Remaining hands-on while distanced: How to take design-build collaboration virtual
September 22, 2020
September 22, 2020
3 tips for maintaining successful design-build partnerships amid the COVID-19 pandemic
Design-build project delivery has grown in popularity over the last several years. This collaborative approach to design and construction has helped streamline project timelines and budgets as construction and design teams partner from the outset in developing a design and quickly troubleshooting any construction challenges along the way. In fact, design-build construction spending in the US is expected to grow 18% from 2018 to 2021, reaching over $320 billion.
The success of a design-build project hinges on a team that is working in-step from project concept to completion. This has traditionally involved near-constant interactions and updates, daily in-person meetings, and regular site visits to track progress. But when travel and in-person interactions are limited because of COVID-19, how do design-build teams continue to foster real-time collaboration?
For our transportation teams providing design and engineering services on projects like the New York State Thruway Authority’s cashless tolling initiative across Interstate 90, we’ve harnessed the power of technology to our advantage. While nothing can replace the interaction experienced during in-person meetings, we’ve found opportunities to integrate new tools and practices to optimize our design-build approaches.
When local authorities enacted social distancing measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, our teams immediately embraced virtual meeting tools to replace our traditional in-person project meetings. In the past, these tools were often used to connect with team members who weren’t local to the project for their specialized input. However, by placing the entire team in this format, we noticed even greater efficiencies and collaboration.
By switching to video meetings, we’ve been able to record our sessions. This allows team members to listen back to updates and discussions rather than relying on meeting minutes. This has been useful for attendees looking to revisit items, as well as for those who couldn’t attend the meeting live.
Tools like the video function and screen sharing have also helped to make sure we’re all on task and reviewing the same details at once. In the past, during in-person meetings, it was common to see side conversations occurring and people referencing various copies of design documents. Now with the screen share function, a meeting host can clearly zoom in on the areas in question for ultimate clarity. Also, any side conversations that are needed can happen as follow-up meetings rather than taking away from the main conversation.
Ultimately, we’ve found that this format has resulted in more efficient meetings with everyone more clearly focused on the task at hand.
When travel and in-person interactions are limited because of COVID-19, how do design-build teams continue to foster real-time collaboration?
During the course of a typical design-build project, the design leads would typically co-locate on site and/or visit the project site office a few times a week for meetings to keep track of progress and review potential challenges first-hand. While the limitations on travel have impacted the number of team members who can visit a project site, we’ve found that the alternative has actually brought on some benefits.
On the cashless tolling project in New York, we’ve partnered with the site-based contractor and field inspection team to share field reviews virtually through site photos and video. This has helped to keep us up to date on progress in the place of in-person visits and has allowed us to proactively keep an eye out for any design issues that would need to be addressed. The added benefit has been the opportunity to share these videos with a broader group on our design team for even greater oversight. These photos and videos have also helped in tracking progress over time as we have visual documentation of past reviews.
The use of advanced project collaboration tools has also helped maintain seamless project reviews and coordination. We began using BlueBeam, an application that allows multiple users to provide technical reviews electronically on shared files, prior to the pandemic and found the platform to be indispensable during these times. In our remote environment, the tool has allowed us to perform quality control and constructability reviews from virtually anywhere.
Working virtually has also adjusted how our local teams are interacting with each other. Since we all started working from home, we’ve “moved” our daily morning project briefings from in-person to online. With the speed of design-build projects, priorities easily shift day to day. These 15-minute calls have helped set a clear focus each day and ensure all team members are on task and up to date with critical assignments.
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly shifted how we work. But through creative collaboration and harnessing the power new technologies, our efficiency and efficacy working as a design-build team has continued to thrive. This has been especially essential as many of our roadway projects have been fast-tracked to take advantage of the fact that fewer cars are on the road.
While we all look forward to the day when we can return to “normal”, this situation has allowed our team to explore new collaboration tools and practices that will continue to benefit our approach to advanced project delivery in the long term.