COVID has been a body blow to most of us, but there are some bright spots we can notice. In scrambling to adapt to greater levels of remote work, AEC firms have accelerated their embrace of technology tools.
According to the “2020 State of construction tech” report from real estate services firm JLL, “Due to the pandemic, three years of construction technology growth and adoption has been compressed into the past nine months.”
That makes sense, as keeping projects going required minimizing in-person interactions at every stage of a project. Technology tools have been one of the key factors enabling that.
Design and engineering firms have been more tech based for several years with CAD and BIM, for example, but construction firms have now jumped in big with other tech, such as digital collaboration, scanning, and drones.
Digital collaboration is considered a foundational technology, the report notes, in that other tools require it to function. Like BIM, it’s a comprehensive tool that may be used by most team members. It typically serves as a hub for designs, schedules, punch lists, and documents of all kinds. In the COVID age, it’s indispensable in maintaining universal access for all team members to the information they need without requiring risky office visits or time-wasting one-on-one communications. Everyone including suppliers can use this tool to maximize synchronization in real time so no one is working with outdated information.
“Primary impact technologies” include interior scanning, according to the report, which has enabled firms to meet regulations that limit staff on site while still providing real-time information. Scanning is often done by laser technology and 360° cameras, with meetings taking place via video. That’s a fairly close approximation of an in-person meeting. Some virtual inspections have been permitted by municipalities, requiring both scanning and video, and that should continue as it’s more efficient for all parties. Scanning technology also offers the benefit of a digital record that is accessible by all team members for reference after any associated meetings.
A similar technology solution is drones, which essentially scan the exterior of a project or site and create a digital model. Rather than a survey team, one worker can use a drone to record data and share it with other team members, inspectors, and so on. Drones are faster, cheaper, and safer than old-school methods, eliminating the need for ladders and cranes and the like.
Sales has benefited from technology solutions, as well, and most sales people are now Zoom veterans. Despite some people feeling “Zoom fatigue” and a generalized desire to get back to “normal”, these changes are here to stay. Virtual walkthroughs and tours are now the norm in most companies, and higher quality in their production has been a benefit for customers.
Most firms have invested in home-office tech for employees, so maintaining some level of working from the home office makes sense. Employee desire will play a role as well. JLL surveyed 2,033 office workers and found that one-quarter wanted to return to the office full time, one-half wanted a hybrid plan, and a quarter wanted to work remotely permanently.
Though the pandemic was devastating in so many ways, we’ve seen advances in our industry that will pay dividends going forward.