DIALOGers are continuing to work from home through the pandemic, and we're getting very good at it thanks to the tools at our disposal.
Working from home as 2020 winds down
The COVID pandemic has been a challenge for both individuals and businesses, on many levels. We initially closed all DIALOG studios in March 2020 and every DIALOGer worked from home. Fortunately, we had the infrastructure in place to make this possible, even before the pandemic struck. More than that, however, we had the tools necessary to thrive in this new paradigm.
Based on recommendations from regional health authorities, we started a phased return-to-studio process late in the summer, with a limited number of people working in each studio and following closely-mandated health and safety protocols. That strategy was working well until the number of reported COVID cases started rising across Canada in late fall. To ensure the safety of all DIALOGers and do our part to limit the spread of COVID, a decision was made to close all DIALOG studios again effective December 1 until at least the new year.
So, what does that mean for our clients, collaborators, and design and construction partners? Effectively, things will remain status quo as far as interactions with DIALOG are concerned. Meetings will go ahead, documents will be reviewed, inspections will happen, and work will continue to get done.
The fact that we've been doing this for eight months means we're getting pretty good at working from home. Many of the 600 DIALOGers working remotely are actually seeing an increase in their productivity, and clients are reporting that we have been successful in keeping their projects on track.
- All of our staff are connecting remotely to our secure network through a combination of VPN-enabled laptops and Citrix connections to on-premise servers. The fact that all of our staff were already on laptops when the pandemic hit was a huge advantage when it came time to start working remotely.
- We transitioned to Microsoft Office 365 to allow everyone to collaborate in real time via Microsoft Teams, and securely share files via OneDrive.
- We’ve been using Zoom since 2018, so we're well versed in making the most of the platform. We also have the video conferencing functionality within Microsoft Teams as a back-up.
- We’ve made a significant investment in our in-house Revit server and are leveraging Autodesk’s cloud-based BIM360 to ensure our teams can have seamless remote access to projects.
- We use Bluebeam Studio to host large PDF documents like project drawings or specifications in the cloud. This allows entire teams to review and comment on the document in real time.
- Our Mattterport 360 cameras allow a project team to get the experience of walking through a site while they're actually on a video call, thereby maintaining physical distancing.
- Miro virtual collaboration software serves as a digital sketch pad that allows anyone to mark up plans or drawings in real time.
- NEW The latest tool in our toolbox is Zoom Phone, which allows DIALOGers to take and make calls from their phone anywhere, rather than being reliant on their computer and VPN connection as they had been in the past.
Conducting engagement sessions, remotely
Public and client engagement sessions are a key part of our discovery process on a whole range of projects, and we can't stop engaging with people just because of COVID-19. Fortunately, we already had some experience conducting remote engagement exercises when physical distancing requirements came into place. We've also added more tools recently to help make sure we're hearing what people have to say.
That list now included interactive surveys, live streamed presentations, Q & As on Facebook and Zoom, and expanded use of our existing social media channels (Instagram and Twitter, in particular). These have become our go-to platforms over the past few months.
We've discovered a number of benefits to these types of engagement exercises, so we'll continue to use them on a regular basis even as social distancing requirements are relaxed. We'll also explore other innovative ways to promote dialogue - for example, our Planning group recently had a lot of success using Miro for an engagement exercise.
This pandemic is both unprecedented and rapidly evolving. We will continue to respond and act accordingly to keep our employees, partners, and clients safe - and to keep our work moving forward.
Open and honest communication between our team and everyone we work with will remain essential. To that end, we're committing to delivering the level of service people have come to expect from DIALOG, and working together in the most effective and productive way possible to meet these challenges head on.
Stay tuned to our social channels for updates and news on other tools that help us all work through COVID-19.