At DGT, our work as surveyors, engineers, and subsurface mappers has traditionally required in-field and in-office collaboration. Like many businesses, the current COVID crisis has forced us to embrace a new normal: working collaboratively and remotely. Now that we are weeks into a seamless transition from corporate offices to home offices, the role of technology in an industry that’s known for fieldwork is apparent.
True, we are now a remote company, and that was new. But that doesn’t mean we were an analog company. In fact, DGT has long embraced the digitization of plans and records. As a result, the majority of our project documents could already be accessed remotely. The combination of existing technology, with new platforms, like Microsoft Teams and Zoom, allow us to share our screens to go through markups and keep open lines of communication among the team.
There are other advantages of working remotely. No commute time. Walking from the breakfast table to your desk. Minimal colleague distractions (except young “coworkers” home from school). The common refrain from both technicians and managers is that “the day flies by.” Whether it’s project work such as plan drafting or drainage calculations, or outer-directed activities such as client video conferences, our team is finding it easy to stay focused on work.
The big question is: what’s next? Once the contagion concerns slowly abate and current civil restrictions are lifted, teams in surveying, engineering, construction, and other industries that operate outside must consider just what role remote work may continue to hold once we get to the other side of this.
A New Idea of Office Space
Office space is always a significant overhead cost, especially in Greater Boston. For our industry, like many others, our ideas of office space may change after coronavirus has subsided. Whether going to a fully virtual operation, or just scaling back on space for a skeleton at-work staff, escape from the bondage of commercial real estate costs would be an interesting consideration for businesses.
On the other hand, firms locked into multi-year leases could find themselves—and likely already are—in the unpleasant situation of paying rent for empty offices. In the future, we may see shorter leases as a result, as well as a different use of space within offices.
Merging the Physical and the Virtual
Surveying and engineering are inherently collaborative activities, and much of our work necessarily takes place outside. Field surveyors take direction and present results to office managers and drafters; civil engineers communicate with surveyors and proceed with their designs with confidence in the surveyor’s existing conditions map. Both parties visit the site to ensure conformity with the real ground in front of them.
But fortunately for us, and others in the field, new technologies have already begun to marry virtual and physical fieldwork. For example, on a number of projects, we’ve integrated drone imagery that enhances plans and allows our team and our clients to see the world outside, beyond the lines on a map, from their computer screens. Additionally, a common output of our subsurface utility mapping projects includes a Digital Utility Atlas of the underground environment that allows planners and project owners to move forward with comprehensive, accurate information without needing to continually send crews to revisit and verify sites.
Individual Professional Growth
We’re all enjoying the efficiencies of working through assignments away from the traditional office setting. And while working from home can be beneficial to productivity, we’re conscious that the benefits of human interface can get lost: site visits, camaraderie, collaboration, and direct interaction with clients, regulatory authorities, and contractors. Additionally, there may not be a billing code for mentoring, but it is inherent in this daily process.
In other words, it’s the in-office human interaction that often raises someone from a skilled technician to a true innovative, resilient, problem-solving professional. For the technician, young or old, working at home in the silo of the tasks in front of them, this path to professional maturity might not be reproducible.
Overdue, Updated Procedures
As coronavirus has forced more virtual meetings, we’re likely to see businesses overhaul how they do work entirely. Particular in our industry, which still holds on to archaic practices, this is good news and will force many institutions and individuals to learn new skills.
For example, we’re already seeing digital and online filings for municipal processes, cutting back on the paper-based work and administrative headache for everyone involved. Our hope is that once we’ve returned to a somewhat-normal routine, cities, and towns will continue and even enhance online submittals and regular work processes. This will move some of the lagging procedures we deal with out of the dark ages and into a more efficient, streamlined digital world.
At DGT, we’ve come to the conclusion that part of the reason we are succeeding so far with the remoteness is because we have all worked shoulder-to-shoulder for a number of years. Especially for new hires, our tightknit team makes it so that we know our colleagues’ skills, dispositions, and work habits well.
Though the benefits of at-home and remote work have become clear for outside-based industries, they can never replace fieldwork. That being said, there is a place for even more digital revolution post-COVID-19. In the end, the collective “we” across the world and nation will mostly likely settle on some type of hybrid.
Learn more about DGT’s surveying, engingeering, or SUM work.