Remote Engineering: Tips for Working From Home
In the last two weeks, PermitZIP has gone from three offices to 25 offices. Just like that. It's not our strategic growth plan on steroids, but instead something far less exciting or predictable: the novel coronavirus.
Luckily, we've always been an agile company. We had the team up and running at their home offices in less than a week. We sent some home with CPUs, equipped others with laptops, and even installed high-speed internet for some to ensure we are fully functional. Phew.
Now that we are on week three of our remote offices, we have some tips for those in the same boat.
Operations | Must-Have SaaS Cloud Services
If you don't know that SaaS means "software as a service," then get ready for a wild ride. Don't be afraid of the price tag or that they are all charging "per user" fees. If you find the right apps, it will transform your business.
We'd like to share a few that have been influential to our business and have proved to allow us to stay connected.
In 2019, there were 3.9 billion email users around the globe. (Statista, 2020) That's out of control. Surely, you feel it in the pit of your stomach when that inbox opens.
Right now, your email standard likely involves a lot of copying, carbon copying, and forwarding. It creates chaos. It's a nightmare.
The Front app changes everything. From the company's website, Front allows users to "centralize customer communication in one platform to coordinate quickly and respond faster."
At PermitZIP, we use it to chat with each other behind the scenes of an email (e.g. "@mary have you sent the proposal to FSA, or do you need me to take care of that?").
We can also assign emails to Project Managers or team members to manage workload. We have rules and automated internal reminders to ensure our clients are answered quickly.
The app also allows you to aggregate webchats, texting, and social media engagements. It aggregates all external communications and makes them visible to your entire team, or select members of your organization.
Stop now and go try it; trust us, it's worth taking a look. Then come back and continue reading more fun tips.
We've tried all the business chat platforms. We have concluded there is no better way to connect your team on the day to day communications than Slack.
You can make channels (like chat rooms) public and private. You can perform ad hoc video conference calls with screen sharing and quick screen markup tools. You can even invite consulting partners or clients as guests to your channels to help plug them into the day to day conversation about their projects.
And it's been vetted by big players like Target, Autodesk, and Airbnb. And add PermitZIP to the list. Check it out; it's a great tool and not too expensive (there is a free version, but the paid version is worth the upgrade).
BIM 360 Projects
Offered by Autodesk for Revit, BIM 360 allows all 25 of our team members in 25 different quarantines to be working on the same Revit project at the same time. The servers are hosted in an Amazon data center somewhere, so you don't have to do the hard work to maintain central servers. You also get the benefit of the uptime from a robust remote data center facility.
Autodesk's site explains that you can, "Simplify your workday, keep teams on the same page, and deliver your best designs with real-time Revit cloud work-sharing and design collaboration in a central location."
Our team is connected and can seamlessly jump in on design. Production manager Ricardo Kongkreingkrai points out that our clients also benefit from this tool,
"The best thing about it is that collaboration is much easier between the engineers and the clients. We can share our models between companies and get real-time updates within the models. And as the production manager, it also makes it easier to keep track of team members and project development."
There are new features Autodesk is adding to the BIM360 environment such as clash detection, and construction management. It appears based on what we are seeing, that Autodesk is laying the groundwork to compete with Procore. We'll see how that shakes out.
If you are in the AE business, give Autodesk a call. They have offered some of our AE industry free trials during the COVID crisis. This new platform will likely be the industry norm moving forward, so now is an excellent time to get in and learn how to use it.
Virtual OAC Meetings
Our 3D Scanning capabilities with our sister company RoomTrotter has always allowed us an extra advantage to OAC meetings and surveys. We can virtually walk the site from the comfort of our office (now our homes). This has provided us an extra layer of safety during this pandemic, and our team can still "walk" the site remotely.
In response to the issues around COVID-19, RoomTrotter is now offering wholesale pricing to clients, with current ongoing construction projects that have been impacted. (Learn more about this great tool in this past blog article.). They haven't published it yet, but if you call for an appointment and ask about their at-cost model, they will offer you the service at their cost. It's part of the effort to keep the gig-economy Trotters scanning and construction moving.
Business Development & Marketing | Adapt
Our Business Development Director is often called Carmen San Diego, seen around every part of the state in the same week, the question always was "Where in the world is she?" Having to ground our team, stop networking, and face to face meetings caused us to scratch our heads for just a moment, but then we were right back in it.
All of those face to face meetings have been just as easy to do on video conferences. It has even given more of a personal touch and a human understanding. We connect knowing we're in this together as kids run in the room, or dogs start barking and chasing their tails in the middle of a call.
Somehow, the volume of meetings has increased during this time. People are looking for connections and appreciate the chat. So reach out to your current clients, and just check in on them. Share what you are seeing in the market. Reach out to new clients to let them know that you are available and ready to find ways to help each other.
Now with everyone staring at their computers 24/7, marketing is more important than ever. In the commercial real estate industry, LinkedIn seems to be the social platform of choice. Create a page for your business and yourself. After every connection you make, find that connection on LinkedIn and connect. (Click here to connect with our BD gal Mary Harris.)
Be sure to post content at least once a day. Tag people, add hashtags and be relevant (make sure to keep your profile current!) Check out these other tips from LinkedIn.
We took the time to look back at our past projects and evaluate what can survive a recession. Do people know about all of our offerings? Can we highlight specific projects and tools that drive more sales?
After assessing, we did a website update to our project list. We featured projects focusing on facilities, warehouses, grocery stores, distribution centers, manufacturing facilities, logistic companies, and other clients who require quick turnarounds.
We also took this time to release an update on our Instant Quote to provide a sliding scale wholesale price for larger projects. All of this computer time is the perfect time to do those things that have been on your "I'll get around to it one-day" list.
Our team is second to none. Every zipper has gone above and beyond to support each other, and our work has never been better. We’ve seen many curve balls thrown our way and reacted and quickly. It's been exhausting (and scary, and uncertain, and frustrating, and every other imaginable), but we're in it together.
As Director of Engineering Kenny Shultz expressed to the team last week,
"Our clients will continue to witness the value we offer (never charging change orders, 3D scans, seamless consulting, promised delivery dates, and in general...being a cool team to work with). Doubling down on what we already do great will create the competitive advantage we'll need if the market sharpens its pencils."
Our industries and our lives will forever be changed because of this crisis, so if you have any other ideas to share, please leave some comments or send us an email!