Remote Collaboration


Ten thousand employees surveyed by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago said they thought they were just as productive working from home compared to working in the office. In addition, 30% of those respondents told researchers they were more productive and engaged working from home. Calculations show that commuting time was reduced by 62.4 million hours per day, with aggregate time savings of over 9 billion hours starting from the middle of March 2020 to mid-September 2020.

Yet, many companies openly admit, the road to remote collaboration has been a bumpy ride. In this article, we interview Nirav Mehta, Design Project Manager, for how he and his team have successfully navigated collaborating remotely.

Q. Tell us about the early stages of your remote collaboration journey.

A. When we first moved to a work-from-home model, simple communication became a struggle. We were missing the quick response that we used to have when working in the office. I noticed we would send in an email saying, “Hey, can you please clarify the following?” And at times, those requests could sit for hours or days. This slowdown was unacceptable as the delay would impact others’ progress.

We learned new ways of communicating. We changed how we gave instructions, led group meetings, and shared ideas.

Q. It sounds like you added quite a bit of structure to your new way of doing things. Tell us more.

We implemented communication guidelines. We encouraged the team to use Microsoft Outlook to share hyperlinks to project folders and communicate with external contacts. We encouraged using Microsoft Teams’ chat feature for internal communication and collaboration.

We found that utilizing Teams chat allowed us to avoid some of the pitfalls inherent in Outlook, like team members responding to older emails and missing crucial up-to-date information. Microsoft Teams’ chat creates a linear conversation that is easy to scroll through and follow the complete discussion.

Q. I am sure there is an added layer of urgency to communicating highly technical information. Tell us about communicating and the quality control process.

A. An engineer’s quality control process is rooted in tracking and communicating design changes through careful review of electronic drawings. Bluebeam Revu is the perfect tool to leave comments, add action items, and document future changes. This software helps keep the entire team on the same page throughout the design and construction stages. Comments are retained and used to check and ensure that all the necessary clarifications have been incorporated into the latest document set.

Q. What other technology has your team employed to overcome some of the challenges of not being face-to-face?

A. Discussions using 3D models are becoming more commonplace. 3D modeling has allowed our team to communicate in a language other than the written word. Emails and chats rely on writing and reading. Using 3D models allows us to experience the design. I believe this trend will continue beyond the circumstances we find ourselves in now. For example, the work we are doing today to create 3D views of a typical office or restroom can serve as starting points for new projects. Developing prototypes with options that can be explored in small break-out meetings could become the standard for the next design collaboration.

Q. How has the team overcome the challenges of file sharing?

A. We have embraced the cloud. Moving to cloud-based file storage systems and Microsoft Teams has been tremendously helpful for our design teams. Older technologies were not built with remote work in mind. In contrast, cloud-based file systems offer a measure of resiliency and data access comparable to what we had when our users and data were physically on-site. Autodesk’s BIM 360 allows all team members to access the latest drawings and Revit models. Having quick and easy access to these files and working together is essential. We can edit models from anywhere in the world simultaneously with the software’s ‘work sharing’ feature and file-level access management that the cloud makes possible. “I’m out of the file; you can go in now and make your changes” is a thing of the past.

Q. What other innovative workflow processes have you embraced?

A.  By automating repetitive tasks, we have saved hundreds of work hours on each project. Recent updates to the Imaginit Clarity® system allow us to take the output from these tasks into dozens of competing repositories. If a consultant needs to see drawing files based on our models in a different format, we can automate that task so that each night the latest changes are exported to the file format they require and then uploaded to the cloud service they are making use of. We can confidently review a set of drawings when we know that they are based on the latest model changes.

Our industry has many modeling tools, and we have become adept at applying the best solution for the given task. There are tools appropriate for design presentation, internal model review, clash coordination, and owner walk-throughs. Our IT team and BIM software leaders are excellent training and problem-solving resources when defining and implementing these workflows. All the technology in the world won’t help if you don’t have leaders who excel at training other people.

Q. How has the client experience changed?

A. We are all in the same boat. Many of our clients have faced the same remote work challenges over the past few years. Fortunately, they have embraced virtual meeting technologies allowing us to work efficiently together. Our clients can now be sitting hundreds of miles away while our engineers guide them through a 3D version of their project to conceptualize design solutions.

Q. What do you see as the silver lining to the past couple of years?

A. We are more flexible than ever before. We have realized how quickly where and how we work can change. We rose to the challenge and transformed our processes faster than we could have ever imagined. We took an honest look at what was working and what was not and pivoted where needed. Our team learned how resilient they could be and can better face what comes next because of it. Innovation is one of The Austin Company’s core values. As we look to the future, we must embrace this change. Evaluating and implementing software that can positively impact our productivity, communication, and workflow will always be at the forefront of our design-build process.


Design Project Manager

Call 619.663.7680 | Email Nirav | View Profile

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