By Jerry McPhail and Brad Ahrens
While much of the US labor force spent the early days of the pandemic learning how to adapt to remote work, our team has employed a hybrid virtual/physical model for almost five years. In that time, we have learned several lessons worth sharing, both for our early days and during the past year when this way of working became much more commonplace.
Adapt and Adopt
A recent contract tracing study revealed the construction industry has the third highest transmission rate of COVID. Construction’s inherent limitations to remote work and physical distancing means the ability to identify and effectively apply virtual interaction strategies have never been more important in ensuring the safety of team members while keeping projects moving forward on the schedule and on budget. The good news is that there is an exceedingly long list of new and familiar technological resources for this specific niche of project management – but it takes a willingness from team members to adapt and adopt to new ways of doing business.
While standardization of tools in the industry is still minimal, familiarizing yourself and your team members with technologies such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, DocuSign, Dropbox and more is a good place to start. There are also effective virtual collaboration tools that include online whiteboard applications such as Mural and Concept Board. Bluebeam has emerged as a leading software application that allows users to digitally collaborate within PDF files in a highly collaborative and customizable manner for construction, design and engineering projects. The advantage of Bluebeam is that it is a familiar tool within the industry and is easily adaptable for firms that are not already taking advantage of its digital collaboration capabilities.
While it’s impossible for something as tangible as construction to run entirely virtual, organizations can and should identify impact points during the sales and implementation phases where operating in person delivers a marked impact. There will naturally be instances where a face-to-face is necessary to get the job done. For the times where virtual may be a suitable alternative, make sure you’ve laid the groundwork by establishing a true relationship with all project team members with the goal of working to earn their trust.
One quick win for building that trust is to start your projects by aligning on expectations and then delivering on those expectations early on. Wherever possible, you may also want to try doubling down on your reporting – increasing the frequency of updates and going deeper on data when you can. The more transparency you can comfortably create with your team, subcontractors and partner organizations, the easier it will be to earn trust from clients in the long run. This can be accomplished with a combination of productive one-on-one and larger team meetings that value everyone’s time and perspectives.
This next best practice extends to any working environment but becomes mission-critical with reduced in-person time: communication. While the means by which we communicate with one another on a job site have expanded amid the pandemic, it’s important to continue the routines that normally occur on a job site: small talk, conversations between meetings and maintaining a general presence with one another to positively impact the finished product. This can be represented by building a segue into your meeting agenda to give participants time to connect at the beginning or holding a follow-up call after a client presentation to gauge reactions and align on feedback.
Also, while we realize not everyone has a home office or space with a perfect Zoom background, we do recommend that if there’s an option between hosting a phone call or a video conference, always choose video. Being able to see a colleague’s facial expressions when reviewing a project will give you a much clearer idea of how things are going as opposed to what you can interpret from audio alone. Every project has its own unique set of needs for what can be handled in-person versus virtually, but in many cases, staying in touch via video helps alleviate the feeling of disconnection.
The most intangible best practice is possibly the most important one of all, and it’s about having the right attitude. Be willing to try new things, understand that you will have some failures along the way, and remain flexible to evolve your practice as you go. We will continue to come up against challenges that cannot be solved overnight, but with a positive growth mindset and willingness to follow through, you will get there eventually, and it will all be worth it
Whether you’re interested in creating a hybrid in-person/remote work environment or you’re looking for a dedicated construction management team for your next project, we’re here to help. Contact our team at Petra to get started today.