Working Virtual. Insights from Our IT Pros.

We sat down with our in-house IT pros to talk tech, covering everything from successful remote work to what’s trending in AEC digital collaboration.

Before diving in, we must take a moment to express our gratitude to the supremely patient, behind-the-scenes computer and network connoisseurs who have sustained us through the remote WFH marathon. We salute your patience, your ingenuity, and your fortitude as you field regular messages from the technologically inept. We thank you for your vital service over the last year and a half and promise to always reboot before asking you a question.

We ask IT Systems Manager Russ Brooks and Technology Specialist Joel Hills about the firm’s transition to WFH and trending virtual collaboration tools.

How was the transition to work from home (WFH) in the tech department’s book?

Russ Brooks: Relatively painless. We already had key infrastructure in place that made it an easy transition for our users to work from home. We just needed to make a few tweaks to our firewall policies to guarantee throughput for our remote desktop users and up the bandwidth of our office internet connection to eliminate the bottleneck from our end. Most of our users already had a remote connection to their office computer for easing late night and weekend work sessions to meet deadlines prior to COVID-19, and those were certainly put to the test on day 1 of WFH. Another major component that aided in the transition to WFH was our migration to Microsoft Teams a year prior to the start of the pandemic. Having remote desktop and Microsoft Teams in place prior to COVID-19 made that transition easier. The value and successes in being prepared? We were ready for what 2020 had in store and able to respond.

One benefit we didn’t realize would pay off was our longstanding company computer raffle program where we give older computers to the staff. A surprising number of people are making good use of that old equipment.

I was impressed with the ability of our employees to adapt to a new working situation. It shows our team’s commitment to providing good and reliable customer service on behalf of Coughlin Porter Lundeen.

What were some challenges?  

Russ Brooks: As most people in tech would agree, the most challenging aspect was supporting those users with poor internet connections at home. Early on, the internet providers were struggling to keep their network available to everyone and ratcheting down data throughput. We decided it would be of great benefit to the employees and the company if everyone at home had a better internet connection. Our leadership team shifted financial resources from benefits not being used (transportation, health and wellness) to provide a monthly technology stipend to each employee to use for internet service, cell phone service and computer equipment. Another challenge was procuring hardware, as things like headsets and web cameras were in short supply.

And a look ahead? 

Russ Brooks: From a technology standpoint, I think our biggest challenge is yet to come. With the likelihood of our post-pandemic office environment being a combination of those working in the office and others working from home, combined with client collaboration occurring in the office and remotely, bringing them all together as though they are in one physical or virtual space will be the next big test.

Any standouts in terms of emerging technology and what programs we’ve had success with?

Joel Hills: Autodesk Construction Cloud (previously called BIM360). It’s an integrated construction management software system for AEC teams that hosts data and establishes a connected workflow through all phases of a project. From design through construction to end user operations, it supports the lifespan of the building.

We’ve seen its merits in action with the giant Microsoft development project. It totals 502 BIM models, 1,651 users, and 175 terabytes worth of BIM data – an impressive digital coordination effort! This kind of integrated modeling process – entire teams living in the model – is the way of the future.

Any other approaches or software our team has been utilizing to virtually collaborate and facilitate workflow?

Joel Hills: The adoption of Shared Coordinates in Revit has been a game changer. It establishes cohesive relationships between multiple files so relative positions are maintained and allows for a more integrated interdisciplinary modeling process. The host model is the model to which other files and models are linked and located. Shared coordinates are created between these linked models.

Rhino is another coordination tool we’ve been using with our architectural clients, tailoring Rhino 3D models within our Bluebeam and Revit ETABS framework. We’ve recently begun to explore Revizto as well. It consolidates BIM and CAD data to track issues in a centralized 3D environment.

How do you keep staff excited about new tech and up to date on all of these emerging trends?

Joel Hills: A lot of it is driven by them, and our team is sincerely interested in learning and improving our collective processes. But we also offer ongoing internal Revit classes. The aim is to streamline the work balance between our engineers and CAD technicians with consistent cross-departmental training. The gap is closing between what engineers traditionally did on paper as we move to a more digitally integrated environment. Ultimately, these systems help reduce the number of red lines and amount of back-and-forth between technicians and engineers.

For fun, can you share the most common ask you receive from staff?

Russ Brooks: “I can’t remember my login info” or “Can you restore this file I deleted?”.

Joel Hills: Yes. That or “I can’t get my sound to work.”

Thank you to all the tech savvy specialists and computer wizards to who have helped ease the transition during WFH. We couldn’t have done it without you!