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Adapting: Contractor Tech Strategies Amid COVID-19 Crisis

Apr 15, 2020 | Article, Construction, HoloBuilder, Progress Tracking

The global coronavirus pandemic is a challenge for many industries and construction is no exception. With many job sites, the “hearts of progress”, being dormant, General Contractors were facing a particularly hard hit. But tech-savvy ones have mastered it and successfully transitioned into working remotely, making use of technology to move things forward and to keep teams in-sync. Here’s how they do it!

There are many industries that can transition easily into working remotely. Construction is not one of them. The industry relies on active job sites with hundreds of skilled workers and has a culture of face-to-face meetings and decision making. But today, construction projects have either completely shut down or been significantly limited and in-person meetings, including on-site meetings, aren’t happening. Contractors are prioritizing employee safety on job sites that look very different than just a few weeks ago.

That doesn’t mean projects are completely idle, however. Contractors have tools and skills to continue to focus on project schedules, budgets, and progress while securing the safety of their employees and partners. Hereafter, you can learn about a few ways contractors are keeping things moving.

Finding the right tools

Many contractors were already using remote working tools before COVID-19 changed the game. For some though, video conferencing, cloud-based infrastructure, virtual site tours, and VPNs are new. Collaboration tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Skype are now commonplace. Most are looking for platforms that are either easy to learn or that some of the team are already familiar with. Bandwidth, training, and building the IT infrastructure are all new day-to-day priorities.

  • Having the right tools is one thing, rolling it out to employees is another. Autodesk spoke to Spencer Mullaney at Shimmick Construction about introducing Slack and WebEx to their project team. It took a week for them to roll it out to their project team so they could re-create face-to-face communication. Building out the IT systems for a big, newly-remote team can be a very complex task for an IT department.
  • Cloud-based infrastructure is an essential tool to keep employees on track and updated. In a roundtable hosted by Procore, participants from DeAngelis Diamond, Harvey Builders, Gardner Builders, and Justus Construction shared details of their priorities. Running projects and accessing files from the cloud has been pivotal. Bob Gardner of Gardner Builders said:

“If we still had to send people into a job trailer … sorting through documents, and marking, and tabbing, and processing submittals manually, it would be a nonstarter.”

  • Understanding how all the different tools you’re now using are connected within your workflow is also important. So is evaluating the demand on each of those tools so everything works as it should. Guatam Ramchandra Shenoy of Steinberg Hart shared insight into the map of their IT infrastructure and how he understands the interconnectivity of it all.
  • The more data is captured in the field, the more information can be shared with the team members who are currently not on site. The daily reporting of tasks completed in the field becomes key. Check out how Sellen is using the daily reporting application Raken to quickly and easily gather information on the progress that happened on site that are thorough, time-stamped, and complete that are invaluable should any legal disputes arise.

Maximizing employees allowed on-site to keep projects on track

If you don’t need to be on-site, you aren’t. That’s the approach most contractors are taking. Restrictive scheduling limits the number of people on a site and aims to reduce the number of site visits where possible. For project managers who can’t be on-site, it can be a challenge to get timely information to make important decisions. Virtual site visits were growing in popularity before COVID-19 and are now the link for those who are forced to work remotely. Contractors are committing some of their on-site team’s time to capture 360 images which are linked to a floor plan and can be accessed by those working from home.

  • We’re inspired by one of our own customers who is leaning on tech to keep things progressing. Erik Sanford of Dimeo Construction Company is using HoloBuilder to expedite key decisions. In his post, he talks about a scenario where a decision-maker is working remotely but needs to address issues in the field. A person who is onsite uses the JobWalk App to capture images in 360 and make them available for the rest of the team so they can make an informed decision.
  • In the Autodesk article, Mullaney spoke about the need to stay connected while still having the “same level of detail and the same level of visual support, specifically to review documents and plans.” If things are continuing to move — in whatever form — on a job site, you still need access to the same kind of information as you did when you were able to visit the site. Having real-time visibility into the project means you can make important decisions.
  • GLY has a growing appreciation for the technology that has allowed them to create and use virtual job sites while working remotely. In Adam Cisler’s blog post, he emphasizes the need to keep data and imagery as up-to-date as possible to be most effective:

“The current crisis makes a clear case for consistency in capturing work in progress, and you will see an increase in these practices as we move to a post COVID-19 world.”

Preparing for a return

Some projects are shut down completely while others have severe restrictions. Either way, contractors must prepare for a return to “normal.” That means planning now to mobilize teams, supplies, and equipment for when the orders are lifted. It also means preparing for some changes to the industry and the economy.

  • Moving forward and recovering will likely lead to a search for efficiencies within companies and within projects. Robert Yuen of Monograph told Construction Dive that he expects that over the next several months the construction industry will be looking to save money and find more efficient ways to do things. He anticipates cloud-based solutions will be a common way for contractors to achieve that.
  • Now is a good time to learn new skills or schedule a demo for new software you’ve had on your radar. As an example, Brewing with BIM recently published a list of resources to support ongoing BIM training and some non-BIM resources to keep you well rounded. Many tech companies offer either free trials or demos of their software that you can take advantage of. At HoloBuilder, we provide free webinars and demos if you want to see how it works, or a free trial if you want to jump right in.
  • In an article shared on ConstructionDive, Larry Dany and Garrett Gibson of Eversheds Sutherland law firm outlined several ways to prepare to get a site back on track post COVID-19. Among their recommendations is a comprehensive documentation of existing site conditions. Tools that allow for site capture and documentation will go a long way to help you reprogram the project and schedule once things are ready to go again. Site documentation is also an important resource should there be any insurance or legal negotiations down the road:

“Photographic and video documentation of work in place will not only help visualize current progress for future planning but may also reduce any future disputes over the status of any particular element of the work.”

This won’t last forever. Eventually, construction sites will be back in full swing. We’ll all learn something from this. We’ll probably realize that we can work remotely and make important, informed decisions if we have the right tools in place. We’ll probably also realize that adopting new technology might be a bit painful at first, but the construction industry is ready for it. Stay safe.

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What are your experiences with working remotely? Which technologies are you using to stay on the same page with your team and move things forward while sites are dormant? Let us know via email to buildingtogether@holobuilder.com!

We are looking forward to hearing from you! Thank you 🙂

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