The impact of this pandemic will most likely change the way that we interact with others, conduct business and handle daily routines indefinitely. Many industries have had to adapt to new methods of working with little to no preparation, notably the Construction industry. Construction companies that can remain open during the COVID-19 crisis will now have a different outlook on construction management. We want to share some insight on what construction companies can do to stay ahead of the curve.
Most construction firms’ project teams are out in the field. They rely on on-site presence to get their work done. Construction project managers must maintain open lines of communication with their superintendents and other field staff. With a stay at home order and social distancing, it is now challenging to maintain face-to-face relationships. Additionally, construction staff may not have the ability to get to site drawings, permits or other documentation because they now must work remotely. By utilizing Microsoft Teams, a new project team can be created in the platform for members to chat about various topics, share and collaborate on documents and schedule and facilitate virtual meetings. A project team can also use Teams to provide access to external users (outside of the Construction company) so that they can also collaborate, share content and meet with the team remotely.
The ability to access and share content is critical to the success of not only running a project but potentially bidding on new project work. There are some construction firms that utilize FTP setups to share bidding information with their subcontractors, which creates an additional solution for an already strained Information Technology department to have to manage.
Microsoft OneDrive, Teams and SharePoint all offer the ability to share documents with external users securely. For example, a construction firm’s Estimating Department can post new project RFIs and plans from architects and clients securely using OneDrive or SharePoint. Microsoft 365 document management solutions support up to 320+ file types (including large CAD files) and offer up to 1 TB of space in each document library source. Additionally, in March 2019, Microsoft announced integrations with Autodesk and AutoCAD for Microsoft OneDrive and SharePoint.
Looking further into the OneDrive example to collect RFI information, an Estimating Coordinator can create a new folder within their OneDrive with the required documents, and control who can access those documents. OneDrive provides the following options: share with anyone with a link, share with people within their organization, share with people with existing access or share with specific people. The Estimating Coordinator can also specify if the shared link allows for reading or editing rights on the folder. This example is just one way that construction firms, especially firms that already have Microsoft 365, can eliminate the need for FTP setups to share information.
Microsoft 365 and Teams allow for quick ways to transform paper forms into digital ones while also providing the ability to capture and save the data collected from them. This solution can convert information obtained in a paper format to an electronic format in under 10 minutes. This solution eliminates the need for keeping hard copy documents on the job site and creates transparency for the project team. Information collected from a Microsoft Form gets entered in real-time in an Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet gets securely stored in Teams.
Let’s look at Daily Reports, for example. In Teams, a construction Team can go to the Files tab, and choose New Forms for Excel. The Forms editor gets launched, where we can quickly create the fields from the Daily Report into an electronic format. Once the form gets created, a link becomes available, which gets provided to the individuals who need to complete the Daily Report. The report can be completed either on any type of device (computer, laptop, or mobile phone).
Some construction firms still utilize many of their applications through a VPN connection. In these times, where everyone is accessing everything over the Internet, this can wreak havoc on a company’s network infrastructure. Now is the time to move away with server-side hosted applications and look towards the cloud. Construction firms should investigate the cloud-based version of their app, if available, to alleviate the use of VPN or Citrix-based setups for access. If there is no cloud-based solution, construction firms should still investigate other software that provides access without the use of a private network connection. Looking into a new solution may not be the highest priority, so devising a plan to cut down the load on network resources may be the best option. Limit application use to those individuals who need to use them. If there are staff members who do not need to use VPN to complete their day-to-day tasks, ask them not to log in to those applications as frequently if not required.
These few quick tips above can help realign a construction firm with more flexibility to operate in these challenging times. Please reach out to our Construction Services team with any questions.