Collaboration is key when navigating challenging times. Our best way ahead is together, through strategic partnerships and adaptive thinking.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cast uncertainty throughout the entire AEC industry for most of 2020. Still, clients seek predicable outcomes and expect their teams to manage risks, schedules, and costs throughout their design and construction projects. How do you provide stability on projects during a societal and economic upheaval?
OAC Services, Inc. is in the business of design and construction performance management. We are a 150-person professional service firm of designers, engineers, and construction professionals dedicated to solving our clients’ project challenges. Headquartered in Seattle, our city was the first major test case for how businesses would deal with the pandemic. We were immediately engaged under an emergency contract to help King County successfully complete two field hospitals and other treatment facilities in hotels and a converted warehouse. Throughout this experience, we have identified some lessons learned that we believe will become standard in post-pandemic project delivery:
- Digitalization in 3D, 4D, and 5D. Advanced digitalization has been in progress throughout the industry for years but accelerated considerably during the pandemic. COVID-19 required remote work and for teams to share the building information model of the project to complete the design. Going forward, expectations for designing in BIM will become standard. The ability to produce a digital twin of the planned building ahead of work beginning on the site will prove invaluable in our quest to provide ultimate risk mitigation for our clients. BIM+Cost+Schedule=5D reliability in project delivery. Drawings are going away faster than ever.
- Technical experts in demand. Returning to the workplace will be a phased process. Employees will seek evidence of increased sanitation and deeper awareness of indoor air quality; natural ventilation and specialized exhaust systems will be expected in the office. Mechanical engineers and other specialists will be called on to explain air movement and filtration in lay terms to the mass population, expanding the need and services provided by technical experts.
- Importance of IT. Internet connectivity is now an essential utility and IT specialists are your first responders, ensuring everyone has 24/7/365 access from everywhere and anywhere. Remote working arrangements will be here to stay for a long time. Servers are the new printers. Making sure you have enough capacity on the company’s hardware to host remote access for a disparate workforce is the key, and the chokepoint, of getting work done and turned in.
- Site safety and access. Safety has always been a priority on the jobsite, but now we need to track personnel access and infection rates. We developed an app called Site Safe to collect self-reported data on infection exposure and symptoms in order to control the spread of the virus on jobsites. Health check points at construction gate entry points will be mandatory going forward to protect workers and clients from viruses and project shutdowns. The firms that can proactively address health and safety concerns on jobsites will be the most coveted.
- Communicating with a virtual workforce. I’ll admit, like many CEOs I was nervous about work getting done when we closed our offices due to shelter-in-place ordinances. It’s been truly fulfilling to see our team providing the same level of service to our clients virtually as they do in person. Their professionalism and integrity speak to the strength of our hiring team and the culture we’ve built around independence and trust. From the leadership perspective, we needed to overhaul how we communicated with our workforce. We implemented weekly Friday video calls (and added a virtual happy hour at the end) to share company-wide information. The calls were recorded and posted on our internal website with written highlights if someone was unable to attend. For important updates, we added a new tab to the website and sent emails, ensuring employees saw the information. A dedicated chat channel was open to our entire team for ongoing or urgent questions about company matters during the pandemic. It wasn’t about how often we sent information to the team, but how many options we gave them for accessing it that was important.
Sometimes it takes a megaproject to shake things up and help us see and adapt to new ways of improving where we live, work, learn, and play. COVID-19 has been the ultimate megaproject.
We’ve found that to navigate through challenging times collaboration is key. Our best way ahead is together, through strategic partnerships and adaptive thinking.
Shawn Mahoney is the CEO of OAC Services, Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com.