QR Codes Have Reduced Hassle on the Job

As shelter-at-home orders expire throughout California, one of the measures Webcor is taking as the first phase of returning to the office involves a daily self-check-in.

June 10, 2020

Technology / Innovation

Kay Prescher from Human Resources scans the self-check-in QR code before entering the Alameda office.

As shelter-at-home orders expire throughout California, one of the measures Webcor is taking as the first phase of returning to the office involves a daily self-check-in. To get to the short questionnaire, you point your smartphone camera at a QR code, and, just like magic, the form appears.

This isn't the first use of QR codes at Webcor. It won't be the last.

A Little Background

QR -- which stands for Quick Response -- is a type of barcode, a machine-readable optical label that contains information about the item to which it is attached. Invented in 1994 by the Toyota subsidiary Denso Wave to replace limited UPC codes and help track vehicles and parts, QR codes can store URLs that take users to websites, eliminating the need to type the URL into a browser.

With the introduction of social media and content marketing, QR codes surged in popularity. It costs nothing to create one, they can be added easily to print and digital content, and both iPhones and newer Android phones can scan them directly from their cameras without the use of an independent app. (For older Android phones, a free QR Scan app or Google Lens does the trick.)

As QR codes gained traction, marketers began adopting them for uses like packaging. For example, you can scan the code on a product package to get more detailed information about the product, a video demonstration, or a discount coupon. The department store Macy's incorporated QR codes into in-store signage. They have been used on billboards and even plane and train tickets. In 2012, one South Korean convenience store chain built a sculpture that displayed a QR code during hours of low store traffic, attracting considerable attention.

When first touted as a communication and marketing tool, QR codes attracted a lot of criticism, mainly because they are unattractive. Since then, largely because so much data can be read from them, they have found their way into a wide variety of applications, including Snapchat "Snap Codes," as well as apps like LinkedIn and Venmo.

Grassroots Development

Until the check-in code, printed on posters at all Webcor locations, none of the QR codes adopted in the company have been official initiatives. Rather, the development has happened at the grass-roots level, a bottom-up approach to adopting technology to solve problems and improve processes.

Webcor Carpentry's work at Block 33 was behind one of the first uses of QR codes. "Kerriann McDermott (Webcor Carpentry senior project director) had a door-related idea for using QR code," says Carpentry Project Engineer Joseph Bolous, who presented on the door solution at Webcor's September 2019 Innovation Evening. "There are a ton of doors at Block 33 and, surprisingly, a lot goes into DFH (doors, frames, and hardware)."

Before developing the QR code solution, workers printed out hardware schedules that contained all the details, such as openings and swings for each opening). "They would just tape a piece of paper to the door that could get torn off and thrown away. If anything changed, you had to find all 100 openings and replace every piece of paper taped to every door."

Instead, a sticker with a QR code and door opening number was placed on each door frame. Scanning the code gave workers access to a Smartsheet that contained all the information needed for that door. If something changed, the change was located in just one place, in the Smartsheet. "Scanning the QR code always gave you the most current information," Joseph says.

Joseph had no problem getting his manager and project foreman to buy into the concept; getting buy-in higher up is a key for successful innovation at Webcor. "We need to make some adjustments the next time we use these to make it easier," he says, explaining that it wasn't as user-friendly as it might have been for field operations. "Only foremen could use it," he adds, although he has already figured out ways to resolve the issue. "It was a good start, and it definitely helped us in the office."

He has been working with other Webcor Carpentry employees who want to implement it to make it a quicker process to set up.

Scan and Go

Milton Rodas, currently senior safety manager at Webcor's 960 W 7th Street project, developed the Scan & Go Program that is now being used on virtually all projects. Scan & Go posters deployed throughout project sites display QR codes for a variety of safety documentation activities.

Employing QR codes makes it quick and easy to access web-based data tools in the field, Milton says. Developing the concept was a case of using creativity, innovation, willingness, and skill to apply an old technology to improve a process. "Scan & Go requires no install, no updates to your phone or tablet, and it's all web-based. If updates are needed, they're made on the back end of the data tools being accessed. The end-user is never aware of it." The use of QR codes also replaces expensive single-gadget licenses for apps that perform similar functions.

Among the processes incorporated into Scan & Go that used to be difficult and complicated are inspection tracking and record logging. To resolve the challenge, Milton combined Smartsheet, Adobe Photoshop, and QR codes. "The idea was to have a Graphic Access Point (GAP) that could be posted at the jobsite where construction workers can access a number of online data-entry forms that feed Webcor-managed data sets," he explains. "The online forms were created to make it easy to collect safety documentation from subcontractors as well as hot work permits, equipment inspections (for equipment like scissor lifts, forklifts, aerial lifts, scaffolds, ladders, and fall protection equipment), rigging equipment inspections, and Speak Up for Safety reports."

Like the QR codes for door frames, the Scan & Go program was presented at an Innovation Evening.

"The innovation won't end with Scan & Go," Milton says. "The future holds even more dynamic ways of accessing data sets and online forms, without having to install anything, and using tools already available to all of us at Webcor, and for which we don't have to invest in expensive licensing."

Scan & Go's adoption was an upgrade at Block 33, which had also developed a QR code for the digital collection of safety paperwork based on an idea presented by an intern.

More QR Codes

There is another QR code at the 960 W 7th project. It's large and visible to anybody walking by the project. Scanning it opens a web page with information about the project.

In another use case, a flyer was posted at the project where a subcontractor's employee passed away; the QR code opened the GoFundMe page where employees could donate to a fund for the employee's family.

On the digital signage at Webcor's offices and some projects, information about articles appearing on Webster have included QR codes employees can scan to take them directly to the content.

More great uses of QR codes are undoubtedly on the way, including direct links to tool training, employee verification of training, and codes linked to project web pages to share logistics, upcoming changes, or real-time hazards. Since it costs nothing to create or use them, QR codes are tailor-made for problem-solving and process-improving.