Shawn Phillips, AIA, LEED AP Director of Virtual Design and Construction, F.H. Paschen
“Wake Up!” Screams the alarm clock 6 inches from your head. You reluctantly role out of bed, rub your eyes, throw on your most wrinkle free polo, and make your way to the kitchen to prep the first morning cup of joe. You walk over to your cubicle, formerly known as the dining room, turn on the computer and send the boss a quick email about the logistics plan. Not that you really needed the information, its just so she knows you’re working at 7am.Computer is up, the project model is loaded and by 8am you’re on your first video conference call…still in your pajama bottoms. Welcome to ‘Lockdown 2020’.
As the current COVID-19 pandemic grew throughout the year, the office-based teams of many AEC firms have had to shift from a traditional in-office requirement to more work-from-home policies. For many of those companies, the initial apprehension to such a move was gradually replaced with the comfort of knowing that the change has been, for the most part, positive. A recent survey by the HR and workplace benefits firm Mercer, asked 800 employers how the new work-from-home policies have impacted worker productivity. 94% Of employers surveyed said that company productivity was the same or better than it was pre-pandemic.
Virtual Design and Construction was made for this new reality! By definition, VDC is virtual. The technology that makes it possible benefits from mobility, cloud technology, remote access and online sharing platforms. Many of the AEC firms who managed to stay productive during the pandemic were companies who had previously embraced remote IT solutions and had already well-established work-from-home policies. They found the switch to a fully remote or hybrid workday to be relatively painless while their employees reported lower stress levels with improved physical and mental health. So how can firms successfully maintain a high level of productivity during the pandemic using VDC?
Use a good communication tool
Before addressing the benefits of VDC during a pandemic we must accept that maintaining great communication is the single most important feature of any business. Cloud based office functionality tools like Microsoft Teams, provide a broad spectrum of services, tools and features that help teams communicate smoothly beyond the traditional office setting. With Teams, video conference calls are just a couple clicks away. The servers are secure and the platform makes it easy to share your screen, store and share your files with other team members and create collaboration workflows that are customized to your projects.
Consider Decentralizing your Data
Its important for AEC firms to maintain strict control of the data and computer models being created and used on the projects they are involved with. The traditional policy of keeping all the data in-house became a hot mess when employees started working from home. Allowing employees to keep important project data on their laptops and off the company servers fragments the project and creates a nightmare for IT security. Cloud-based Common Data Environments (CDE’s) are secure and rarely suffer catastrophic failures. They are always backed up and usually offer the ability to restore older versions. Companies like Autodesk have begun moving toward a more cloud-based workflow with their BIM 360 platform and Vault product data management (PDM) technology. Cloud-based CDE’s also tend to increase collaboration with stakeholders outside the company by providing a more streamlined approach to file-sharing.
If you must keep data in-house use a Remote Desktop application with VPN
VPN (Virtual Private Network) and Remote Desktop applications are nothing new but with significantly improved internet speeds and more affordable high-speed home network and Wi-Fi equipment available today, this older technology has been thrust to the forefront as a very viable option.
Explore interoperability of new technology
The VDC community has been looking for ways to make BIM models and data more accessible to field teams for years. Now with the need for social distancing more important than ever, combining these traditional methods of data sharing with new technology has become a top priority. Innovations like augmented reality headsets, drones, GIS and the Internet of Things (IoT), make these very necessary interactions safer, reduce costly trips to job sites, keep teams more informed about their sites in real-time and in some cases can be accessed by simply browsing to a website.
Much like innovation of the past, it took a catalyst to propel the need forward. Whether it be war, disease, famine, or the zombie apocalypse, these challenges bring out the best and brightest among us. Virtual Design and Construction has been redefining the art of project delivery for decades, questioning the old ways of doing things, digitizing our workflows and making our job sites more accessible to all stakeholders. Never has this need been so great. The reality is that these innovations have worked well, companies have noticed and even when the pandemic comes to an end, we will build on the successes and failures we experienced over the last year. After all, VDC was made for this!