more than 500 million individuals [2]. It spreads at an incredible rate, published maps and institutional affil- causing countries to enforce restrictions on movement to stop the virus from spreading [3]. iations. The Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic a global Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), which defines a pandemic as an extraordinary event that poses a public health risk to other States due to disease transmission across international borders and may necessitate Copyright: © 2022 by the authors. a coordinated worldwide response [4]. This announcement was made in light of the urgent Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. need for drastic action. This article is an open access article Lockdown imposed on construction projects was imminent since the Ministry of distributed under the terms and Health, Malaysia, reported that 53.2 percent of COVID-19 clusters emerged from the work- conditions of the Creative Commons place, where one of the three most important contributors is the construction industry [5]. Attribution (CC BY) license (https:// creativecommons.org/licenses/by/ This trend is expected to continue if drastic measures are not initiated [6]. The action to 4.0/). impose lockdown and the closure of certain business sectors caused the economic growth Buildings 2022, 12, 1291. https://doi.org/10.3390/buildings12091291 https://www.mdpi.com/journal/buildings Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 2 of 20 around the world to weaken because of unresolved trade tensions, a drop in investment, more volatile markets and geopolitical uncertainty wherein 2019, the global growth rate was only 2.5 percent, down from 3.0 percent in 2018 [7]. The Construction Industry De- velopment Board, Malaysia (CIDB), in its 2019 Annual Report, indicated that the global economy is expected to experience a negative growth at the rate of 3.0 percent, hence the domestic economy is forecasted to contract between 5.5 percent to 3.5 percent in 2020 [7]. This will make it more difficult to achieve the goals of sustained economic growth, complete and productive employment and decent work for all people, as outlined in Sustainable Development Goal 8 of the United Nations, which is Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG8) [8]. As a consequence of this, the preventative measures that were adopted in the con- struction industry in order to control the spread of the virus had a considerable influence. Moreover, in the current crisis, declining revenue and rising project delivery issues resulted in poor performance among the industry players, thus negatively impacting the labour force [9]. In Malaysia, a year-on-year comparison clearly shows that the construction in- dustry has contracted as much as 21 percent. In contrast, the quarterly comparison reveals that the value of completed construction work decreased by 12 percent from the previous quarter [10]. The COVID-19 pandemic impacts human life and drags the economy to its worst, involving most major economic contributors [11]. As a result, construction projects had to be put on hold or cancelled because there were insufficient materials and equipment because of the lockdown. Even though the Malaysian authorities are mulling to evolve from pandemic to en- demic (Camoens, 2022) [12] and, although the construction industry is in better shape now than it was in mid-2020, many projects are still on hold, postponed and awaiting approval from local authorities before they can continue work [13]. Furthermore, the COVID-19 standard operating procedure (SOP) by the National Security Council (NSC) imposes the requirements to ensure social distancing, reduction in the workforce and limiting face- to-face interaction, which are strictly enforced [14]. Since 90 percent of time spent on a project is through communication (PMI, 2017) [15], Olanrewaju et al. (2021) [13] added that there is a need to explore the situation and initiate measures that include improvising communications management in the industry that are COVID-safe. Having said that, it is imperative to ensure that every individual involved in a project has a good grasp of daily activities happening on the site. With so many limitations, the construction industry needs a strong platform and mechanism for communication if it wants to stay on track [16]. Furthermore, Pamidimukkala and Kermanshachi (2021) [17] stressed that good interaction through a profound communications management plan between labourers and supervisors is an important element in preventing the virus from spreading. This is important as foreign workers are vulnerable and easily get infected with COVID-19 due to their accommodation conditions; thus, they may also risk spreading it at site [18]. Furthermore, an observation by the Ministry of Health, Malaysia reflected that transmission of COVID-19 among foreign workers are mostly caused by cramped work sites and crowded living quarters [19]. The International Labour Organization (ILO) reported that foreign workers are the most impacted from the construction site shutdown during the peak of COVID-19 pandemic, as most of them are left jobless and without any alternative income [20]. Many foreign workers flee due to improper medical attention or solution while no new workers could enter the country, causing a shortage of manpower, thus slowing down the industry [21]. Every stakeholder was impacted and realised that a structured communication plan that is capable of withstanding the challenges caused by COVID-19 prevention measures is lacking. Equally important is the factors taken into consideration to develop the project communications management plan, which is crafted based on critical elements of the actual situation at construction sites. This is only possible by collecting data from respondents from the construction projects that were allowed during the Movement Control Order (MCO). Therefore, this study fo- cuses on identifying the critical communications management barriers during the COVID- Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 3 of 20 19 pandemic and, thereafter, outlines the significant communications management im- provement measures that will help overcome communication breakdown, thus supporting the goal of SDG8. The outcome of the study will be instrumental in the future development of a workable communications management if a similar catastrophe hits the construction industry and other similar industries. 2. Project Communications Management In any sector, especially in the construction industry, communication is essential to the successful completion of project activities. Project communications management ensures that project information and stakeholder needs are met by carrying out activities [15]. Hence, providing a steady flow of information throughout the project is essential. In general, communication is described as a mechanism for communicating infor- mation between individuals or organisations in order to attain a shared understanding. This is accomplished by exchanging ideas or information, such as words, photographs, gestures, written materials or actions [22]. Theoretically, communication is founded on a Latin word communism, which means to communicate, to make common, and to make known via verbal, nonverbal, a digital platform, or a mix and is therefore considered a sort of knowledge sharing that can take place in writing or verbally via upward, downward or lateral communication [23]. The most common model is linear, which illustrates how a sender sends an information to a receiver through various communication channels, with noise and barriers in the way. Fundamentally, the project communications management plan is developed based on the Shannon–Weaver Communication Model that clearly positions the function of the sender, decoding, channel, noise, encoding and receiver [24,25]. The model also highlights the importance of feedback from the receiver to ensure the quality of communication meets the expectation [26]. In the same way, Harold Lasswell (1948) [27] came up with the Lasswell’s 5W Model of Communication, which looks at the answers to the questions who (say), what (to), whom (in), which channel (with) and what effect to see if there is a chance that there is unclear communication [28]. Communication in the construction industry is described as the sharing of project information and methodologies to establish a mutually intelligible platform between the sender and the recipient [29]. Therefore, to interpret and communicate information efficiently, a project manager needs to develop interpersonal skills. Complex construction projects with many stakeholders have long raised the possibility of project communications management efficiency being compromised [30]. In addition, a project can involve a single unit, multiple units from the same organisation or even different organisations. Therefore, frequent communication among team members is needed to hinder any shortcomings in achieving project success [31]. Conversely, the COVID-19 standard operating procedure (SOP) imposed by the Na- tional Security Council (NSC) halts communication among team members. Moreover, most construction industry stakeholders were unable to make alternative communication plans due to the prolonged Movement Control Order (MCO) [11]. Additionally, in their study, Salami, Ajayia and Oyegoke (2022) [32] found that sudden restrictions imposed to eliminate infection caught many construction companies unprepared and the MCO by NSC do not work well with the industry since construction site activities require the physical presence of site labourers [33]. This undoubtedly adds to the obstacles that already exist in establishing reliable communication among team members. The construction industry is essential to every nation’s economic empowerment and success. The industry is responsible for generating employment prospects for billions of employees, both skilled and unskilled, worldwide [34]. Therefore, since the pandemic does not seem to show signs of slowing down, the industry must be revived soon with appropriate measures put in place. Acknowledging that it is possible for COVID-19 to be transmitted when an infected person speaks, coughs or sneezes, especially during a Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 4 of 20 conversation within close proximity, which usually happens in a construction site, the focus must be given towards introducing a safer communications management approach [13]. Pamidimukkala and Kermanshachi (2021) [17] found in a recent study that the most important COVID-19 challenges and strategies include coming up with new ways to manage communications and get around technical problems to improve communication when project managers and labourers are not available on a regular basis. Similarly, Al-Mhdawi et al. (2022) [35] summarised that common contractual-related discrepancies during the pandemic are caused by inefficient negotiation processes that result from inef- fective communication mechanisms. It is almost certain that the pandemic has significantly changed the functional approach, hence prioritising improved communications manage- ment and socialisation patterns, particularly in adopting safer measures, are essential [36]. While communication is widely recognised as a vital component of project success, there is very few empirical research in this area. Then again, it is worth noting that project communications management procedures receive relatively less attention [37]. In fact, Molena and Rovai (2016) [38] highlighted that, given the emphasis on the necessity of communication and the prevalence of difficulties, the practices involved in project communications management receive inadequate attention. A study to understand the barriers in project communications management during a pandemic and the potential improving measures is the key to supporting actions towards ensuring project success [39]. In the first stage of this process, a systematic literature review was conducted to identify the communication channels that are utilised most frequently in the construction business. Therefore, based on the findings highlighted in several related publications, eleven common communication channels identified are: team meeting discussion; site review meeting; work breakdown structure (WBS); organisational breakdown structure; resource breakdown technology; employee suggestion scheme; structure; record management system; project reports; formal communication; and informal communication [26,31,40–50]. 2.1. Project Communications Management Barriers Miscommunication is inevitable in the construction industry due to its complexity and dynamism. It is considerably more sensitive when multiple stakeholders are involved in a single project. With multiple parties involved, information is frequently misinterpreted and delivered late. Incorrect and delayed information will invariably have an adverse effect on the success of a project. Additionally, messages are frequently communicated via ambiguous communication channels, which results in misunderstandings. The stan- dard operating procedure (SOP) implemented by the Ministry of Health Malaysia (MOH) originally allowed for the presence of only half of the personnel on-site [51]. However, the current SOP established by the National Security Council (NSC) emphasises the importance of maintaining social distance at all times. This includes a drastic reduction in face-to-face discussions, group meetings, and crowding in common areas [14]. Other than that, the Department of Occupational Safety and Health, Malaysia (DOSH) and Ministry of Works, Malaysia (KKR), respectively, also issued SOPs pertaining to safety measures to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among construction site labourers [52,53]. According to Tang (2020) [54], miscommunication is highly possible due to the uncertainty caused by different SOPs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teo and Loosemore (2001) [55] suggest that the lack of an industry norm or single technique will lead to misunderstand- ing and confusion, resulting in wasteful or repetitive operations. Based on the literature review, nine common communications management barriers faced in the construction industry, as illustrated in Table 1, are namely distorted information, multiple stakeholders, usage of technical jargon, unclear communication channels, language barriers, late infor- mation dissemination, lack of necessary skills, multicultural work environment and the personality factor. Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 5 of 20 Table 1. Common communications management barriers in the construction industry. Communication Barrier Distorted information / / / / / / / / / / / 11 Multiple stakeholders / / / / / / / / / 9 Usage of technical jargon / / / / / / / / 8 Unclear communication channel / / / / / / / / 8 Language barrier / / / / / / / 7 Late information dissemination / / / / / / / 7 Lack of necessary skills / / / / / / / 7 Multi-cultural work environment / / / / / / / 7 Personality factor / / / / / / / 7 Source: Adopted and modified from [26,31,40–50]. It is reported that until August 2019, a total of 1.99 million foreign labourers were registered in Malaysia, where approximately 430,000 of them are listed under the con- struction industry [57]. These foreign labourers of different nationalities and educational backgrounds or skills constitute a series of issues that would burden the stakeholders, in- cluding miscommunication. Conceivably, Abuarqoub (2019) [43] and Valitherm (2014) [41] imply that language barriers are a significant communication risk for managers and for- eign personnel. Yusof and Rahmat (2020) [58] stressed that failure to adhere to project communications management procedures on the project was exacerbated by the presence of a language barrier, which significantly and negatively influenced worker safety. This language barrier is worsening as foreign labourers, who come in various nationalities and speak a range of languages, slang, accents and dialects, may cause a severe breakdown in communication. Progress reporting, leadership, attitude, a multicultural setting and a clearly defined communication channel are all cited as critical aspects in implementing good communi- cation management [45]. Furthermore, due to inexperience and employees’ attitudes, a convoluted communication channel generates distorted information flow [44]. Aside from that, late information transmission contributes to bad performance [49]. A study on the Dubai-Fujairah highway project found that inexperienced management employees and a lack of knowledge sharing among construction project labourers were discovered to be the two most significant communication barriers [29]. In a similar study, Akunyumu et al. (2019) [59] identified six project communications management barriers: restriction to information, cultural issues, delays in sharing information, technical chal- lenges, lack of feedback and lack of cooperation. In addition, out of the 19 possible causes of miscommunication evaluated, technical jargon, language differences, refined information and self-interest were found as the most common hurdles to efficient communications management [31]. These elements that lead to miscommunication must be addressed and a suitable action plan has to be taken to overcome the situation. In a recent study, Safapour, Kermanshachi and Kamalirad (2021) [40] discovered the possibility that the quality of communication between each of the major stakeholders could be improved by introducing technical features into the management of project communi- Safapour et al. (2021) [40] Olaniran (2015) [49] Zakaria and Singh (2021) [42] Ejohwomu et al. (2017) [45] Djajalaksana et al. (2017) [31] Rahman and Gamil (2019) [50] Wu et al. (2017) [56] Nadae and Carvalho (2019) [48] Holzmann and Globerson (2003) [46] Valitherm (2014) [41] Lee and Kim (2018) [26] Abuarqoub (2019) [43] Alzeraa et al. (2018) [44] Frequency of Appearance Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 6 of 20 cations. Safapour et al. (2021) [40] pointed out that technology assists project managers in allocating adequate resources to their projects and implementing proactive procedures that prevent miscommunications and the unintended effects of those miscommunications. Despite technical breakthroughs and innovations, it is still uncommon for the Malaysian construction industry to embrace various technologies due to various obstacles such as expense, price, culture and technical know-how [42]. 2.2. Project Communications Management Improvement Measures Ineffective communication significantly and adversely impacts project quality, cost, schedule and employee safety in the construction industry [60]. Poor communication can cause major delays in construction schedules. Miscommunication results in work being redone or corrected as a result of inaccurate information [58]. If there is insufficient project supervision, it is possible for the occurrence of communication breakdown, which causes project schedules to delay, and the cost of any given project may be substantially increased [61]. Khoury (2019) [61] further explained that overcoming communication barriers demands constant observation and consideration of potential obstacles that may arise during a specific communication session. It will be essential to employ different methods to overcome barriers in different circumstances, depending on the severity of the obstacles that must be overcome, and this will be the case because it will be necessary to employ different techniques to overcome barriers. For example, the industry may opt for basic language training to overcome the lan- guage barrier between site labourers and the management team. The training modules may include upskilling of technical knowledge among site labourers, as most of them are not trained to work at construction sites [62]. Similarly, training may also be introduced to the management team on basic foreign language adequate for simple conversation. In multidisciplinary settings, such as the construction industry, where tasks are performed by individuals with varying skill sets across and within organisations, teamwork is sometimes taken for granted [63]. In most cases, the industry comprises numerous teams working toward the same goal. Hence, improvement measures implemented have to cater to both individuals and teams. A study by Salami et al. (2022) [32] found that the implementation of work bubbles on construction sites to reduce unnecessary social and physical connections between labourers can aid in the containment of COVID-19. The concept was proposed to the construction industry, where interactions are allowed within a small, selected group of close labourers while maintaining proper hygiene practices, such as frequent handwashing and the use of face masks [32]. Zakaria and Singh (2021) [42] suggested that utilisation of related technologies, such as tracing applications, building information modelling (BIM), drones, virtual/augmented reality and robotics, will not only reduce human interaction but at the same time help improve worker ’s productivity while safeguarding their health, well- being and safety in line with the Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG8). Although this approach is viable, it requires early negotiations between the construction company and other stakeholders, particularly the contractors, to fully comprehend the impact of pandemics such as COVID-19 on the projects [64]. Early discussions also facilitate future planning, thus assisting in task sequencing and hence reducing overlap between site activities [65]. However, despite various approaches, it is crucial to determine the effectiveness of project communications management through these improvement measures during a pandemic [65]. A vitally important first step in improving communications manage- ment is developing a technique for measuring and assessing communication performance. Nevertheless, a variety of concepts, methodologies and definitions are used to measure communication performance [66]. Notably, communication performance is frequently defined in terms of how successfully the communication’s objectives and functions are met [62]. Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 7 of 20 According to Holzmann and Globerson (2003) [46], the Project Communication Man- agement Index Model (PCMI) can be used to assess communication effectiveness because it is built on two areas of knowledge: project management and communications management. PCMI is primarily adopted to evaluate communications management protocol in terms of completeness, timing, correctness and volume, which are all aspects of overall communica- tion efficacy [67]. On the other hand, Alzeraa et al. (2018) [44] and Kwofie et al. (2020) [62] added that the PCMI concept, which was initially developed by the Construction In- dustry Institute in 1997 and has been examined and enhanced, now has six important communication effectiveness variables: namely accuracy, timeliness, procedure, barri- ers, understanding and completeness. Table 2 displays six communications management efficacy measure commonly used in the construction industry. Table 2. Common communications management efficacy measure in the construction industry. Communication Efficacy Measure Clarity / / / / / / / / / 9 Specificity / / / / / / / / 8 Completeness / / / / / / / / 8 Barriers / / / / / / / 7 Timeliness / / / / / / 6 Processes / / / / / 5 Source: Adopted and modified from [41,44,46,50,62,66–70]. Seemingly, the way out from the current impact on existing communication protocol due to the COVID-19 pandemic is through revisiting and rejuvenating the project communi- cations management procedures. Communications management effectiveness audits, such as PCMI, act as an impeccable tool to measure and ensure errors due to miscommunication are avoided [17,71]. The COVID-19 pandemic, on the other hand, has thrown everything into disarray. It is imperative that every measure to sustain the industry has to be utilised and adapted to deal with and overcome the site challenges caused by the pandemic [72]. 3. Methodology This study initially employs descriptive analysis to determine the segregation of for- eign workers based on their nationality and the organisation to which the management team members belong to. On the other hand, the project communications management variables are analysed based on a basic research methodology concept using the Rasch measurement model. The Rasch model is developed on the concept of linearity to improve the precision; thus, it allows for a detailed examination with respect to the variables [73]. Very importantly, the Rasch model allows for the formation of a hypothetical unidimen- sional line along which items and individuals are graded according to their measurement difficulty and ability [74,75]. Therefore, the Rasch model enables researchers to clarify the meaning of a person measure by making use of the landscape that is established by the test items [76]. Kwofie et al. (2020) [62] Safapour et al. (2019) [67] Alzeraa et al. (2018) [44] Chi et al. (2021) [66] Holzmann and Globerson (2003) [46] Abramo and Onitiri (2010) [68] Rahman and Gamil (2019) [50] Hoezen, Reymen and Dewulf (2006) [69] Valitherm (2014) [41] Lunenburg (2010) [70] Frequency of Appearance Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 8 of 20 Figure 1 illustrates the flow of the research beginning from identifying the problem statement and objectives. The next step is a literature review that focuses on the topic of project communications management barriers and improvement methods in the construc- tion industry during COVID-19, where the inputs are used to develop the questionnaire based on the problem statement and objectives. The questionnaire is divided into three sections which begin with questions related to demographic details required for the descrip- tive analysis. Sections 2 and 3 were developed based on the highlighted variables of project communications management barriers and improvement methods, respectively. The devel- opment of questions in Sections 2 and 3 were guided by the six essential communication effectiveness variables. Since half of the targeted respondents belong to foreign workers, the questionnaires were translated with the assistance of representatives from different foreign embassies and high commission representatives and a pilot test was conducted to assess the validity and reliability of the questionnaires. Subsequently, the questionnaires were distributed to foreign workers and management team members. At the time when data collection was carried out, at the end of May 2020, the government of Malaysia enforced the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) which allowed only projects deemed crucial, and contractors who are able to adhere to the stringent guidelines imposed, to carry out site activities. Complying to the guidelines increased costs; therefore, only a number of construction sites, mainly supervised by Class F contractors, registered with the Construction Industry Development Board Malaysia (CIDB) resumed, and at the critical site areas within their project. Out of all, only four construction sites allowed access for data collection. Since it involves small site areas, the number of foreign workers and team management were less than 130 individuals, respectively, hence the entire workforce were interviewed. However, only 100 questionnaires, respectively, were found to be complete and this met the minimum sample size proposed by Krejcie and Morgan (1970) [77]. The questionnaire encompassed 66 items developed, based on six essential communication effectiveness variables and 11 project communication channel elements, taking into consid- eration communications management improvement measures in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is notable to mention that the study adopted a non-probability purposive sampling method to determine the respondents among foreign labourers and management teams by approaching construction companies that have resumed operations under the strict standard operating procedure issued by the National Security Council (NSC), and based on their willingness to cooperate and to allow their employee to participate in a questionnaire- based survey. This sampling method is ideal for exploratory research design [78] since the research topic is rather new and there are very few related studies conducted thus far in the area of project communications management [32,36,66]. During the exercise, a large number of foreign workers required assistance when answering the questions and they were guided without influencing their inputs. The number of survey team members has been reduced and they are obligated to follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs) established by COVID-19, which stipulate that all survey team members must undergo a mandatory swab test and keep physical contact to a minimum at all times. Survey team members had to use appropriate personal protective equipment throughout the data collection period. Survey activities were broken into several sessions and were only allowed to be conducted early morning during the arrival of foreign workers and management team members to the site. This was to avoid any interruption towards the scheduling of site activities. Physical presence of the survey team was instrumental in ensuring all respondents were well briefed on the intention of the study and all completed questionnaires were returned during every session. Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 9 of 20 Buildings 2022, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 9 of 21 START Project communications Problem Statement & Objective management barriers and Output improvement measures Literature Review in construction industry Questionnaire Design and Input Translation No < 0.7 Pilot Study Yes > 0.7 Data Collection via questionnaire distribution Data Analysis using Rasch Measurement Model Result & Discussion Conclusion FINISH Figure 1. Research Methodology [79]. Figure 1. Research Methodology [79]. The purpose of the pilot project was to determine how consistent the data collection During the exercise, a large number of foreign workers required assistance when an- was and to ensure that the instrument employed was reliable enough to continue the study. swering the questions and they were guided without influencing their inputs. The number Cronbach’s alpha ( ) measures internal consistency, with an optimum value between 0.7 of survey team members has been reduced and they are obligated to follow the standard and 0.9 [79]. However, according to George and Mallery (2003) [80], Cronbach’s alpha operating procedures (SOPs) established by COVID-19, which stipulate that all survey values of less than 0.6 are deemed low, whereas values of 0.7 and above are considered team members must undergo a mandatory swab test and keep physical contact to a min- acceptable. Survey data from the completed questionnaires were organised to meet the imum at all times. Survey team members had to use appropriate personal protective format required and analysed through the Rasch measurement model using WINSTEPS equipment throughout the data collection period. Survey activities were broken into sev- software. Analysis using the Rasch model starts with the reliability and validity test to eral sessions and were only allowed to be conducted early morning during the arrival of ascertain the quality of the instrument and respondents. Further to it, unidimensionality foreign workers and management team members to the site. This was to avoid any inter- analysis is meted to evaluate the internal consistency and measure between variables. This ruption towards the scheduling of site activities. Physical presence of the survey team was is followed by item misfit analysis which is based on correlation analysis that determines instrumental in ensuring all respondents were well briefed on the intention of the study the outlying variables that may be revised or omitted from further analysis. Finally, the and all completed questionnaires were returned during every session. person–item distribution map analysis is carried out to determine the criticality of variables The purpose of the pilot project was to determine how consistent the data collection tested based on the respondents’ feedback. was and to ensure that the instrument employed was reliable enough to continue the 4. study. Cronb Result and Analysis ach’s alpha (α) measures internal consistency, with an optimum value be- 4.1. tween 0. Respondent 7 and 0. Demography 9 [79]. However, according to George and Mallery (2003) [80], Cronbach’s alpha values of less than 0.6 are deemed low, whereas values of 0.7 and above are consid- Although 130 questionnaires were circulated among foreign labourers and manage- ered acceptable. Survey data from the completed questionnaires were organised to meet ment team members, respectively, only 100 questionnaires from each group were deemed the format required and analysed through the Rasch measurement model using WIN- complete. Figure 2 illustrates the breakdown of respondents among foreign labourers STEPS software. Analysis using the Rasch model starts with the reliability and validity Buildings 2022, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 21 Buildings 2022, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 21 test to ascertain the quality of the instrument and respondents. Further to it, unidimen- test to ascertain the quality of the instrument and respondents. Further to it, unidimen- sionality analysis is meted to evaluate the internal consistency and measure between var- sionality analysis is meted to evaluate the internal consistency and measure between var- iables. This is followed by item misfit analysis which is based on correlation analysis that iables. This is followed by item misfit analysis which is based on correlation analysis that determines the outlying variables that may be revised or omitted from further analysis. determines the outlying variables that may be revised or omitted from further analysis. Finally, the person–item distribution map analysis is carried out to determine the critical- Finally, the person–item distribution map analysis is carried out to determine the critical- ity of variables tested based on the respondents’ feedback. ity of variables tested based on the respondents’ feedback. 4. Result and Analysis 4. Result and Analysis 4.1. Respondent Demography 4.1. Respondent Demography Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 10 of 20 Although 130 questionnaires were circulated among foreign labourers and manage- Although 130 questionnaires were circulated among foreign labourers and manage- ment team members, respectively, only 100 questionnaires from each group were deemed ment team members, respectively, only 100 questionnaires from each group were deemed complete. Figure 2 illustrates the breakdown of respondents among foreign labourers ap- complete. Figure 2 illustrates the breakdown of respondents among foreign labourers ap- appr proached oached toto ex examine amine com communications munications mana management gement barrie barriers. rs. The The forei foreign gn labo labour urers ers wer were e proached to examine communications management barriers. The foreign labourers were mainly mainly fr from I om Indonesia, ndonesia,Pakistan Pakistanand and B Bangladesh. angladesh. On On the the ot other her han hand, d, F Figur igure e 3 3 d depicts epictsthe the mainly from Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. On the other hand, Figure 3 depicts the or organ ganisation isation type of respon type of respondents dentsfr fr om om the ma the management nagement tea team. m. It i It iss noti noticeable ceablethat that most of most of organisation type of respondents from the management team. It is noticeable that most of the respondents are developers, followed by consultants and contractors. the respondents are developers, followed by consultants and contractors. the respondents are developers, followed by consultants and contractors. Indonesia Bangladesh Myammar Nepal Pakistan Indonesia Bangladesh Myammar Nepal Pakistan Pakistan Indonesia Pakistan Indonesia 31% 34% 31% 34% Nepal Nepal 5% 5% Myammar Myammar Bangladesh 1% Bangladesh 1% 29% 29% Figure 2. Breakdown of foreign labourers approached to examine communications management Figure 2. Breakdown of foreign labourers approached to examine communications management Figure 2. Breakdown of foreign labourers approached to examine communications management barriers in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. barriers in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. barriers in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Developer Consultant Contractor Others Developer Consultant Contractor Others Others Others 11% 11% Developer Contractor Developer Contractor 40% 22% 40% 22% Consultant Consultant 27% 27% Figure 3. Breakdown of organisation type among management team approached to identify communications management improvement measures in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. 4.2. Examining Communications Management Barriers in the Construction Industry during the COVID-19 Pandemic 4.2.1. Reliability and Validity Analysis Referring to Table 3, the instrument utilised in this study is optimum and reliable, with value of 0.98 [79,80]). Additionally, the Person Reliability ( ) value of 0.97, along with a Standard Error (SE) of 0.28, indicates that respondents were competent to complete the questionnaire survey [74]. Furthermore, the organisation’s statistics investigation on Mean Square (OMNSQ) and z-score (OZSTD) revealed that OMNSQ is 1.09 and OZSTD is 0.5. This indicates that the respondents were from the most appropriate group that was able to Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 11 of 20 reflect on all 66 items. Apart from that, the dataset is productive for the measurement of latent traits, as well as acquiring reasonable predictability. Table 3. Summary of 100 measured person for examining communications management barriers in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Infit Outfit Model Count Measure MNSQ ZSTD MNSQ ZSTD Error Mean 203.9 0.04 0.25 1.2 0.4 1.09 0.5 S.D. 90.8 2.31 0.18 0.75 3.8 0.66 3.7 Max. 329.0 5.94 1.01 2.89 6.4 3.47 6.3 Min. 68.0 4.32 0.11 0.03 9.7 0.03 9.7 Real RMSE 0.39 TRUE SD 2.27 Separation 5.84 Item Reliability 0.97 Model RMSE 0.31 TRUE SD 2.29 Separation 7.45 Item Reliability 0.98 S.E. OF Person MEAN = 0.28. 4.2.2. Person–Item Distribution Map A 66-item questionnaire survey was constructed based on six essential communi- cation effectiveness variables and 11 project communication channel elements with the underlying element of communications management barriers in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, questionnaires were handed out to 130 foreign labourers in Malaysia’s construction industry; however, only 100 questionnaires were completed accordingly. Figure 4 displays the results obtained through the person–item distribution map analy- sis (PIDM), where only eight items are highlighted as strongly agree, namely CSR4 (inability to grasp meeting specifics), CRM4 (unable to grasp technical details), CTM6 (insufficient record-keeping details), CPR5 (upper management delays project report information), CFC6 (insufficient formal information), CSR3 (language skills hinder site review meetings), CIC1 (unable to interpret informal communication due to site situation) and CFC5 (upper management delays information flow). Whereas, the 29 items categorised as agree are CPR3 (project report documents are restricted), CPR4 (not comprehending technical project reports), CPR6 (project reports lack depth), CRM3 (record management system restricted), CRM6 (insufficient record-keeping details), CRB1 (site situation prevents understanding resource breakdown structure), CWB1 (difficult to understand work breakdown structure depending on site condition), CWB2 (work breakdown structure methods are complicated), CSR6 (inadequate site review meet- ing details), CWB5 (upper management’s delay in sharing work breakdown structure information), CRB2 (complicated resource breakdown structure methods), CRB4 (unable to grasp technical details), CIC2 (informal communications confusing), CIC6 (informal communication misses out specifics), CPR1 (site condition prevents understanding project reports), CRM1 (not able to maximise record management system depending on site condi- tion), CIC3 (restricted informal communication files), CIC4 (unable to comprehend informal tech specifics), CES5 (upper management’s delay in implementing employee suggestions), CFC2 (formal instructions are complex), CRM5 (upper management’s delayed resource breakdown structure information), CIC5 (upper management’s informal communication lags), CRB5 (upper management’s delayed resource breakdown structure information), CES3 (employee suggestions scheme are restricted), CTM1 (labourers are underrepresented in team meetings and do not comprehend the site condition), CTM2 (complicated team meeting discussion protocols), CTM3 (low language skills hinder team meeting discus- sion), CTM4 (difficult to understand team meeting discussion specifics) and, finally, CTM5 (absence of regular team discussion meetings). Buildings 2022, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 12 of 21 Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 12 of 20 Figure 4. Person–Item Distribution Map (PIDM) for examining communications management barriers Figure 4. Person–Item Distribution Map (PIDM) for examining communications management bar- in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. riers in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. 4.3. Examining Communications Management Improvement Measures in the Construction Whereas, the 29 items categorised as agree are CPR3 (project report documents are Industry during the COVID-19 Pandemic restricted), CPR4 (not comprehending technical project reports), CPR6 (project reports 4.3.1. Reliability and Validity Analysis lack depth), CRM3 (record management system restricted), CRM6 (insufficient record- Referring to Table 4, the value of 0.92 indicates that the instrument used in this keeping details), CRB1 (site situation prevents understanding resource breakdown struc- study is optimum and reliable [79,80]. Another essential point is that the Person Reliability ture), CWB1 (difficult to understand work breakdown structure depending on site condi- ( ) value of 0.95, along with a Standard Error (SE) of 0.20, shows that respondents were tion), CWB2 (work breakdown structure methods are complicated), CSR6 (inadequate site competent to complete the questionnaire survey [74]. Furthermore, the organisation fit review meeting details), CWB5 (upper management’s delay in sharing work breakdown statistics investigation on Mean Square (OMNSQ), and z-score (OZSTD) revealed that structure information), CRB2 (complicated resource breakdown structure methods), OMNSQ is 1.00 and OZSTD is 0.9. This indicates that the respondents were from the CRB4 (unable to grasp technical details), CIC2 (informal communications confusing), most appropriate group that was able to reflect on all 66 items. Additionally, the dataset is CIC6 (informal communication misses out specifics), CPR1 (site condition prevents un- productive for measuring latent traits and acquiring reasonable predictability. derstanding project reports), CRM1 (not able to maximise record management system de- T pending on s able 4. Summary ite condit of 100ion) measur , CIC3 (rest ed person rict for ed info identifying rmal c commun ommunicat ications ion management files), CIC4 impr (una ove- ble to comprehend info ment measures in the constr rmal tech specific uction industry s), during CES5 (upper ma the COVID-19 nagement’s pandemic.delay in implement- ing employee suggestions), CFC2 (formal instructions are complex), CRM5 (upper man- Infit Outfit Model agement’s delayed resource breakdown structure information), CIC5 (upper manage- Measure Count MNSQ ZSTD MNSQ ZSTD Error ment’s informal communication lags), CRB5 (upper management’s delayed resource Mean 273.3 3.19 0.26 1.01 0.9 1.00 0.9 breakdown structure information), CES3 (employee suggestions scheme are restricted), SD 32.3 1.94 0.10 0.79 4.5 0.78 4.4 CTM1 (labourers are underrepresented in team meetings and do not comprehend the site Max. 329.0 8.57 1.01 5.57 9.9 5.54 9.9 condition), CTM2 (complicated team meeting discussion protocols), CTM3 (low language Min. 187.0 0.92 0.19 0.04 9.2 0.04 9.2 skills hinder team meeting discussion), CTM4 (difficult to understand team meeting dis- Real RMSE 0.31 True SD 1.91 Separation 6.16 Item Reliability 0.92 cussion specifics) and, finally, CTM5 (absence of regular team discussion meetings). Model RMSE 0.28 True SD 1.92 Separation 6.75 Item Reliability 0.95 S.E. OF Person MEAN = 0.20. Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 13 of 20 4.3.2. Person–Item Distribution Map Figure 5 illustrates the result derived through the person–item distribution map anal- ysis (PIDM). The result indicates that only seven items are highlighted as strongly agree, namely IMPR2 (usage of clear and specific instruction increases understanding of project re- ports), IMSRM3 (encouragement to participate during the site review meeting increases the understanding), IMSRM5 (regular site review meeting to discuss site progress increases the understanding), IMSRM2 (usage of clear and specific commands increases understanding during the site review meeting), IMTMD1 (identification of an appropriate representa- tive to attend the team meeting discussion increases the understanding of instructions), IMTMD3 (encouragement to participate during the team meeting discussion increases the Buildings 2022, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 14 of 21 understanding) and IMSRM1 (identification of an appropriate representative to attend the site review meeting increases the understanding of instructions). Figure 5. Person–Item Distribution Map (PIDM) for identifying communications management im- Figure 5. Person–Item Distribution Map (PIDM) for identifying communications management provement measures in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. improvement measures in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the result analysis, 30 items fall under agree. The items are IMESS3 (im- According to the result analysis, 30 items fall under agree. The items are IMESS3 proved (impr acces oved sibi accessib lity of t ility he employee of the employee suggestion suggestion scheme t scheme hrough v thr ario ough us comm various unic commu ation ni- plat cation forms inc platforms reases tincr he un eases derst the and understanding), ing), IMPR3 (impr IMPR3 oved acces (improved sibilitaccessibility y to project report to project s through various communica reports through various communication tion platforms iplatforms ncreases the understandi increases the understanding), ng), IMRBS2 (uIMRBS2 sage of c(usage lear anof d sclear pecific and inst specific ruction instr incre uction ases under increases stand understanding ing of the resoof urce the brea resour kdo ce wbr n st eakdown ruc- ture), I structur MFC e), 3 (im IMFC3 prov(impr ed accessib oved accessibility ility of formal com of formal munic communication ation through v thra ough riousvarious commu com- - munication platform increases the understanding), IMOBS3 (improved accessibility of nication platform increases the understanding), IMOBS3 (improved accessibility of organ- organisation breakdown structure through various communication platforms increases the isation breakdown structure through various communication platforms increases the un- understanding), IMRMS2 (usage of clear and specific commands increases understand- derstanding), IMRMS2 (usage of clear and specific commands increases understanding of information in the record management system), IMTech5 (development of a plan for quick information dissemination through technology based communication platform increases the understanding), IMWBS2 (usage of clear and specific instruction increases under- standing of the work breakdown structure), IMWBS4 (usage of simple instruction ap- proach increases the understanding of the work breakdown structure), IMWBS5 (devel- opment of a plan for quick information dissemination increases the understanding of the work breakdown structure), IMIC2 (usage of clear and specific instruction increases un- derstanding of informal communication), IMESS4 (usage of multi lingual/simple instruc- tion approach in the employee suggestion scheme increases the understanding), IMESS6 (assurance of important and relevant information required in the employee suggestion scheme increases understanding), IMPR4 (usage of simple instruction approach increases the understanding of project reports), IMPR5 (development of a plan for quick infor- mation dissemination increases the understanding of project reports), IMPR6 (assurance Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 14 of 20 ing of information in the record management system), IMTech5 (development of a plan for quick information dissemination through technology based communication platform increases the understanding), IMWBS2 (usage of clear and specific instruction increases understanding of the work breakdown structure), IMWBS4 (usage of simple instruction approach increases the understanding of the work breakdown structure), IMWBS5 (de- velopment of a plan for quick information dissemination increases the understanding of the work breakdown structure), IMIC2 (usage of clear and specific instruction increases understanding of informal communication), IMESS4 (usage of multi lingual/simple instruc- tion approach in the employee suggestion scheme increases the understanding), IMESS6 (assurance of important and relevant information required in the employee suggestion scheme increases understanding), IMPR4 (usage of simple instruction approach increases the understanding of project reports), IMPR5 (development of a plan for quick information dissemination increases the understanding of project reports), IMPR6 (assurance of impor- tant and relevant information dissemination increases understanding of project reports), IMSRM4 (usage of simple instruction approach during the site review meeting increases the understanding), IMTMD4 (usage of simple instruction approach during the team meet- ing discussion increases the understanding), IMTMD5 (regular team meeting discussion related to site progress increases the understanding), IMTech6 (assurance of important and relevant information dissemination through the technology based communication plat- form increases understanding), IMFC4 (usage of simple instruction approach increases the understanding of formal communication), IMOBS4 (usage of simple instruction approach increases the understanding of the organisation breakdown structure), IMESS2 (usage of clear and specific instruction in the employee suggestion scheme increases understanding), IMFC1 (implementation of multilingual instruction increases the understanding of formal communication), IMFC2 (usage of clear and specific instruction increases understanding of formal communication), IMWBS6 (assurance of important and relevant information dis- semination increases understanding of the work breakdown structure), IMFC6 (assurance of important and relevant information dissemination increases understanding of formal communication), IMESS1 (encouragement to express views through the employee sugges- tion scheme increases understanding), IMTMD2 (usage of clear and specific commands increases understanding during the team meeting discussion) and, lastly, IMTMD6 (assur- ance of important and relevant information discussed during the team meeting discussion increases the understanding). 4.4. Summary of Critical Variables for Project Communications Management Barriers and Improvement Measures in the Construction Industry during the COVID-19 Pandemic Out of eleven communication channels examined, the respondents strongly agreed that only six of the channels experienced a highly significant communication barrier during the COVID-19 pandemic: site review meetings, team meeting discussion, project reports, formal communication, informal communication and record management system. In the same way, the respondents also strongly agreed that three improvement measures would vehemently improve communications management during the COVID-19 pandemic, namely site review meetings, team meeting discussions and project reports. Table 5 summarises the respondent feedback on communications management barriers and improvement measures in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The analyses show that respondents consisting of foreign workers face difficulties in grasping the details discussed during site review meetings, especially information related to technical elements of the project. They also indicated that language caused various other communication issues that leads to misinterpretation of instruction. Additionally, the respondents highlighted that information is not disseminated instantly. On the contrary, respondents belonging to the management team expressed that it can be overcome through organising frequent meetings while encouraging meeting members to participate actively and emphasise usage of clear and specific commands throughout the meeting. The results Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 15 of 20 clearly suggest that most critical barriers can be overcome by identifying the appropriate representative amongst the foreign workers to attend meetings and discussions. Table 5. Summary of critical variables for communications management barriers and improvement measures in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Agree Strongly Agree Communications Communications Communications Communications Management Management Critical Variables Management Barrier Management Barrier Improvement Improvement Items Items Measure Items Measure Items IMSRM2 IMSRM1 Site Review Meeting CSR6 CSR4 CSR3 IMSRM3 IMSRM5 Team Meeting CTM2 CTM4 CTM3 IMTMD2 IMTMD4 CTM6 IMTMD1 IMTMD3 Discussion CTM1 CTM5 IMTMD6 IMTMD5 CPR3 CPR4 CPR6 IMPR6 IMPR3 IMPR4 Project Reports CPR5 IMPR2 CPR1 IMPR5 Formal IMFC4 IMFC6 IMFC2 CFC2 CFC6 CFC5 Communication IMFC3 IMFC1 Informal CIC2 CIC6 CIC5 CIC3 IMIC2 CIC1 Communication CIC4 Record Management CRM3 CRM6 CRM5 IMRMS2 IMRMS4 CRM4 System CRM1 Work Breakdown IMWBS6 IMWBS2 CWB1 CWB2 CWB5 Structure IMWBS4 IMWBS5 Organisational IMOBS4 IMOBS3 Breakdown Structure Resource Breakdown CRB2 CRB4 CRB1 IMRBS2 Structure CRB5 Technology IMTech6 IMTech5 IMESS3 IMESS1 Employee Suggestion CES5 CES3 IMESS4 IMESS2 Scheme IMESS6 Generally, respondents agree that all communication channels except technology and organisational breakdown structure experienced an interruption in conveying information among project team members during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, the respondents opined that all communication channels except for site review meetings could act as an improvement measure in overcoming the barriers. 5. Discussion Overall, the study identified that six out of eleven commonly used communication channels in the construction industry pose high communication breakdown risks. The communication channels that face significant barriers are site review meetings, team meeting discussions, project reports, formal communication, informal communication and record management systems. This reveals that COVID-19 has a detrimental im- pact on the management of project communications, which is an essential component PMI (2017) [15] in the construction industry that requires remedial measures. Moreover, Ne’Matullah, Pek and Roslan (2021) [81] vehemently stressed that poor communications management approach in the construction industry is the main cause of project failures. Hence, Akunyumu et al. (2019) [59] recommended that the shortfall in project communica- tions effectiveness has to be given prompt attention and solution: this should be carried out during the project planning stage. Similarly, the study highlighted that while adhering to COVID-19 related standard operating procedures (SOP), foreign labourers experience difficulties understanding the technical details due to language proficiency during site review meetings. Considering the employment of foreign labourers from various nationalities in the Malaysian construc- Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 16 of 20 tion industry, Ne’Matullah et al. (2021) [81] pointed out that the different cultures and languages will threaten effective communication. As identified by Abuarqoub (2019) [43] and Valitherm (2014) [41], language limitations can result in miscommunication issues in the construction industry, such as misunderstanding, information misinterpretation, distorted communications, disinformation, ambiguity, mistrust and uncertainty. Since the construction industry is already plagued with issues arising from language barriers, COVID-19 SOPs that restrict large group gatherings and face-to-face discussions have certainly worsened the situation among foreign labourers. In addition, findings also reveal that foreign labourers could not decipher informal communication, such as on-site verbal instructions and gestures. The respondents also expressed that there is a noticeable absence of important dis- cussion details during formal communication (on-site instruction), team meetings and applied record management system, which leads to a poor understanding of planned site activities. The study reveals that foreign labourers experienced delays in receiving information through formal communication (on-site instruction) and project reports pre- pared by the management. The findings suggest that the construction industry was un- prepared and failed to execute alternative communication plans to face the pandemic. Likewise, ILO (2021) [9] and Salami et al. (2022) [32] express that impact on the existing communications management plan by COVID-19 has been severe due to a lack of prior preparation for alternative communication mechanisms. During the COVID-19 insurgence, most companies were caught off guard and struggled to ensure correct and apt information was relayed to site labourers who were physically required to conduct activities [65]. Complementary to the significant barriers identified, the study also examined various improvement measures that potentially would be able to overcome the project commu- nications management related issues caused by the COVID-19 SOP. Out of eleven com- munication channels scrutinised, only three fell under the category of significant. The three communication channels are site review meetings, team meeting discussions and project reports. The respondents expressed that identifying an appropriate representative to attend the site review meeting and team meeting discussion with the encouragement to participate will increase the understanding of instructions, specifically when adhering to the COVID-19 SOP, which limits physical presence. Similarly, Ogunnusi et al. (2021) [36] stressed that meeting-based discussions should be exclusive to only the most relevant individuals during the pandemic and preferably conducted using web-based platforms. Effective, clear, succinct, full and accurate communication contributes to the estab- lishment of improved communications management, especially when individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences are involved [26]. Likewise, the findings suggest that using clear and specific commands during site review meetings and in project reports significantly improves communications management during the pandemic. The study also highlights that regular site review meetings to discuss site progress improve understanding. Jones et al. (2022) [65] examined a few construction companies in London and found that communication between site managers and site labourers during the COVID-19 pandemic has to be conducted frequently with substantive feedback and views exchanged between the two parties, while complying to the restrictions imposed. Jallow et al. (2020) [33] pointed out that communication with project teams was most effective when using technical means, such as video chat and internet-based meet- ings. Similarly, Zakaria and Singh (2021) [42] advocated a crucial necessity to utilise and implement construction industry-related technology in order to manage and address site- related COVID-19 pandemic challenges. On the contrary, although technology adoption has been tipped to be the best improvement measure to overcome the current short- fall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the study did not reflect such. Pamidimukkala and Kermanshachi (2021) [17] explained that due to the industry’s uniqueness, which in- volves numerous stakeholders, physical discussions during the pandemic will still be required to ensure valuable information is communicated effectively. In the same way, Jeffres (2015) [32] suggest that as a remedial measure, prior consultations between the con- Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 17 of 20 struction company and other stakeholders, particularly the contractors, are conducted to ascertain how the COVID-19 pandemics may affect the projects. 6. Conclusions Project communication management plays a significant role in suppressing infection among labourers, while limited efforts are put to investigate the barriers to implementing an effective communication management in construction sites. As one of the first of its kind, this study investigated the most critical communication management barriers and measures using the Rasch measurement model. The findings showed that there are six and three significant communication barriers and improvement measures, respectively. In light of the results of this research, it was concluded that, as part of the efforts to swiftly revive the construction industry from the present downtrend, the adequate focus should be given to project communications management plans, especially on-site review meetings, and team meeting discussions and project reports. Using Malaysia as an exemplar of a developing country with the adoption of low levels of automation in the construction industry and a high reliance of the presence of skilled and unskilled labourers this study contributes to the field in several ways. First, the study has paved the way towards implementing new approaches that would produce immediate results and create a safer working environment. The findings are practical measures that can be deployed without significant cost occurrence. As a result, governing bodies and stakeholders may adopt the outcome of this study to make necessary amendments to existing standard operating procedures, policies or even regulations that would benefit the employees, especially regarding healthcare, and ensure project continuity. Second, it indirectly benefits the construction industry, which is important for economic expansion and makes it easier to plan for future development in accordance with Malaysia’s Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 (SPV2030) and the Twelfth Malaysia Plan (RMK-12). Third, other industries that depend on foreign labourers and require a physical presence, such as fishery, manufacturing, plantation, agriculture and mining may adopt the findings to suit the needs of their respective working environments. Subsequently, they can safeguard employability and maintain decent work for individuals related to the industry, thus supporting the spirit of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG8). However, it is noticeable that the sampling for the study was limited by access to construction sites due to regulations and safety measures. As a result, some of the critical variables may not be practical solutions for all types of construction sites, while they may potentially act as guiding principles towards developing a suitable communication plan. Considering the above for a better understanding of the industry’s needs, the applicability and importance of such variables should be investigated on other construction sites and stakeholders in the form of future research on the topic. Moreover, other methodologies such as different types of multi-criteria decision-making approaches can be employed to determine the importance of the investigated variables. Author Contributions: Conceptualization, C.S. and S.I.; methodology, C.S.; software, C.S.; val- idation, C.S., S.I.; formal analysis, C.S.; investigation, C.S.; resources, C.S.; data curation, C.S.; writing—original draft preparation, C.S., S.I. and W.N.M.W.M.R.; writing—review and editing, C.S. and A.M.; visualization, C.S.; supervision, S.I. and A.M.; project administration, S.I.; funding acquisi- tion, C.S. and S.I. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript. Funding: This research has been supported by the Ministry of Education Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), the Research Management Centre (RMC) of UTM and The Australian APEC Study Centre under 2022 APEC-Australia Women in Research Fellowship. This research is funded by the Fundamental Research Grant Scheme 2021 of cost centre R.K130000.7856.5F505. The APC is funded by UTM and Universiti Sains Malaysia. Institutional Review Board Statement: Not applicable. Informed Consent Statement: Informed consent was obtained from all subjects involved in the study. Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 18 of 20 Data Availability Statement: The data presented in this study are available on request from the corresponding author. The data are not publicly available. Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest. References 1. Hashim, J.H.; Adman, M.A.; Hashim, Z.; Radi, M.F.M.; Kwan, S.C. COVID-19 Epidemic in Malaysia: Epidemic Progression, Challenges, and Response. Front. Public Health 2021, 9, 560592. [CrossRef] [PubMed] 2. WHO. WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard 26 April 2022; WHO: Geneva, Switzerland, 2022. 3. ILO. COVID-19: Guidance for Labour Statistics Data Collection; ILO: Geneva, Switzerland, 2020. 4. WHO. Emergencies Coronavirus Emergency Committee Second Meeting: World Health Organization; WHO: Geneva, Switzerland, 2020. 5. Babulal, V. 53.2 per Cent of Clusters Recorded in Past 5 Months Workplace-Related. 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Investigating communicative barriers on construction industry productivity in Malaysia: An overview. Int. J. Eval. Res. Educ. 2021, 10, 476. [CrossRef] http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Buildings Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute

Improving Project Communications Management Practices in the Construction Sector during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Malaysian Scenario

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buildings Article Improving Project Communications Management Practices in the Construction Sector during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Malaysian Scenario 1 1 , 1 Chitdrakantan Subramaniam , Syuhaida Ismail *, Wan Nurul Mardiah Wan Mohd Rani 2 , and Amir Mahdiyar * Razak Faculty of Technology and Informatics, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Sultan Yahya Petra, Kuala Lumpur 54100, Malaysia School of Housing, Building and Planning, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Gelugor 11800, Malaysia * Correspondence: syuhaida.kl@utm.my (S.I.); amirmahdiyar@usm.my (A.M.) Abstract: The construction industry remains an important economic sector that supports the growth of a nation. It is vital to maintain the industry’s momentum when facing the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, or similar in the future, to ensure employability and decent jobs for every indi- vidual in the industry, especially foreign labourers who are always regarded as vulnerable. Improving existing project communications management practices is essential to suppressing infection among labourers; however, there are only a few efforts made to understand the current condition. This study explores the communications management barriers and the potential improvement measures amid the COVID-19 outbreak sweeping across the Malaysian construction industry. The findings disclose that out of eleven communication channels, only six communications management barrier variables with eight items, and three communications management improvement measure variables Citation: Subramaniam, C.; Ismail, S.; with seven items, are classified as highly critical, based on a systematic literature review (SLR), and a Rani, W.N.M.W.M.; Mahdiyar, A. questionnaire survey on 100 foreign labourers and management team members, respectively, where Improving Project Communications the data gathered were analysed using the Rasch measurement model. The finding also suggests that Management Practices in the Construction Sector during the site review meetings, team meeting discussions and project reports require immediate attention to COVID-19 Pandemic: A Malaysian ensure the construction industry remains robust without significant interruption during the course of Scenario. Buildings 2022, 12, 1291. the pandemic. https://doi.org/10.3390/ buildings12091291 Keywords: construction project; project communications management; foreign labourers; COVID-19 Academic Editor: Davide Settembre-Blundo Received: 30 June 2022 1. Introduction Accepted: 10 August 2022 The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is causing widespread disruption Published: 23 August 2022 across the globe and, as a result, a number of countries including Malaysia, have been forced Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral to implement lockdowns in an effort to stop the virus from spreading [1]. The COVID-19 with regard to jurisdictional claims in pandemic has infected more than 500 million individuals [2]. It spreads at an incredible rate, published maps and institutional affil- causing countries to enforce restrictions on movement to stop the virus from spreading [3]. iations. The Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic a global Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), which defines a pandemic as an extraordinary event that poses a public health risk to other States due to disease transmission across international borders and may necessitate Copyright: © 2022 by the authors. a coordinated worldwide response [4]. This announcement was made in light of the urgent Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. need for drastic action. This article is an open access article Lockdown imposed on construction projects was imminent since the Ministry of distributed under the terms and Health, Malaysia, reported that 53.2 percent of COVID-19 clusters emerged from the work- conditions of the Creative Commons place, where one of the three most important contributors is the construction industry [5]. Attribution (CC BY) license (https:// creativecommons.org/licenses/by/ This trend is expected to continue if drastic measures are not initiated [6]. The action to 4.0/). impose lockdown and the closure of certain business sectors caused the economic growth Buildings 2022, 12, 1291. https://doi.org/10.3390/buildings12091291 https://www.mdpi.com/journal/buildings Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 2 of 20 around the world to weaken because of unresolved trade tensions, a drop in investment, more volatile markets and geopolitical uncertainty wherein 2019, the global growth rate was only 2.5 percent, down from 3.0 percent in 2018 [7]. The Construction Industry De- velopment Board, Malaysia (CIDB), in its 2019 Annual Report, indicated that the global economy is expected to experience a negative growth at the rate of 3.0 percent, hence the domestic economy is forecasted to contract between 5.5 percent to 3.5 percent in 2020 [7]. This will make it more difficult to achieve the goals of sustained economic growth, complete and productive employment and decent work for all people, as outlined in Sustainable Development Goal 8 of the United Nations, which is Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG8) [8]. As a consequence of this, the preventative measures that were adopted in the con- struction industry in order to control the spread of the virus had a considerable influence. Moreover, in the current crisis, declining revenue and rising project delivery issues resulted in poor performance among the industry players, thus negatively impacting the labour force [9]. In Malaysia, a year-on-year comparison clearly shows that the construction in- dustry has contracted as much as 21 percent. In contrast, the quarterly comparison reveals that the value of completed construction work decreased by 12 percent from the previous quarter [10]. The COVID-19 pandemic impacts human life and drags the economy to its worst, involving most major economic contributors [11]. As a result, construction projects had to be put on hold or cancelled because there were insufficient materials and equipment because of the lockdown. Even though the Malaysian authorities are mulling to evolve from pandemic to en- demic (Camoens, 2022) [12] and, although the construction industry is in better shape now than it was in mid-2020, many projects are still on hold, postponed and awaiting approval from local authorities before they can continue work [13]. Furthermore, the COVID-19 standard operating procedure (SOP) by the National Security Council (NSC) imposes the requirements to ensure social distancing, reduction in the workforce and limiting face- to-face interaction, which are strictly enforced [14]. Since 90 percent of time spent on a project is through communication (PMI, 2017) [15], Olanrewaju et al. (2021) [13] added that there is a need to explore the situation and initiate measures that include improvising communications management in the industry that are COVID-safe. Having said that, it is imperative to ensure that every individual involved in a project has a good grasp of daily activities happening on the site. With so many limitations, the construction industry needs a strong platform and mechanism for communication if it wants to stay on track [16]. Furthermore, Pamidimukkala and Kermanshachi (2021) [17] stressed that good interaction through a profound communications management plan between labourers and supervisors is an important element in preventing the virus from spreading. This is important as foreign workers are vulnerable and easily get infected with COVID-19 due to their accommodation conditions; thus, they may also risk spreading it at site [18]. Furthermore, an observation by the Ministry of Health, Malaysia reflected that transmission of COVID-19 among foreign workers are mostly caused by cramped work sites and crowded living quarters [19]. The International Labour Organization (ILO) reported that foreign workers are the most impacted from the construction site shutdown during the peak of COVID-19 pandemic, as most of them are left jobless and without any alternative income [20]. Many foreign workers flee due to improper medical attention or solution while no new workers could enter the country, causing a shortage of manpower, thus slowing down the industry [21]. Every stakeholder was impacted and realised that a structured communication plan that is capable of withstanding the challenges caused by COVID-19 prevention measures is lacking. Equally important is the factors taken into consideration to develop the project communications management plan, which is crafted based on critical elements of the actual situation at construction sites. This is only possible by collecting data from respondents from the construction projects that were allowed during the Movement Control Order (MCO). Therefore, this study fo- cuses on identifying the critical communications management barriers during the COVID- Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 3 of 20 19 pandemic and, thereafter, outlines the significant communications management im- provement measures that will help overcome communication breakdown, thus supporting the goal of SDG8. The outcome of the study will be instrumental in the future development of a workable communications management if a similar catastrophe hits the construction industry and other similar industries. 2. Project Communications Management In any sector, especially in the construction industry, communication is essential to the successful completion of project activities. Project communications management ensures that project information and stakeholder needs are met by carrying out activities [15]. Hence, providing a steady flow of information throughout the project is essential. In general, communication is described as a mechanism for communicating infor- mation between individuals or organisations in order to attain a shared understanding. This is accomplished by exchanging ideas or information, such as words, photographs, gestures, written materials or actions [22]. Theoretically, communication is founded on a Latin word communism, which means to communicate, to make common, and to make known via verbal, nonverbal, a digital platform, or a mix and is therefore considered a sort of knowledge sharing that can take place in writing or verbally via upward, downward or lateral communication [23]. The most common model is linear, which illustrates how a sender sends an information to a receiver through various communication channels, with noise and barriers in the way. Fundamentally, the project communications management plan is developed based on the Shannon–Weaver Communication Model that clearly positions the function of the sender, decoding, channel, noise, encoding and receiver [24,25]. The model also highlights the importance of feedback from the receiver to ensure the quality of communication meets the expectation [26]. In the same way, Harold Lasswell (1948) [27] came up with the Lasswell’s 5W Model of Communication, which looks at the answers to the questions who (say), what (to), whom (in), which channel (with) and what effect to see if there is a chance that there is unclear communication [28]. Communication in the construction industry is described as the sharing of project information and methodologies to establish a mutually intelligible platform between the sender and the recipient [29]. Therefore, to interpret and communicate information efficiently, a project manager needs to develop interpersonal skills. Complex construction projects with many stakeholders have long raised the possibility of project communications management efficiency being compromised [30]. In addition, a project can involve a single unit, multiple units from the same organisation or even different organisations. Therefore, frequent communication among team members is needed to hinder any shortcomings in achieving project success [31]. Conversely, the COVID-19 standard operating procedure (SOP) imposed by the Na- tional Security Council (NSC) halts communication among team members. Moreover, most construction industry stakeholders were unable to make alternative communication plans due to the prolonged Movement Control Order (MCO) [11]. Additionally, in their study, Salami, Ajayia and Oyegoke (2022) [32] found that sudden restrictions imposed to eliminate infection caught many construction companies unprepared and the MCO by NSC do not work well with the industry since construction site activities require the physical presence of site labourers [33]. This undoubtedly adds to the obstacles that already exist in establishing reliable communication among team members. The construction industry is essential to every nation’s economic empowerment and success. The industry is responsible for generating employment prospects for billions of employees, both skilled and unskilled, worldwide [34]. Therefore, since the pandemic does not seem to show signs of slowing down, the industry must be revived soon with appropriate measures put in place. Acknowledging that it is possible for COVID-19 to be transmitted when an infected person speaks, coughs or sneezes, especially during a Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 4 of 20 conversation within close proximity, which usually happens in a construction site, the focus must be given towards introducing a safer communications management approach [13]. Pamidimukkala and Kermanshachi (2021) [17] found in a recent study that the most important COVID-19 challenges and strategies include coming up with new ways to manage communications and get around technical problems to improve communication when project managers and labourers are not available on a regular basis. Similarly, Al-Mhdawi et al. (2022) [35] summarised that common contractual-related discrepancies during the pandemic are caused by inefficient negotiation processes that result from inef- fective communication mechanisms. It is almost certain that the pandemic has significantly changed the functional approach, hence prioritising improved communications manage- ment and socialisation patterns, particularly in adopting safer measures, are essential [36]. While communication is widely recognised as a vital component of project success, there is very few empirical research in this area. Then again, it is worth noting that project communications management procedures receive relatively less attention [37]. In fact, Molena and Rovai (2016) [38] highlighted that, given the emphasis on the necessity of communication and the prevalence of difficulties, the practices involved in project communications management receive inadequate attention. A study to understand the barriers in project communications management during a pandemic and the potential improving measures is the key to supporting actions towards ensuring project success [39]. In the first stage of this process, a systematic literature review was conducted to identify the communication channels that are utilised most frequently in the construction business. Therefore, based on the findings highlighted in several related publications, eleven common communication channels identified are: team meeting discussion; site review meeting; work breakdown structure (WBS); organisational breakdown structure; resource breakdown technology; employee suggestion scheme; structure; record management system; project reports; formal communication; and informal communication [26,31,40–50]. 2.1. Project Communications Management Barriers Miscommunication is inevitable in the construction industry due to its complexity and dynamism. It is considerably more sensitive when multiple stakeholders are involved in a single project. With multiple parties involved, information is frequently misinterpreted and delivered late. Incorrect and delayed information will invariably have an adverse effect on the success of a project. Additionally, messages are frequently communicated via ambiguous communication channels, which results in misunderstandings. The stan- dard operating procedure (SOP) implemented by the Ministry of Health Malaysia (MOH) originally allowed for the presence of only half of the personnel on-site [51]. However, the current SOP established by the National Security Council (NSC) emphasises the importance of maintaining social distance at all times. This includes a drastic reduction in face-to-face discussions, group meetings, and crowding in common areas [14]. Other than that, the Department of Occupational Safety and Health, Malaysia (DOSH) and Ministry of Works, Malaysia (KKR), respectively, also issued SOPs pertaining to safety measures to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among construction site labourers [52,53]. According to Tang (2020) [54], miscommunication is highly possible due to the uncertainty caused by different SOPs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teo and Loosemore (2001) [55] suggest that the lack of an industry norm or single technique will lead to misunderstand- ing and confusion, resulting in wasteful or repetitive operations. Based on the literature review, nine common communications management barriers faced in the construction industry, as illustrated in Table 1, are namely distorted information, multiple stakeholders, usage of technical jargon, unclear communication channels, language barriers, late infor- mation dissemination, lack of necessary skills, multicultural work environment and the personality factor. Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 5 of 20 Table 1. Common communications management barriers in the construction industry. Communication Barrier Distorted information / / / / / / / / / / / 11 Multiple stakeholders / / / / / / / / / 9 Usage of technical jargon / / / / / / / / 8 Unclear communication channel / / / / / / / / 8 Language barrier / / / / / / / 7 Late information dissemination / / / / / / / 7 Lack of necessary skills / / / / / / / 7 Multi-cultural work environment / / / / / / / 7 Personality factor / / / / / / / 7 Source: Adopted and modified from [26,31,40–50]. It is reported that until August 2019, a total of 1.99 million foreign labourers were registered in Malaysia, where approximately 430,000 of them are listed under the con- struction industry [57]. These foreign labourers of different nationalities and educational backgrounds or skills constitute a series of issues that would burden the stakeholders, in- cluding miscommunication. Conceivably, Abuarqoub (2019) [43] and Valitherm (2014) [41] imply that language barriers are a significant communication risk for managers and for- eign personnel. Yusof and Rahmat (2020) [58] stressed that failure to adhere to project communications management procedures on the project was exacerbated by the presence of a language barrier, which significantly and negatively influenced worker safety. This language barrier is worsening as foreign labourers, who come in various nationalities and speak a range of languages, slang, accents and dialects, may cause a severe breakdown in communication. Progress reporting, leadership, attitude, a multicultural setting and a clearly defined communication channel are all cited as critical aspects in implementing good communi- cation management [45]. Furthermore, due to inexperience and employees’ attitudes, a convoluted communication channel generates distorted information flow [44]. Aside from that, late information transmission contributes to bad performance [49]. A study on the Dubai-Fujairah highway project found that inexperienced management employees and a lack of knowledge sharing among construction project labourers were discovered to be the two most significant communication barriers [29]. In a similar study, Akunyumu et al. (2019) [59] identified six project communications management barriers: restriction to information, cultural issues, delays in sharing information, technical chal- lenges, lack of feedback and lack of cooperation. In addition, out of the 19 possible causes of miscommunication evaluated, technical jargon, language differences, refined information and self-interest were found as the most common hurdles to efficient communications management [31]. These elements that lead to miscommunication must be addressed and a suitable action plan has to be taken to overcome the situation. In a recent study, Safapour, Kermanshachi and Kamalirad (2021) [40] discovered the possibility that the quality of communication between each of the major stakeholders could be improved by introducing technical features into the management of project communi- Safapour et al. (2021) [40] Olaniran (2015) [49] Zakaria and Singh (2021) [42] Ejohwomu et al. (2017) [45] Djajalaksana et al. (2017) [31] Rahman and Gamil (2019) [50] Wu et al. (2017) [56] Nadae and Carvalho (2019) [48] Holzmann and Globerson (2003) [46] Valitherm (2014) [41] Lee and Kim (2018) [26] Abuarqoub (2019) [43] Alzeraa et al. (2018) [44] Frequency of Appearance Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 6 of 20 cations. Safapour et al. (2021) [40] pointed out that technology assists project managers in allocating adequate resources to their projects and implementing proactive procedures that prevent miscommunications and the unintended effects of those miscommunications. Despite technical breakthroughs and innovations, it is still uncommon for the Malaysian construction industry to embrace various technologies due to various obstacles such as expense, price, culture and technical know-how [42]. 2.2. Project Communications Management Improvement Measures Ineffective communication significantly and adversely impacts project quality, cost, schedule and employee safety in the construction industry [60]. Poor communication can cause major delays in construction schedules. Miscommunication results in work being redone or corrected as a result of inaccurate information [58]. If there is insufficient project supervision, it is possible for the occurrence of communication breakdown, which causes project schedules to delay, and the cost of any given project may be substantially increased [61]. Khoury (2019) [61] further explained that overcoming communication barriers demands constant observation and consideration of potential obstacles that may arise during a specific communication session. It will be essential to employ different methods to overcome barriers in different circumstances, depending on the severity of the obstacles that must be overcome, and this will be the case because it will be necessary to employ different techniques to overcome barriers. For example, the industry may opt for basic language training to overcome the lan- guage barrier between site labourers and the management team. The training modules may include upskilling of technical knowledge among site labourers, as most of them are not trained to work at construction sites [62]. Similarly, training may also be introduced to the management team on basic foreign language adequate for simple conversation. In multidisciplinary settings, such as the construction industry, where tasks are performed by individuals with varying skill sets across and within organisations, teamwork is sometimes taken for granted [63]. In most cases, the industry comprises numerous teams working toward the same goal. Hence, improvement measures implemented have to cater to both individuals and teams. A study by Salami et al. (2022) [32] found that the implementation of work bubbles on construction sites to reduce unnecessary social and physical connections between labourers can aid in the containment of COVID-19. The concept was proposed to the construction industry, where interactions are allowed within a small, selected group of close labourers while maintaining proper hygiene practices, such as frequent handwashing and the use of face masks [32]. Zakaria and Singh (2021) [42] suggested that utilisation of related technologies, such as tracing applications, building information modelling (BIM), drones, virtual/augmented reality and robotics, will not only reduce human interaction but at the same time help improve worker ’s productivity while safeguarding their health, well- being and safety in line with the Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG8). Although this approach is viable, it requires early negotiations between the construction company and other stakeholders, particularly the contractors, to fully comprehend the impact of pandemics such as COVID-19 on the projects [64]. Early discussions also facilitate future planning, thus assisting in task sequencing and hence reducing overlap between site activities [65]. However, despite various approaches, it is crucial to determine the effectiveness of project communications management through these improvement measures during a pandemic [65]. A vitally important first step in improving communications manage- ment is developing a technique for measuring and assessing communication performance. Nevertheless, a variety of concepts, methodologies and definitions are used to measure communication performance [66]. Notably, communication performance is frequently defined in terms of how successfully the communication’s objectives and functions are met [62]. Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 7 of 20 According to Holzmann and Globerson (2003) [46], the Project Communication Man- agement Index Model (PCMI) can be used to assess communication effectiveness because it is built on two areas of knowledge: project management and communications management. PCMI is primarily adopted to evaluate communications management protocol in terms of completeness, timing, correctness and volume, which are all aspects of overall communica- tion efficacy [67]. On the other hand, Alzeraa et al. (2018) [44] and Kwofie et al. (2020) [62] added that the PCMI concept, which was initially developed by the Construction In- dustry Institute in 1997 and has been examined and enhanced, now has six important communication effectiveness variables: namely accuracy, timeliness, procedure, barri- ers, understanding and completeness. Table 2 displays six communications management efficacy measure commonly used in the construction industry. Table 2. Common communications management efficacy measure in the construction industry. Communication Efficacy Measure Clarity / / / / / / / / / 9 Specificity / / / / / / / / 8 Completeness / / / / / / / / 8 Barriers / / / / / / / 7 Timeliness / / / / / / 6 Processes / / / / / 5 Source: Adopted and modified from [41,44,46,50,62,66–70]. Seemingly, the way out from the current impact on existing communication protocol due to the COVID-19 pandemic is through revisiting and rejuvenating the project communi- cations management procedures. Communications management effectiveness audits, such as PCMI, act as an impeccable tool to measure and ensure errors due to miscommunication are avoided [17,71]. The COVID-19 pandemic, on the other hand, has thrown everything into disarray. It is imperative that every measure to sustain the industry has to be utilised and adapted to deal with and overcome the site challenges caused by the pandemic [72]. 3. Methodology This study initially employs descriptive analysis to determine the segregation of for- eign workers based on their nationality and the organisation to which the management team members belong to. On the other hand, the project communications management variables are analysed based on a basic research methodology concept using the Rasch measurement model. The Rasch model is developed on the concept of linearity to improve the precision; thus, it allows for a detailed examination with respect to the variables [73]. Very importantly, the Rasch model allows for the formation of a hypothetical unidimen- sional line along which items and individuals are graded according to their measurement difficulty and ability [74,75]. Therefore, the Rasch model enables researchers to clarify the meaning of a person measure by making use of the landscape that is established by the test items [76]. Kwofie et al. (2020) [62] Safapour et al. (2019) [67] Alzeraa et al. (2018) [44] Chi et al. (2021) [66] Holzmann and Globerson (2003) [46] Abramo and Onitiri (2010) [68] Rahman and Gamil (2019) [50] Hoezen, Reymen and Dewulf (2006) [69] Valitherm (2014) [41] Lunenburg (2010) [70] Frequency of Appearance Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 8 of 20 Figure 1 illustrates the flow of the research beginning from identifying the problem statement and objectives. The next step is a literature review that focuses on the topic of project communications management barriers and improvement methods in the construc- tion industry during COVID-19, where the inputs are used to develop the questionnaire based on the problem statement and objectives. The questionnaire is divided into three sections which begin with questions related to demographic details required for the descrip- tive analysis. Sections 2 and 3 were developed based on the highlighted variables of project communications management barriers and improvement methods, respectively. The devel- opment of questions in Sections 2 and 3 were guided by the six essential communication effectiveness variables. Since half of the targeted respondents belong to foreign workers, the questionnaires were translated with the assistance of representatives from different foreign embassies and high commission representatives and a pilot test was conducted to assess the validity and reliability of the questionnaires. Subsequently, the questionnaires were distributed to foreign workers and management team members. At the time when data collection was carried out, at the end of May 2020, the government of Malaysia enforced the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) which allowed only projects deemed crucial, and contractors who are able to adhere to the stringent guidelines imposed, to carry out site activities. Complying to the guidelines increased costs; therefore, only a number of construction sites, mainly supervised by Class F contractors, registered with the Construction Industry Development Board Malaysia (CIDB) resumed, and at the critical site areas within their project. Out of all, only four construction sites allowed access for data collection. Since it involves small site areas, the number of foreign workers and team management were less than 130 individuals, respectively, hence the entire workforce were interviewed. However, only 100 questionnaires, respectively, were found to be complete and this met the minimum sample size proposed by Krejcie and Morgan (1970) [77]. The questionnaire encompassed 66 items developed, based on six essential communication effectiveness variables and 11 project communication channel elements, taking into consid- eration communications management improvement measures in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is notable to mention that the study adopted a non-probability purposive sampling method to determine the respondents among foreign labourers and management teams by approaching construction companies that have resumed operations under the strict standard operating procedure issued by the National Security Council (NSC), and based on their willingness to cooperate and to allow their employee to participate in a questionnaire- based survey. This sampling method is ideal for exploratory research design [78] since the research topic is rather new and there are very few related studies conducted thus far in the area of project communications management [32,36,66]. During the exercise, a large number of foreign workers required assistance when answering the questions and they were guided without influencing their inputs. The number of survey team members has been reduced and they are obligated to follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs) established by COVID-19, which stipulate that all survey team members must undergo a mandatory swab test and keep physical contact to a minimum at all times. Survey team members had to use appropriate personal protective equipment throughout the data collection period. Survey activities were broken into several sessions and were only allowed to be conducted early morning during the arrival of foreign workers and management team members to the site. This was to avoid any interruption towards the scheduling of site activities. Physical presence of the survey team was instrumental in ensuring all respondents were well briefed on the intention of the study and all completed questionnaires were returned during every session. Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 9 of 20 Buildings 2022, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 9 of 21 START Project communications Problem Statement & Objective management barriers and Output improvement measures Literature Review in construction industry Questionnaire Design and Input Translation No < 0.7 Pilot Study Yes > 0.7 Data Collection via questionnaire distribution Data Analysis using Rasch Measurement Model Result & Discussion Conclusion FINISH Figure 1. Research Methodology [79]. Figure 1. Research Methodology [79]. The purpose of the pilot project was to determine how consistent the data collection During the exercise, a large number of foreign workers required assistance when an- was and to ensure that the instrument employed was reliable enough to continue the study. swering the questions and they were guided without influencing their inputs. The number Cronbach’s alpha ( ) measures internal consistency, with an optimum value between 0.7 of survey team members has been reduced and they are obligated to follow the standard and 0.9 [79]. However, according to George and Mallery (2003) [80], Cronbach’s alpha operating procedures (SOPs) established by COVID-19, which stipulate that all survey values of less than 0.6 are deemed low, whereas values of 0.7 and above are considered team members must undergo a mandatory swab test and keep physical contact to a min- acceptable. Survey data from the completed questionnaires were organised to meet the imum at all times. Survey team members had to use appropriate personal protective format required and analysed through the Rasch measurement model using WINSTEPS equipment throughout the data collection period. Survey activities were broken into sev- software. Analysis using the Rasch model starts with the reliability and validity test to eral sessions and were only allowed to be conducted early morning during the arrival of ascertain the quality of the instrument and respondents. Further to it, unidimensionality foreign workers and management team members to the site. This was to avoid any inter- analysis is meted to evaluate the internal consistency and measure between variables. This ruption towards the scheduling of site activities. Physical presence of the survey team was is followed by item misfit analysis which is based on correlation analysis that determines instrumental in ensuring all respondents were well briefed on the intention of the study the outlying variables that may be revised or omitted from further analysis. Finally, the and all completed questionnaires were returned during every session. person–item distribution map analysis is carried out to determine the criticality of variables The purpose of the pilot project was to determine how consistent the data collection tested based on the respondents’ feedback. was and to ensure that the instrument employed was reliable enough to continue the 4. study. Cronb Result and Analysis ach’s alpha (α) measures internal consistency, with an optimum value be- 4.1. tween 0. Respondent 7 and 0. Demography 9 [79]. However, according to George and Mallery (2003) [80], Cronbach’s alpha values of less than 0.6 are deemed low, whereas values of 0.7 and above are consid- Although 130 questionnaires were circulated among foreign labourers and manage- ered acceptable. Survey data from the completed questionnaires were organised to meet ment team members, respectively, only 100 questionnaires from each group were deemed the format required and analysed through the Rasch measurement model using WIN- complete. Figure 2 illustrates the breakdown of respondents among foreign labourers STEPS software. Analysis using the Rasch model starts with the reliability and validity Buildings 2022, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 21 Buildings 2022, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 21 test to ascertain the quality of the instrument and respondents. Further to it, unidimen- test to ascertain the quality of the instrument and respondents. Further to it, unidimen- sionality analysis is meted to evaluate the internal consistency and measure between var- sionality analysis is meted to evaluate the internal consistency and measure between var- iables. This is followed by item misfit analysis which is based on correlation analysis that iables. This is followed by item misfit analysis which is based on correlation analysis that determines the outlying variables that may be revised or omitted from further analysis. determines the outlying variables that may be revised or omitted from further analysis. Finally, the person–item distribution map analysis is carried out to determine the critical- Finally, the person–item distribution map analysis is carried out to determine the critical- ity of variables tested based on the respondents’ feedback. ity of variables tested based on the respondents’ feedback. 4. Result and Analysis 4. Result and Analysis 4.1. Respondent Demography 4.1. Respondent Demography Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 10 of 20 Although 130 questionnaires were circulated among foreign labourers and manage- Although 130 questionnaires were circulated among foreign labourers and manage- ment team members, respectively, only 100 questionnaires from each group were deemed ment team members, respectively, only 100 questionnaires from each group were deemed complete. Figure 2 illustrates the breakdown of respondents among foreign labourers ap- complete. Figure 2 illustrates the breakdown of respondents among foreign labourers ap- appr proached oached toto ex examine amine com communications munications mana management gement barrie barriers. rs. The The forei foreign gn labo labour urers ers wer were e proached to examine communications management barriers. The foreign labourers were mainly mainly fr from I om Indonesia, ndonesia,Pakistan Pakistanand and B Bangladesh. angladesh. On On the the ot other her han hand, d, F Figur igure e 3 3 d depicts epictsthe the mainly from Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. On the other hand, Figure 3 depicts the or organ ganisation isation type of respon type of respondents dentsfr fr om om the ma the management nagement tea team. m. It i It iss noti noticeable ceablethat that most of most of organisation type of respondents from the management team. It is noticeable that most of the respondents are developers, followed by consultants and contractors. the respondents are developers, followed by consultants and contractors. the respondents are developers, followed by consultants and contractors. Indonesia Bangladesh Myammar Nepal Pakistan Indonesia Bangladesh Myammar Nepal Pakistan Pakistan Indonesia Pakistan Indonesia 31% 34% 31% 34% Nepal Nepal 5% 5% Myammar Myammar Bangladesh 1% Bangladesh 1% 29% 29% Figure 2. Breakdown of foreign labourers approached to examine communications management Figure 2. Breakdown of foreign labourers approached to examine communications management Figure 2. Breakdown of foreign labourers approached to examine communications management barriers in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. barriers in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. barriers in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Developer Consultant Contractor Others Developer Consultant Contractor Others Others Others 11% 11% Developer Contractor Developer Contractor 40% 22% 40% 22% Consultant Consultant 27% 27% Figure 3. Breakdown of organisation type among management team approached to identify communications management improvement measures in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. 4.2. Examining Communications Management Barriers in the Construction Industry during the COVID-19 Pandemic 4.2.1. Reliability and Validity Analysis Referring to Table 3, the instrument utilised in this study is optimum and reliable, with value of 0.98 [79,80]). Additionally, the Person Reliability ( ) value of 0.97, along with a Standard Error (SE) of 0.28, indicates that respondents were competent to complete the questionnaire survey [74]. Furthermore, the organisation’s statistics investigation on Mean Square (OMNSQ) and z-score (OZSTD) revealed that OMNSQ is 1.09 and OZSTD is 0.5. This indicates that the respondents were from the most appropriate group that was able to Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 11 of 20 reflect on all 66 items. Apart from that, the dataset is productive for the measurement of latent traits, as well as acquiring reasonable predictability. Table 3. Summary of 100 measured person for examining communications management barriers in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Infit Outfit Model Count Measure MNSQ ZSTD MNSQ ZSTD Error Mean 203.9 0.04 0.25 1.2 0.4 1.09 0.5 S.D. 90.8 2.31 0.18 0.75 3.8 0.66 3.7 Max. 329.0 5.94 1.01 2.89 6.4 3.47 6.3 Min. 68.0 4.32 0.11 0.03 9.7 0.03 9.7 Real RMSE 0.39 TRUE SD 2.27 Separation 5.84 Item Reliability 0.97 Model RMSE 0.31 TRUE SD 2.29 Separation 7.45 Item Reliability 0.98 S.E. OF Person MEAN = 0.28. 4.2.2. Person–Item Distribution Map A 66-item questionnaire survey was constructed based on six essential communi- cation effectiveness variables and 11 project communication channel elements with the underlying element of communications management barriers in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, questionnaires were handed out to 130 foreign labourers in Malaysia’s construction industry; however, only 100 questionnaires were completed accordingly. Figure 4 displays the results obtained through the person–item distribution map analy- sis (PIDM), where only eight items are highlighted as strongly agree, namely CSR4 (inability to grasp meeting specifics), CRM4 (unable to grasp technical details), CTM6 (insufficient record-keeping details), CPR5 (upper management delays project report information), CFC6 (insufficient formal information), CSR3 (language skills hinder site review meetings), CIC1 (unable to interpret informal communication due to site situation) and CFC5 (upper management delays information flow). Whereas, the 29 items categorised as agree are CPR3 (project report documents are restricted), CPR4 (not comprehending technical project reports), CPR6 (project reports lack depth), CRM3 (record management system restricted), CRM6 (insufficient record-keeping details), CRB1 (site situation prevents understanding resource breakdown structure), CWB1 (difficult to understand work breakdown structure depending on site condition), CWB2 (work breakdown structure methods are complicated), CSR6 (inadequate site review meet- ing details), CWB5 (upper management’s delay in sharing work breakdown structure information), CRB2 (complicated resource breakdown structure methods), CRB4 (unable to grasp technical details), CIC2 (informal communications confusing), CIC6 (informal communication misses out specifics), CPR1 (site condition prevents understanding project reports), CRM1 (not able to maximise record management system depending on site condi- tion), CIC3 (restricted informal communication files), CIC4 (unable to comprehend informal tech specifics), CES5 (upper management’s delay in implementing employee suggestions), CFC2 (formal instructions are complex), CRM5 (upper management’s delayed resource breakdown structure information), CIC5 (upper management’s informal communication lags), CRB5 (upper management’s delayed resource breakdown structure information), CES3 (employee suggestions scheme are restricted), CTM1 (labourers are underrepresented in team meetings and do not comprehend the site condition), CTM2 (complicated team meeting discussion protocols), CTM3 (low language skills hinder team meeting discus- sion), CTM4 (difficult to understand team meeting discussion specifics) and, finally, CTM5 (absence of regular team discussion meetings). Buildings 2022, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 12 of 21 Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 12 of 20 Figure 4. Person–Item Distribution Map (PIDM) for examining communications management barriers Figure 4. Person–Item Distribution Map (PIDM) for examining communications management bar- in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. riers in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. 4.3. Examining Communications Management Improvement Measures in the Construction Whereas, the 29 items categorised as agree are CPR3 (project report documents are Industry during the COVID-19 Pandemic restricted), CPR4 (not comprehending technical project reports), CPR6 (project reports 4.3.1. Reliability and Validity Analysis lack depth), CRM3 (record management system restricted), CRM6 (insufficient record- Referring to Table 4, the value of 0.92 indicates that the instrument used in this keeping details), CRB1 (site situation prevents understanding resource breakdown struc- study is optimum and reliable [79,80]. Another essential point is that the Person Reliability ture), CWB1 (difficult to understand work breakdown structure depending on site condi- ( ) value of 0.95, along with a Standard Error (SE) of 0.20, shows that respondents were tion), CWB2 (work breakdown structure methods are complicated), CSR6 (inadequate site competent to complete the questionnaire survey [74]. Furthermore, the organisation fit review meeting details), CWB5 (upper management’s delay in sharing work breakdown statistics investigation on Mean Square (OMNSQ), and z-score (OZSTD) revealed that structure information), CRB2 (complicated resource breakdown structure methods), OMNSQ is 1.00 and OZSTD is 0.9. This indicates that the respondents were from the CRB4 (unable to grasp technical details), CIC2 (informal communications confusing), most appropriate group that was able to reflect on all 66 items. Additionally, the dataset is CIC6 (informal communication misses out specifics), CPR1 (site condition prevents un- productive for measuring latent traits and acquiring reasonable predictability. derstanding project reports), CRM1 (not able to maximise record management system de- T pending on s able 4. Summary ite condit of 100ion) measur , CIC3 (rest ed person rict for ed info identifying rmal c commun ommunicat ications ion management files), CIC4 impr (una ove- ble to comprehend info ment measures in the constr rmal tech specific uction industry s), during CES5 (upper ma the COVID-19 nagement’s pandemic.delay in implement- ing employee suggestions), CFC2 (formal instructions are complex), CRM5 (upper man- Infit Outfit Model agement’s delayed resource breakdown structure information), CIC5 (upper manage- Measure Count MNSQ ZSTD MNSQ ZSTD Error ment’s informal communication lags), CRB5 (upper management’s delayed resource Mean 273.3 3.19 0.26 1.01 0.9 1.00 0.9 breakdown structure information), CES3 (employee suggestions scheme are restricted), SD 32.3 1.94 0.10 0.79 4.5 0.78 4.4 CTM1 (labourers are underrepresented in team meetings and do not comprehend the site Max. 329.0 8.57 1.01 5.57 9.9 5.54 9.9 condition), CTM2 (complicated team meeting discussion protocols), CTM3 (low language Min. 187.0 0.92 0.19 0.04 9.2 0.04 9.2 skills hinder team meeting discussion), CTM4 (difficult to understand team meeting dis- Real RMSE 0.31 True SD 1.91 Separation 6.16 Item Reliability 0.92 cussion specifics) and, finally, CTM5 (absence of regular team discussion meetings). Model RMSE 0.28 True SD 1.92 Separation 6.75 Item Reliability 0.95 S.E. OF Person MEAN = 0.20. Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 13 of 20 4.3.2. Person–Item Distribution Map Figure 5 illustrates the result derived through the person–item distribution map anal- ysis (PIDM). The result indicates that only seven items are highlighted as strongly agree, namely IMPR2 (usage of clear and specific instruction increases understanding of project re- ports), IMSRM3 (encouragement to participate during the site review meeting increases the understanding), IMSRM5 (regular site review meeting to discuss site progress increases the understanding), IMSRM2 (usage of clear and specific commands increases understanding during the site review meeting), IMTMD1 (identification of an appropriate representa- tive to attend the team meeting discussion increases the understanding of instructions), IMTMD3 (encouragement to participate during the team meeting discussion increases the Buildings 2022, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 14 of 21 understanding) and IMSRM1 (identification of an appropriate representative to attend the site review meeting increases the understanding of instructions). Figure 5. Person–Item Distribution Map (PIDM) for identifying communications management im- Figure 5. Person–Item Distribution Map (PIDM) for identifying communications management provement measures in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. improvement measures in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the result analysis, 30 items fall under agree. The items are IMESS3 (im- According to the result analysis, 30 items fall under agree. The items are IMESS3 proved (impr acces oved sibi accessib lity of t ility he employee of the employee suggestion suggestion scheme t scheme hrough v thr ario ough us comm various unic commu ation ni- plat cation forms inc platforms reases tincr he un eases derst the and understanding), ing), IMPR3 (impr IMPR3 oved acces (improved sibilitaccessibility y to project report to project s through various communica reports through various communication tion platforms iplatforms ncreases the understandi increases the understanding), ng), IMRBS2 (uIMRBS2 sage of c(usage lear anof d sclear pecific and inst specific ruction instr incre uction ases under increases stand understanding ing of the resoof urce the brea resour kdo ce wbr n st eakdown ruc- ture), I structur MFC e), 3 (im IMFC3 prov(impr ed accessib oved accessibility ility of formal com of formal munic communication ation through v thra ough riousvarious commu com- - munication platform increases the understanding), IMOBS3 (improved accessibility of nication platform increases the understanding), IMOBS3 (improved accessibility of organ- organisation breakdown structure through various communication platforms increases the isation breakdown structure through various communication platforms increases the un- understanding), IMRMS2 (usage of clear and specific commands increases understand- derstanding), IMRMS2 (usage of clear and specific commands increases understanding of information in the record management system), IMTech5 (development of a plan for quick information dissemination through technology based communication platform increases the understanding), IMWBS2 (usage of clear and specific instruction increases under- standing of the work breakdown structure), IMWBS4 (usage of simple instruction ap- proach increases the understanding of the work breakdown structure), IMWBS5 (devel- opment of a plan for quick information dissemination increases the understanding of the work breakdown structure), IMIC2 (usage of clear and specific instruction increases un- derstanding of informal communication), IMESS4 (usage of multi lingual/simple instruc- tion approach in the employee suggestion scheme increases the understanding), IMESS6 (assurance of important and relevant information required in the employee suggestion scheme increases understanding), IMPR4 (usage of simple instruction approach increases the understanding of project reports), IMPR5 (development of a plan for quick infor- mation dissemination increases the understanding of project reports), IMPR6 (assurance Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 14 of 20 ing of information in the record management system), IMTech5 (development of a plan for quick information dissemination through technology based communication platform increases the understanding), IMWBS2 (usage of clear and specific instruction increases understanding of the work breakdown structure), IMWBS4 (usage of simple instruction approach increases the understanding of the work breakdown structure), IMWBS5 (de- velopment of a plan for quick information dissemination increases the understanding of the work breakdown structure), IMIC2 (usage of clear and specific instruction increases understanding of informal communication), IMESS4 (usage of multi lingual/simple instruc- tion approach in the employee suggestion scheme increases the understanding), IMESS6 (assurance of important and relevant information required in the employee suggestion scheme increases understanding), IMPR4 (usage of simple instruction approach increases the understanding of project reports), IMPR5 (development of a plan for quick information dissemination increases the understanding of project reports), IMPR6 (assurance of impor- tant and relevant information dissemination increases understanding of project reports), IMSRM4 (usage of simple instruction approach during the site review meeting increases the understanding), IMTMD4 (usage of simple instruction approach during the team meet- ing discussion increases the understanding), IMTMD5 (regular team meeting discussion related to site progress increases the understanding), IMTech6 (assurance of important and relevant information dissemination through the technology based communication plat- form increases understanding), IMFC4 (usage of simple instruction approach increases the understanding of formal communication), IMOBS4 (usage of simple instruction approach increases the understanding of the organisation breakdown structure), IMESS2 (usage of clear and specific instruction in the employee suggestion scheme increases understanding), IMFC1 (implementation of multilingual instruction increases the understanding of formal communication), IMFC2 (usage of clear and specific instruction increases understanding of formal communication), IMWBS6 (assurance of important and relevant information dis- semination increases understanding of the work breakdown structure), IMFC6 (assurance of important and relevant information dissemination increases understanding of formal communication), IMESS1 (encouragement to express views through the employee sugges- tion scheme increases understanding), IMTMD2 (usage of clear and specific commands increases understanding during the team meeting discussion) and, lastly, IMTMD6 (assur- ance of important and relevant information discussed during the team meeting discussion increases the understanding). 4.4. Summary of Critical Variables for Project Communications Management Barriers and Improvement Measures in the Construction Industry during the COVID-19 Pandemic Out of eleven communication channels examined, the respondents strongly agreed that only six of the channels experienced a highly significant communication barrier during the COVID-19 pandemic: site review meetings, team meeting discussion, project reports, formal communication, informal communication and record management system. In the same way, the respondents also strongly agreed that three improvement measures would vehemently improve communications management during the COVID-19 pandemic, namely site review meetings, team meeting discussions and project reports. Table 5 summarises the respondent feedback on communications management barriers and improvement measures in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The analyses show that respondents consisting of foreign workers face difficulties in grasping the details discussed during site review meetings, especially information related to technical elements of the project. They also indicated that language caused various other communication issues that leads to misinterpretation of instruction. Additionally, the respondents highlighted that information is not disseminated instantly. On the contrary, respondents belonging to the management team expressed that it can be overcome through organising frequent meetings while encouraging meeting members to participate actively and emphasise usage of clear and specific commands throughout the meeting. The results Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 15 of 20 clearly suggest that most critical barriers can be overcome by identifying the appropriate representative amongst the foreign workers to attend meetings and discussions. Table 5. Summary of critical variables for communications management barriers and improvement measures in the construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Agree Strongly Agree Communications Communications Communications Communications Management Management Critical Variables Management Barrier Management Barrier Improvement Improvement Items Items Measure Items Measure Items IMSRM2 IMSRM1 Site Review Meeting CSR6 CSR4 CSR3 IMSRM3 IMSRM5 Team Meeting CTM2 CTM4 CTM3 IMTMD2 IMTMD4 CTM6 IMTMD1 IMTMD3 Discussion CTM1 CTM5 IMTMD6 IMTMD5 CPR3 CPR4 CPR6 IMPR6 IMPR3 IMPR4 Project Reports CPR5 IMPR2 CPR1 IMPR5 Formal IMFC4 IMFC6 IMFC2 CFC2 CFC6 CFC5 Communication IMFC3 IMFC1 Informal CIC2 CIC6 CIC5 CIC3 IMIC2 CIC1 Communication CIC4 Record Management CRM3 CRM6 CRM5 IMRMS2 IMRMS4 CRM4 System CRM1 Work Breakdown IMWBS6 IMWBS2 CWB1 CWB2 CWB5 Structure IMWBS4 IMWBS5 Organisational IMOBS4 IMOBS3 Breakdown Structure Resource Breakdown CRB2 CRB4 CRB1 IMRBS2 Structure CRB5 Technology IMTech6 IMTech5 IMESS3 IMESS1 Employee Suggestion CES5 CES3 IMESS4 IMESS2 Scheme IMESS6 Generally, respondents agree that all communication channels except technology and organisational breakdown structure experienced an interruption in conveying information among project team members during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, the respondents opined that all communication channels except for site review meetings could act as an improvement measure in overcoming the barriers. 5. Discussion Overall, the study identified that six out of eleven commonly used communication channels in the construction industry pose high communication breakdown risks. The communication channels that face significant barriers are site review meetings, team meeting discussions, project reports, formal communication, informal communication and record management systems. This reveals that COVID-19 has a detrimental im- pact on the management of project communications, which is an essential component PMI (2017) [15] in the construction industry that requires remedial measures. Moreover, Ne’Matullah, Pek and Roslan (2021) [81] vehemently stressed that poor communications management approach in the construction industry is the main cause of project failures. Hence, Akunyumu et al. (2019) [59] recommended that the shortfall in project communica- tions effectiveness has to be given prompt attention and solution: this should be carried out during the project planning stage. Similarly, the study highlighted that while adhering to COVID-19 related standard operating procedures (SOP), foreign labourers experience difficulties understanding the technical details due to language proficiency during site review meetings. Considering the employment of foreign labourers from various nationalities in the Malaysian construc- Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 16 of 20 tion industry, Ne’Matullah et al. (2021) [81] pointed out that the different cultures and languages will threaten effective communication. As identified by Abuarqoub (2019) [43] and Valitherm (2014) [41], language limitations can result in miscommunication issues in the construction industry, such as misunderstanding, information misinterpretation, distorted communications, disinformation, ambiguity, mistrust and uncertainty. Since the construction industry is already plagued with issues arising from language barriers, COVID-19 SOPs that restrict large group gatherings and face-to-face discussions have certainly worsened the situation among foreign labourers. In addition, findings also reveal that foreign labourers could not decipher informal communication, such as on-site verbal instructions and gestures. The respondents also expressed that there is a noticeable absence of important dis- cussion details during formal communication (on-site instruction), team meetings and applied record management system, which leads to a poor understanding of planned site activities. The study reveals that foreign labourers experienced delays in receiving information through formal communication (on-site instruction) and project reports pre- pared by the management. The findings suggest that the construction industry was un- prepared and failed to execute alternative communication plans to face the pandemic. Likewise, ILO (2021) [9] and Salami et al. (2022) [32] express that impact on the existing communications management plan by COVID-19 has been severe due to a lack of prior preparation for alternative communication mechanisms. During the COVID-19 insurgence, most companies were caught off guard and struggled to ensure correct and apt information was relayed to site labourers who were physically required to conduct activities [65]. Complementary to the significant barriers identified, the study also examined various improvement measures that potentially would be able to overcome the project commu- nications management related issues caused by the COVID-19 SOP. Out of eleven com- munication channels scrutinised, only three fell under the category of significant. The three communication channels are site review meetings, team meeting discussions and project reports. The respondents expressed that identifying an appropriate representative to attend the site review meeting and team meeting discussion with the encouragement to participate will increase the understanding of instructions, specifically when adhering to the COVID-19 SOP, which limits physical presence. Similarly, Ogunnusi et al. (2021) [36] stressed that meeting-based discussions should be exclusive to only the most relevant individuals during the pandemic and preferably conducted using web-based platforms. Effective, clear, succinct, full and accurate communication contributes to the estab- lishment of improved communications management, especially when individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences are involved [26]. Likewise, the findings suggest that using clear and specific commands during site review meetings and in project reports significantly improves communications management during the pandemic. The study also highlights that regular site review meetings to discuss site progress improve understanding. Jones et al. (2022) [65] examined a few construction companies in London and found that communication between site managers and site labourers during the COVID-19 pandemic has to be conducted frequently with substantive feedback and views exchanged between the two parties, while complying to the restrictions imposed. Jallow et al. (2020) [33] pointed out that communication with project teams was most effective when using technical means, such as video chat and internet-based meet- ings. Similarly, Zakaria and Singh (2021) [42] advocated a crucial necessity to utilise and implement construction industry-related technology in order to manage and address site- related COVID-19 pandemic challenges. On the contrary, although technology adoption has been tipped to be the best improvement measure to overcome the current short- fall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the study did not reflect such. Pamidimukkala and Kermanshachi (2021) [17] explained that due to the industry’s uniqueness, which in- volves numerous stakeholders, physical discussions during the pandemic will still be required to ensure valuable information is communicated effectively. In the same way, Jeffres (2015) [32] suggest that as a remedial measure, prior consultations between the con- Buildings 2022, 12, 1291 17 of 20 struction company and other stakeholders, particularly the contractors, are conducted to ascertain how the COVID-19 pandemics may affect the projects. 6. Conclusions Project communication management plays a significant role in suppressing infection among labourers, while limited efforts are put to investigate the barriers to implementing an effective communication management in construction sites. As one of the first of its kind, this study investigated the most critical communication management barriers and measures using the Rasch measurement model. The findings showed that there are six and three significant communication barriers and improvement measures, respectively. In light of the results of this research, it was concluded that, as part of the efforts to swiftly revive the construction industry from the present downtrend, the adequate focus should be given to project communications management plans, especially on-site review meetings, and team meeting discussions and project reports. Using Malaysia as an exemplar of a developing country with the adoption of low levels of automation in the construction industry and a high reliance of the presence of skilled and unskilled labourers this study contributes to the field in several ways. First, the study has paved the way towards implementing new approaches that would produce immediate results and create a safer working environment. The findings are practical measures that can be deployed without significant cost occurrence. As a result, governing bodies and stakeholders may adopt the outcome of this study to make necessary amendments to existing standard operating procedures, policies or even regulations that would benefit the employees, especially regarding healthcare, and ensure project continuity. Second, it indirectly benefits the construction industry, which is important for economic expansion and makes it easier to plan for future development in accordance with Malaysia’s Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 (SPV2030) and the Twelfth Malaysia Plan (RMK-12). Third, other industries that depend on foreign labourers and require a physical presence, such as fishery, manufacturing, plantation, agriculture and mining may adopt the findings to suit the needs of their respective working environments. Subsequently, they can safeguard employability and maintain decent work for individuals related to the industry, thus supporting the spirit of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG8). However, it is noticeable that the sampling for the study was limited by access to construction sites due to regulations and safety measures. As a result, some of the critical variables may not be practical solutions for all types of construction sites, while they may potentially act as guiding principles towards developing a suitable communication plan. Considering the above for a better understanding of the industry’s needs, the applicability and importance of such variables should be investigated on other construction sites and stakeholders in the form of future research on the topic. Moreover, other methodologies such as different types of multi-criteria decision-making approaches can be employed to determine the importance of the investigated variables. Author Contributions: Conceptualization, C.S. and S.I.; methodology, C.S.; software, C.S.; val- idation, C.S., S.I.; formal analysis, C.S.; investigation, C.S.; resources, C.S.; data curation, C.S.; writing—original draft preparation, C.S., S.I. and W.N.M.W.M.R.; writing—review and editing, C.S. and A.M.; visualization, C.S.; supervision, S.I. and A.M.; project administration, S.I.; funding acquisi- tion, C.S. and S.I. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript. Funding: This research has been supported by the Ministry of Education Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), the Research Management Centre (RMC) of UTM and The Australian APEC Study Centre under 2022 APEC-Australia Women in Research Fellowship. This research is funded by the Fundamental Research Grant Scheme 2021 of cost centre R.K130000.7856.5F505. The APC is funded by UTM and Universiti Sains Malaysia. Institutional Review Board Statement: Not applicable. 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Journal

BuildingsMultidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute

Published: Aug 23, 2022

Keywords: construction project; project communications management; foreign labourers; COVID-19

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