Psychology of Space: Job-site Organization

By Lee Russell

Often, we consider the psychology of space on the finished product. Why did the designer put the steps there? How does the color palette affect the end consumer? As a general contractor, we often have little input in the design process. We are given an approved set of plans, and we build to it. I would contend though that there are effects to the behaviors of individuals well before the finished product is unveiled. Throughout the entire construction process, we have the ability to inform and change behaviors, for the better or worse. How we lay out our jobs and place our equipment, and where we leave our trash communicates to our clients, other trades, and our own employees.

You’re putting that where?

The process of digging a swimming pool is nothing less than organized chaos. We show up with trailers full of earth moving equipment, which we drop off and subsequently demolish a homeowner’s backyard. Most people have never seen this process, so not only is our customer enveloped in excitement, many have fears of what exactly is happening. That excavator is often a lot closer to the eve of the house than many are comfortable with. That hole looks a lot deeper than they imagined. Most customers, whether they say it or not, are waiting for something bad to happen because they just do not comprehend the swimming pool construction process. It’s easy to see a new house being constructed; it’s all above sightlines. But a pool is below the sightlines, so it is almost impossible to see unless you are up close. Likewise, many customers out there have heard horror stories of unscrupulous pool builders digging a hole, collecting a check, and leaving town. It happens, but as professionals, we can diffuse that behavior by organization.

As a builder, we set up our jobsites to communicate to the customer that everything is going as planned. The first and perhaps the simplest thing we do is bring with us a fold up table to place plans on. It gives us a central location that everyone knows is the main hub of the jobsite. It allows us to have a place to organize the job, whether I need to scale a takeoff or draw a detail for the dig crew. It eases the mind of customers to know that we are not using their furniture for our benefit. It also lets the customer know where they can always find someone to answer their questions when they arise. Instead of the homeowner questioning someone in the hole, a table at a central location informs them of where they can get the answers they desire. They know that someone is there that cares about their investment.

We also organize our jobsites by trades. What I mean is that everything is not just dropped off in a jumbled mess. We designate certain areas for plumbing, masons, tile setters, etc. While many of these trades may never be on the job at the same time, it communicates order to the customer and to the sub-trades. This task is often daunting because most backyards do not seem to have space to become the warehouse for the jobsite. However, that makes it even more important that we utilize the space appropriately. Likewise, when that job runs over and instead of lasting 2 months, it becomes 6 months, having the site organized helps keep everyone on task. When a job gets strung out like that, some trades may be gone for several weeks and may forget what was left on the job. For instance, if I have to pull my masons away because of a delay, a quick trip by the jobsite will allow me to get a count of brick and mortar to ensure we are ready to start back. If everything is placed all over the yard, this count becomes more and more difficult. Also, we have a lot fewer materials go missing when we organize the yard. It communicates to everyone, homeowners included, that the materials have been accounted. People tend to steal less often from an organized jobsite than one that is spread out all across the yard.

The pool is not a dumpster

My grandfather always told us, “Never start trash piles.” The reasoning behind this charge was that once a trash pile was started, everyone else would use it, and leave it for us as the general contractor to clean it. When a trash pile is started, everyone believes that it is okay to leave trash on the job. In a perfect world, I would provide a dumpster for all of my employees and subcontractors to utilize. But we seldom live in that perfect world. Most of our jobs do not allow us the space for a full size dumpster in the driveway. Most neighborhoods we work in would forbid them anyway. Our solution is simple, everyone picks up after themselves. When our customer comes home from work and walks in their backyard to see what we accomplished for the day, the last thing I want them to see is their yard littered with water bottles, coke cans, empty mortar bags, or tile trimmings. When they see their yard like this, they know that we do not care about their property. It tells them that we are too lazy to spend five minutes to do a quick trash sweep. It begins a line of non-verbal communication with the client that tells them maybe they are not as important as we want them to believe. A lack of tidiness can cause the customer to begin to look for something wrong. It can put them on the defensive, and sometimes the offensive, as they try to protect their investment. 

Not only does trash on the job communicate to the client, it also informs the sub-trades and our own employees of acceptable jobsite behavior. When a subcontractor walks on the job and it is littered, they know it is acceptable to continue this pattern. We are telling them we do not care if they leave their trash behind. This task does become more and more difficult the longer the job drags on. Many times, we have left the job spotless, only to return a month later to plaster and it looks like a bomb has gone off in the yard. Such is working on big projects with trades that do not work for you. Nevertheless, our client knows that it was not Russell Pool that left the project that way. We had communicated that by cleaning as we went.


The psychology of space is not limited to the thinkers and designers. We doers are critical to this process as well. A well-designed space can be diminished if a client has a horrible building process. In the process of doing, we must be cognizant of how we affect the behavior of those working with us and that of the client. It has been our experience: an organized and clean job means a happy client. A happy client smiles often, praises the crews, shares their experience with their friends, and pays on time.

— Lee Russell of Russell Pool Company