If for some reason, you’ve been stuck under a rock and not realised the world is undergoing a pandemic, well… welcome to 2020. This year challenges all of us in every aspect of our lives. We have to learn to adapt our ways or we’re dead, literally.

Lockdowns are the norm of 2020. The AEC industry was one of the hardest-hit industries as our on-site work came to a halt. For pre-construction work, we depended on a lot of collaboration between different stakeholders. And working from home was something we weren’t used to.

11 months into a pandemic, we’ve definitely picked up a few tricks to make BIM collaboration more tolerable. Here are 8 ways you can improve your BIM collaboration during a pandemic.

1. Embrace Digital Transformation

It goes without saying, if you don’t have a remote workflow going, you will not get any work done. Businesses had to quickly switch from physical meetings to remote internet meetings.

Here are some easy-to-use tools you can use for remote BIM collaboration:

  • Zoom - Online web conferencing for team discussion & meetings
  • BIM 360™ - Common Data Environment, Access your BIM files from anywhere,
  • VRcollab - Host coordination/design review meetings & collaborate with various stakeholders right inside the app.

BIM managers utilise these solutions for project visualisation and monitoring of project progress. Digital transformation at a company level prevents stalling of the entire project commissioning during Covid-19 pandemic.

For contractors who have to be on-site to work are a little unfortunate as there is no way to remotely construct a physical building. Well, at least not right now in 2020.

2. Ensure Every Employee is Prepared For Working From Home

With everyone is working from different locations, communication isn’t as easy. To streamline this, you need to fortify internal processes, resource management and labour allocation. Your company could also look more in R&D to observe and adopt newer technologies and employee skill-sets improvement programs to improve personal workflows of each employee. Don’t leave room for any misinterpretation or miscommunication.

Key Questions To Answer:

  • Does everyone have the minimum required devices for working from home?
  • If they don’t have a working device, are you able to issue a company laptop?
  • How many meetings should the team have to align on work progress?
  • What are the team’s KPI? Does everyone know their own KPIs?
  • How do you ensure confidentiality while employees work from home?
  • How do you reduce miscommunication in meetings?

3. Establishing Clear Accountability, Honesty and Consistency

Keeping track of your employees’ accountability, honesty and consistency is hard but essential. It's important to have a system as their working environment is an uncontrolled variable that may lead to a drop in the quality of their work. A typical way of alleviating this is through automating tasks, checklists and communications. Ensure transparency to all affected employees, so teams could have more thoughtful discussions when a topic of higher priority is brought up.

There are tools that your BIM teams can utilise to keep track of discussions. For example, BIM 360™ and VRcollab’s issue management features. In BIM 360™, BIM managers can assign issues modellers who can in turn access it in real-time, work on it as soon as possible and mark it as done once it’s completed. BIM 360™ makes it easy to see who’s in-charge of which issues to resolve.

Therefore with clear expectations, meetings could be more about project advancement rather than whether figuring out who didn’t do their part. This cuts down operation allocation costs and encourages effective communication. It also generates accurate progress data.

4. Encourage Constructive Criticism

Constructive criticism or friendly banter ensures constant communication within the organisation. Constructive criticism challenges any existing assumptions that they may have caused by lack of communication. Supplementary to this, constructive criticism within the organisation mitigates unnecessary rumours and gossip. It safeguards the validation of your employees’ opinions. And when they feel accounted for and valued, it will cause a multiplier effect across departments which encourages communication.

An example could be the assumptions on team's progress of their tasks on a project. Reducing such assumptions is especially important when different personnel and departments are working on multiple layers of files. With clear communication instead of blurry assumptions, teams can progress the project faster; shortening the timeline of project delivery.

If departments are segregated and rigid, it prevents them from speaking to one another. Promotion of collaboration cross-silo increases the likelihood of survival for your organization as it improves the organisational structures and processes when this crisis is over.

5. Leaders Should Connect to Your Employee Individually

Creating a holistically healthy environment during this pandemic can make or break your team. As much as ensuring BIM collaboration continues, you have to take care of your team members’ well-being.

Being cooped up in a space for too long and implementing new management protocols to ensure smooth project delivery can bring new challenges to your employees. Adaptability, mental and psychological issues are some of the many things that can affect the productivity and the quality of work produced. No matter what role each employee plays in your company, anyone can be affected.

It’s a scary time for everyone. Great leaders empathise with their employees and work to get through the pandemic together. Your employees need you now more than ever. Let them know you’re not leaving them alone and they can talk to you if they’re facing any issues. One way to do that is by increasing the frequency of communication to cultivate positive relationships.

6. Encourage Cohesion

Set aside a day of the week for regular online team gatherings—even when there is no official announcement that has to be made—to encourage cohesion among employees. It is one of the many ways your company could improve the morale of your employees to build a healthier and more productive working environment.

Low morale could be a result of retrenched colleagues, labour cut or shorter working hours due to social distancing measures. Huddling as a team to talk about their current emotional & psychological state to openly offer outlets for counselling with anonymity is essential. Doing this would also establish improvements in the long run and will benefit your company after the pandemic.

7. Make Full Use of Remote Collaboration Software Available

Before adopting technology for your remote BIM teams, be sure to check if the software is user friendly and does not require much training. Apply for any onboarding program and re-enroll any employees who need to upgrade their tech skills. This would allow your company to utilise the features of the software required for their workflow.

If you’re using VRcollab as your collaboration tool, here are some tips for you:

  1. After fully designing different aspects of a project such as the structure, MEP and Steel detailing from different stakeholders, there might still be a project format obstacle. Different stakeholders may use varying BIM authoring/designing software like Sketchup, Revit and Navisworks. One way to solve the differential issue is by using VRcollab’s merge formats function.
  2. Alongside our BIM 360™ integration, employees could work on the most current version of each of the different file formats. This was made possible with the live link between the integrations and VRcollab. It also mitigates the problem of the files getting lost when sent back and forth and prevents progress from being overwritten. Making efficient use of the features being offered by these technological adoption done by your organisation would definitely help you.

8. Planning For The Next Normal

It is very plausible that many construction companies might revert to their old workflows due to convenience and habit. However, If we consider your company’s current digital transformation as a new form of workflow for the long run, there will be lasting benefits.

With cloud-based solutions and cross-platform integrations, there will never be a formation of new internal or external silos. It is also now easier for your newer employment to be added to the system without paperwork and with their own digital blueprint that is recorded within SAAS. This is a form of accountability and credit being given where it is due. It also initiates the start of a more streamlined, standardised and productive workflow.  Consecutively, benefits the quality of lives of the employees and improves work-life balance that many are hankering for many years now. So it is better to adopt and to deploy the digitisation strategy as a long-term fix, not just a short-term fix.

Covid-19 pandemic took the world by storm. Nobody expected nor wished for it. If it taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. And to always have a business continuity plan (BCP) ready for deployment.


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