In March of 2020, when the COVID-19 global pandemic shuttered the doors of many “non-essential” organizations, construction firms were forced to put business on pause. Now, on the other side of the great work-from-home migration, these same firms are returning to business, just not as usual.
So, what does it look like for an entire, historically on-site, industry to transition to remote work? Adjusting to the remote work lifestyle can be a difficult transition for anyone, and for workers that are used to being out on jobsites all day long, it can be particularly intimidating. The construction industry is known to be people-centric, not tech-centric. Many construction professionals have found that in order to keep their industry alive, they have to adjust to remote work, and quickly.
Robert Yuen, CEO and co-founder of project management software company for the AEC industry Monograph, believes there is an inherent learning curve in the construction industry when it comes to remote tech. “The majority of the industry isn’t as prepared for or lacks experience in working remotely,” Yuen told Construction Dive. “Adjusting to a remote-work environment is putting pressure on firms that have not invested in internal knowledge documentation, communication tools … robust video conferencing tools ... and real-time project management solutions that keep everyone in sync.”
The construction industry is the most recent to learn that organizations that are willing to take the time to adapt to this new remote way of working will be the teams that are able to not only survive whatever the future of remote work brings, but thrive in the unknown virtual future.
Adapting to remote meetings may come with a learning curve, but that doesn’t mean project progress should slow down or come to a halt. Remote tech is expansive and because it is designed to help you communicate with your team from anywhere, in any circumstance, it allows remote meetings to look like anything.
Jerrod Delaine, a real estate asset management and construction director for Carthage Real Estate Advisors in New York, has adapted to the world of remote communication by sticking to a schedule that includes daily phone calls with field staff, weekly phone calls with contractors and lenders, and a daily staff call at 9:30am every weekday morning. “It allows us to touch base,” Delaine told the Commercial Observer. “And also the nuances of projects can be discussed.” By turning these phone calls into video calls, your team can be even more collaborative and productive, and include visuals like blueprints or whiteboard diagrams.
For construction projects of any size, an open line of communication and collaboration is essential. With in-person conversations off the table, rethink this essential communication and collaboration by adapting to remote meetings in ways such as:
Remote tech is a necessary integration to support construction firms as they continue to work remotely. For many construction companies on the new side of this remote tech overhaul, don’t hesitate to turn to IT professionals for assistance. Kelsey Stein, the National Preconstruction Technology Manager at Skanska, is grateful for the assistance. “For those individuals that aren’t used to [remote work], our local IT department has been absolutely great preparing them,” Stein told Autodesk. “They’ve been setting them up with VPNs, Webex, ENS support, and then also providing additional cords, laptops, and even spare monitors that they can take home for their at-home offices.”
The embrace of remote technology opens the door for new learning opportunities. For construction professionals who used to spend their days on jobsites and now find themselves conducting business solely out of their home offices, they may find themselves with more extra time on their hands than usual.
Full workload or not, working at home with the right virtual technology can lend itself to online learning opportunities and professional development. Jen Jewett, a Business Analyst/Innovations Manager at the Montana Department of Transportation, has spent time over the last few months dedicating time to learning new skills and exploring technology pertinent to her job. “I’m thinking about some of the career goals that I have, including learning about different products. I’m looking at different webinars that have come across my email. I’m rounding out my skills professionally, and just getting more knowledge,” Jen told Autodesk.
Another opportunity for additional remote training is the onboarding process for new hires. Replicating the onboarding process in a fully remote work environment can feel like a daunting task for those organizations who haven’t done it before, but it should instead be approached as a learning opportunity.
In addition to mentoring current employees who are less experienced with remote work technology, provide new hires with educational tools to assist them in their virtual onboarding process. By using remote tech to take onboarding as an opportunity for personal and company-wide growth, you are investing in the future of your company.
Thomas Fulcher, a vice chairman and co-regional manager at the Washington, D.C. based company Savills, has had such a positive experience transitioning his employees to remote work that any doubts he had previously surrounding employee’s effectiveness working remotely have dispelled. “Do we know they’re engaged or are they just walking their dog and hanging out watching YouTube views or whatever?,” Fulcher told the Commercial Observer. “I think that [line of thinking], for the most part, is done. You know what, if you want to work from home, you’ve proved over the course of many months in 2020 that you can do it.”
Digital twins—virtual models of buildings that collect information about the structure via wireless technology like sensors and drones—have slowly made their way into the modern world of construction, and just in time for the shift to remote work.
Considering the “twin” is continuously gaining valuable insights into the operation and profitability of a project both built or in progress, it can be used for remote visualization, modeling, analysis, and planning. While digital twin technology is just beginning to make its way into the construction industry, since the future of work is remote, it will be an invaluable resource for developers, architects, engineers, builders, and designers that is here to stay. Some uses for digital twin technology are:
As your construction firm completes your transition into remote tech, remember that an adjustment period is to be expected for new and seasoned workers. Don’t forget to regularly turn to your most valuable tool: trust. In June, Cushman & Wakefield released the results from the survey they conducted with 40,000 office workers from a myriad of worldwide industries about their COVID-19 professional adjustment. Nearly every respondent felt they were now trusted to work remotely, and 73% expected their companies to arrange for some level of permanent remote work policy. If there is one message to take away from that survey it’s this: remote work isn’t going anyway, so we might as well embrace it.