An architectural firm is looking at new ways of operating business that show a promising path ahead after the months-long lockdown because of COVID-19.
Craig Applegath, principal and founding member of Dialog’s Toronto studio, said sending all 600 staff in five offices across North America home during the pandemic opened his eyes to how much and how well work could be accomplished away from the office.
That shift has pivoted off of technology, he said at a recent webinar presented by The Buildings Show and Buildex on the impact of COVID-19 now and in the future.
A case in point is the use of MIRO, an online whiteboard platform, which has become a “really important staple of how we function, how we get a group together to figure stuff out,” the architect told the webinar audience.
The transition to other web tools has accelerated through the pandemic, he added, noting the increased value of software programs such as Matterport, a 3-D platform available on iPhones, and Bluebeam connections to work on projects.
Through the pandemic, most of Dialog’s contract document work has been done using BIM 360 and Zoom, he added. In the past month alone Dialog has had 11,500 Zoom meetings “and none of the design-build team members have missed a beat.”
Applegath said Dialog is looking at the use of a web-based platform by Readocracy.com that would give all staff “a personal intellectual home page” to show their work.
“It’s very much like walking over to someone’s desk and starting up a conversation virtually,” he said.
The new technologies raise the issue, he said, of how many tasks staff need to do together.
“Some people can’t work from home, but others are saying to us they want to work from home three or four days a week once COVID ends,” he pointed out.
Derek Goring, executive vice-president Northcrest Developments, said space constraints and other logistical issues will prevent many people from working at home after the pandemic.
It is a learning experience for a lot of people…how we plan, how we manage risk,
— Derek Goring
Calling Northcrest “a relationship-based business,” Goring said he has missed human interaction in the office since the lockdown. While relationships can be maintained from afar, building new ones and mentoring “is very much more difficult to do over the Internet.”
He said as many Greater Toronto Area developers pull out of the pandemic, their work is ramping up to close to where it was prior to COVID-19 at a time when work was fast-paced.
Created in 2018 by PSB Investments, the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, which is the pension fund for the federal civil service, the RCMP and the armed forces, Northcrest is tackling a masterplan for the Downsview airport development property.
Goring told the webinar audience that the disruptions created by the pandemic could accelerate new technology trends such as AI, advanced BIM and the industrialization of construction.
The coming downturn, however, is a new experience “to an entire generation of professionals” in the industry, Goring said.
“It is a learning experience for a lot of people…how we plan, how we manage risk,” he explained.
Marcus Gillam, president and CEO of Gillam Group Inc., a construction management company serving the public and private sectors, told the webinar audience that while Gillam is ramping up now, its revenues were down by about 70 per cent at the height of the pandemic.
“A lot of companies including my own company looked very closely at every aspect of our operations, costs.”
He said while capacity issues prior to the pandemic continue today, the short-term outlook looks good but “there’s uncertainty” over the long term.
Gillam told the webinar that companies need to focus on issues such as efficiencies and health and safety — the latter of which has “seen huge gains just by (the industry) sharing best practices” through the pandemic.
He said the industry has to improve its metrics to track performance.
“To do that requires transparency, openness, integration and more collaboration,” he said.
Melissa Aveiro, a chartered accountant and regional leader of real estate and construction services with MNP LLP, advised companies to look into various government aid programs such as the federal government’s 75 per cent wage subsidy.
“There are multiple ways to fit into this program from a revenue decline basis,” she stated.
For companies that need a cash infusion immediately, look to the government’s CEBA interest-free loan up to $40,000. It offers up to a 25 per cent forgivable portion, “if you pay it back and meet all the qualifications,” Aveiro said.
She said companies should have a disaster recovery plan in place over the next 12 months, “even if your worst case is minimal. We’re likely to see a second wave, potentially a third wave.”