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Working Remotely: Hardware, Software and Soft Skills

The COVID-19 crisis has required many businesses to move at least some operations remotely. While construction field work cannot be completed remotely, state stay-at-home orders have mandated that companies change how they do business for the time being. “The Additional Pressure the Outbreak Places on Your Information Technology Operations,” part of Associated General Contractors “Navigating the Outbreak” webinar series, examines how companies can adapt and upgrade their IT processes to continue communicating and collaborating at home.

Ensuring internet connectivity at home

Map your network. One of the first things people new to working at home should do is to map their network, says Shobhit Baadkar, president, TITAN AEC, a consulting firm to the building industry. Mapping a network means determining all the devices using the network, and how they connect to it. The purpose is to make it clear what in your home is using the internet, including devices like Alexa, to ensure there are no bottlenecks to connectivity, says Baadkar.

Do a speed test. “A lot of people think, ‘Hey, Netflix works, I can connect!’ That’s not necessarily the case,” says Baadkar. He recommends people Google a speed test to test their connection speed.

Do a stress test. While states have stay-at-home orders and schools are shutdown, all members of the family are likely to be home, including children that may be completing schoolwork using an internet connection. Completing a stress test, essentially using all technology you need at once, can show if connections are working at needed levels, says Baadkar.

Upgrade applications and equipment. Baadkar recommends updating a router and all applications. This includes updating to the current version of Windows―Windows 10―as well as making sure that construction applications like Revit, AutoCAD and Bluebeam are updated to the current version.

Consolidate connections. Angus Frost, senior consultant, Burger Consulting Group, also suggests using Speedify, a tool that consolidates connections, such as a home internet connection and the hotspot on cell phones, which can then help boost connectivity.

Creating IT infrastructure

The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and has upset the processes of even the most prepared companies. Frost offered some advice during the webinar as to how companies can create necessary IT infrastructure.

Invest in partnerships. Frost recommends that companies take stock of their partners for the services they need. This can include reaching out to HR to write policies or create trainings for staff.

It can also mean looking at the supply chain and vendors, and thinking about how they can help, even in small ways, such as emailing invoices instead of mailing them.

Survey staff members. Frost recommends that companies use survey tools like Microsoft Forms or SurveyMonkey to gather information about the resources staff may already have at home. The gathered information could help inform decisions about what they need to buy. Leadership may need to know whether the employee has a good internet connection, or a printer; they may need to take stock of what software applications they have, especially if the company isn’t able to provide a laptop at this time.

Take inventory. With regards providing hardware equipment, Frost says it’s a good idea to have asset management tools, such as Spiceworks, to track and inventory company machines that people are using at home. 

Set up an IT helpdesk. Frost says that setting up an IT helpdesk is important for troubleshooting IT issues. Spiceworks, ServiceNow and Heat Software are some potential solutions.

Use cell phones. If employees are sourcing equipment themselves, they may have to get creative, says Frost. If employees have cell phones, they can be used for any number of things, including scanning documents and web conferencing, which can be especially useful if their computer does not have a camera, he says.

Deploy applications. If employees are using personal computers, they may not have the applications they need to complete their work. Using a BDI Solution, or Citrix, are some options of deploying applications to them remotely.

Move employee files to a cloud. Many in the construction industry still have files deployed from a local data center, as opposed to being shared on a cloud service, says Frost. Microsoft Sharepoint offers a cloud-based solution, while Egnyte is an application-based platform that makes network files available externally and syncs them to the cloud. For BIM/CAD needs, he recommends Loadspring, Clearcube and CAD on the Cloud, which all offer hosted versions of the software.

Implementing a communications strategy

Beyond the tools that can facilitate communication, Jeff Sample, director of strategic accounts at eSUB, a construction software firm, also discussed the importance of tapping into EQ, or emotional intelligence, to set up an effective communication strategy for now-remote employees.

Create a communications hub. Sample says setting up a communications hub, involving leadership, the communications team, and whoever else needs to be involved, is important. Sample stresses using a channel on a messaging platform, and not email, as this can become easily cluttered. He suggests meeting twice a day or more so that everyone can be briefed at the same time.

Do standup meetings. Sample recommends taking inspiration from communication on the jobsite, including having a daily huddle with a small group of no more than 10 people. “It gives you a chance to talk about what we’re going to get done, and anything that’s getting in our way―that’s how you check in with teams.”

Check in face-to-face (virtually). Using video calls is key, says Sample, as it’s important to see your colleagues, even if virtually. “I can’t stress enough, there’s far more present when you have a camera and you’re looking everyone in the eye,” he says. “We’re social beings and we need that connection. Body language tells us a lot, even though we can’t get everything over a camera.”

Tech tools

Internet connectivity
Google speed test
Speedify

Survey
Microsoft Forms
SurveyMonkey

Inventory
Spiceworks

Deploying Applications
Citrix

BIM/CAD hosted options
Loadspring
ClearCube
CAD on the Cloud
File-sharing
Sharepoint
Egnyte

Collaboration
Microsoft Teams
GoToMeeting
Zoom

Task tracking
Microsoft To-Do, Planner

Training
Cornerstone OnDemand
Instructure

Helpdesk/support
Spiceworks
ServiceNow
Heat Software

Author

Norah Dick

Norah Dick

Norah Dick is the assistant editor for Glass Magazine. She can be reached at ndick@glass.org