A note from the CEO: "Community and a focus on our clients are two of our six core values at BIM Designs. With the world events of late, we recognize that the construction industry is shifting to adopt technology faster than ever before. To give back to our construction community, we are opening the hood to share how we've adopted technology to create a scalable, fully-remote work force that hasn't lost a beat during this period of global transition. Please follow and share this new Remote Working blog series; and in the spirit of continuous improvement, I would love to hear your direct feedback. We look forward to helping your company transition in any way that we can!"
-Mark Oden, CEO, BIM Designs, Inc.
The construction industry is inherently hands-on, with employees traditionally working from a trailer, office, or job site. Many construction firms have built their internal infrastructure around this practice. In light of the novel COVID-19 virus that is spreading across the world and disrupting every industry, businesses have been forced to look at new ways to keep operations moving forward in the face of unprecedented challenges. Many businesses have found their answer in remote working. The issue is, the construction industry is largely unprepared with the infrastructure, technology, and trust needed for this form of work.
However, there is positive news for pre-construction teams looking to quickly implement a remote working program. With the current technologies available, remote working can be achieved easily, quickly, and at a low cost. After a successful roll-out, remote working could transform the way you do business, forever. With greater everyday workplace efficiencies, improved work-life balance, inherently flexible workplace policy, and an explosion of innovative software and hardware solutions to support remote workplace management and communication, in the event of an emergency, such as the one we are currently facing, we might just learn to construct from home.
BIM Designs, Inc. is a firm that operates nearly 100% remotely, providing on-demand MEP design and detailing solutions to contractors and AEC firms, aiding and expanding their virtual design capabilities. One of the services that BIM Designs offers clients is the infrastructure, technology, and training necessary to run your operations remotely, in collaboration with ours. BIM Designs sources laptops or custom-built PCs for your pre-construction team that come preloaded with the software and capabilities necessary to get your operations up quickly, smoothly, and at scale. Our Senior Sheet Metal Detailer, Brian Herron, provides 5 tips to prepare your pre-construction team for remote working during these times of business adversity:
1. Choose a Secure, Cloud-Based File Sharing Tool
The foundation of a successful remote working program begins by having all documents stored in a cloud-based program. It is critically important that your staff is able to access documents such as bids, contracts, specs, correspondences, 3D drawings, CAD files, and plans with speed and agility. Many cloud storage software programs allow for multiple team members to work on a document at once, or assign notes for co-workers to review later. There is a plenitude of tools and resources available specific to each service provider that your organization may find beneficial.
BIM Designs utilizes Dropbox software as a cloud storage solution for our pre-construction team. Not only does this software store all of your documents in a secure cloud that can be accessed anywhere your team has WiFi, it also allows for files to be stored locally on the computer as well. Your staff can seamlessly work inside of the documents stored in the files on their computer. Once the document is saved, it will automatically update in the cloud and on the local files of each individual team member’s laptop. This system provides all of your staff members access to up-to-date documents when they need it, without any added hassle or thought.
When your firm begins building the secure cloud storage system, organization will be essential in maintaining a clean, easy-to-navigate database. Have an administrator at your company set up folders for each client, as well as an administrative folder for the company itself. Within each client folder, you can add additional folders designated for construction projects and teams that correspond with each individual client.
Another critical element of a successful cloud storage system is detailing an SOP document to instruct your employees on the best practices to keep the files clean and standardized. This document should outline who gets access to the cloud, how to navigate the folder system, what employees are and are not allowed to do, as well as a standardized file naming system.
When creating your cloud storage program, research if the software offers your company the ability to give different staff members different levels of access. For example, you may only want senior leadership at your firm to be able to delete or access certain files and folders. Also, be sure that recovery options are available for that file that was accidentally deleted!
2. Adopt Work Management Software
Keep a pulse on your construction projects by adopting a team and project management application to keep your team’s workload organized and on schedule. Providing critical status updates and visibility, team management software programs have several beneficial features that play a crucial role in maintaining organization during a period of remote work, as well as when your staff is in office.
BIM Designs can assist our partners to get up to speed with our project management software of choice: Asana. This API-loaded team management program allows you to create task lists under your different clients and across projects, assign due dates, and identify owners who are responsible for completing them. Easily use your project timeline or Gantt chart to build task lists and track manpower to keep your projects on time and adequately resourced.
When used in tandem with your established workflows, Asana can provide a platform that allows your staff members to understand their workload at a glance, easily document their time under each specific task, leave notes for other stakeholders, and check off their tasks when they are finished to keep the rest of the team informed on their progress. Leadership can use the data entered by employees to find areas of redundancy or needed information to maximize efficiency. This data also allows for transparency by creating a system of reliability and visibility, so management can track productivity and identify potential roadblocks, without the need for a formal meeting, all from a remote work location. Asana delivers agility into your company’s project management by providing tools to easily edit, delete, or assign new tasks.
Finally, Asana allows your organization to create projects and grant guest access to your clients as well. This added benefit allows you to seamlessly on-board new clients and provides a system to organize, communicate, and assign tasks as you work with clients on future projects. Your project managers can assign their clients tasks to provide information, QA/QC project files, etc, which keeps projects on time, in a professional, easy-to-use format. Every time your project manager updates your clients or staff members on a task, that individual will receive a notification within Asana, as well as an email (or Slack notification). Asana is one of the most pivotal tools that BIM Designs uses to ensure all project deadlines are met without delay, and your pre-construction team may find it incredibly valuable as well.
3. Internal Communication is Key
Providing your staff the ability to communicate quickly and effectively is another element that your company’s leadership will need to take into consideration when building your remote working program. Many pre-construction teams believe they already have this in place with email, but oftentimes that isn't the most streamlined method for informal or instant messaging.
One internal communication solution that BIM Designs utilizes and recommends all of our partners use is Slack. This messaging tool allows staff members to communicate through an instant messaging interface, where GIFs and emojis can be used to communicate in trendy, lively ways. One of the features that many users find useful is the ability to create various channels that are designated for communication about a particular client or topic. In addition to group messaging in channels, Slack gives you the ability to have private conversations with one or more co-workers. This allows you to effectively communicate about certain tasks without interrupting co-workers who aren't involved. There are several apps that you can integrate into your company's Slack channel that communicate with other software programs, such as DropBox, HubSpot, Zoom, and more. While Slack works well as a standalone desktop application, their mobile app can be downloaded onto your smartphone for communication and file-sharing when away from your computer.
Slack also provides a quick and effective tool for your remote team to through with video and/or voice calls from their laptops, for any conversations that may be too heavy or time-consuming to write. The video chat tool in Slack allows for one-on-one conversations, as well as video conferencing. One of BIM Designs’ favorite features is the ability to share your screen during a video call, another included feature with the Slack desktop application.
While Slack is incredibly helpful for internal communication, it can be utilized as another tool for external communication as well. In conjunction with Asana and email, Slack will bring your communications ability full-circle. Slack offers your organization the ability to create “workspaces” outside of your internal channels that keep internal and external communication separate within the platform. Your administrator can create different workspaces for each client for organizational purposes. There, collaboration, RFIs, file-sharing, and ideas can all happen instantly, improving efficiency and cutting down on writing or digesting bulky emails.
In addition, BIM Designs leverages Slack to communicate with clients and prospects who visit our website, through the use of a live chat portal. When a customer visits the BIM Designs homepage, a popup chat will appear in the corner of their screen letting them know that a live BIM service specialist is available to answer any questions the user may have. When the prospect sends a message through the chatbot, it's sent directly to a Slack channel managed by the customer success team, with specialists designated to answer questions. This creates a unique, timely, and streamlined communication to help prospects through the sales process and improve their overall user experience.
While the software is simple to use, BIM Designs can help your pre-construction team get established within Slack. The software offers speed and convenience for communicating, which is why so many organizations around the world rely have integrated it into their daily remote working environment.
BIM Designs has one last tip for internal communication when working remotely. While it is a simple principle, setting the standard for all staff members to keep up-to-date online calendars will be an important step in your internal communication strategy. Many organizations already have this software in place. However, the key takeaway is to ensure that your leadership communicates the importance of everyone maintaining an accurate calendar. BIM Designs can ensure that all other software mentioned is integrated with your staff and client calendars to automatically update meetings and deadlines. While important during remote working, keeping calendars up-to-date is simply good business practice, no matter the situation.
4. Hold Client Meetings Online
With new social standards being set around social distancing and quarantining, it’s safe to say that in-person client meetings are going to be disrupted until the nation has a better grasp on containing the COVID-19 virus—which many experts say could be months. While it may not be as traditional as an in-person meeting, there are measures that your organization can take and technologies that can be leveraged to hold meetings digitally. For client meetings, BIM Designs recommends more formal software such as Zoom. We have found that Zoom is especially helpful for running a successful online project coordination meeting. As mentioned above, Zoom integrates with your staff and client’s online calendars, which makes scheduling easy and efficient. After the meeting is scheduled, simply click a link to enter the video chat. Additional benefits of Zoom include tools to share documents with clients during your calls and the ability to record your meetings to make the note-taking process more efficient.
Make sure that you set workplace expectations for the level of professionalism that needs to be maintained when holding digital client meetings. Staff should dress as if they were attending the meeting in person, and they should be cognizant of the environment around them. Remind staff that meetings need to be held in a quiet place with a professional and clean surrounding, and to mute their audio when not actively speaking, as much as possible to reduce ambient noise.
5. Prepare for Troubleshooting
Now that you have all the necessary BIM team management software in place, the next step is to prepare your organization for troubleshooting any technical problems. When new software is being implemented into a business, there are sure to be questions and issues that arise. Aside from building out a best practices SOP for each platform, collect a document that outlines how-to resources provided by the software makers. Beyond these documents, Zoom provides a feature that enables leadership or tech support to have secure remote access to each laptop, which provides quick and easy troubleshooting when staff is working remotely.
Sometimes certain tasks or issues that arise require more than just documentation or written word; oftentimes it takes visualization. Vidyard is an additional software solution that BIM Designs recommends for troubleshooting, or walking clients through complex processes such as bids or estimates. This low-cost program allows your staff to record their screen, webcam, or both. While it is useful for creating a database of videos that troubleshoot common problems so that they only have to be explained once, the video platform also allows you to communicate effectively with clients and close deals.
How BIM Designs, Inc. Can Help
BIM Designs is a Union signatory organization that has operated nearly 100% remotely for three years, creating deep expertise in this arena. Our experts can help your pre-construction team source laptops, improve efficiencies, help you run smoother virtual meetings, troubleshoot database issues, and instruct your leadership on best practices to construct from home and grow, in collaboration with our BIM team. Our remote team of dedicated industry tradesmen have decades of field experience in engineering and design projects (design-build); BIM modeling and VDC detailing; HVAC, mechanical, electrical or plumbing; and MEPF coordination and clash detection.
In addition to the software mentioned above, all laptops or custom-built PCs provided by BIM Designs to our partners come with software that is standard for the BIM/VDC industry, and necessary to run a pre-construction team remotely. One powerful program that our team of experts leverages and will utilize to work with your pre-construction team is Blue Beam Studios. Blue Beam is powered by the cloud, allowing architects, engineers, general contractors, specialty contractors, estimators, and superintendents to collaborate on files, installation drawings, and more in real-time. Another software that our BIM team leverages is AutoCAD Revit and CAD Fabrication. Our sheet metal, plumbing, and piping detailers work with these programs collaborate daily with our partners. Through these technologies, our remote staff is able to provide the embedded resources your pre-construction team needs to begin manufacturing and constructing with efficiency and ease.
If your pre-construction team needs help preparing for working remote, contact the experts at BIM Designs today:
About the Author
Steve Couch is the Head of Sales and Marketing for BIM Designs, Inc, and is based in Phoenix, AZ. He manages the marketing, sales, and estimating teams to drive revenue and expand client portfolios. An avid international traveler and award-winning public speaker, his experience in public relations, organizational leadership, project management, and communications make him a natural relationship builder, and enables him to build strong community and corporate partnerships.