Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association

Mobilizing for the Future: Office Technology

Tauhira Ali 200x200As the construction industry continues to overcome the unprecedented challenges of 2020 with agility and resilience, contractors and craft workers are in some cases, exceeding traditional productivity expectations to deliver strong infrastructure for our cities and communities, but in others losing productivity due to PPE and safety precautions newly implemented on the job site.

SMACNA members are demonstrating ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit by accelerating key competencies, like offsite fabrication, and through critical pivots, like the creation of touchless sinks and providing metal breathing strips for masks.

With emptier offices and remote working, now more than ever there is a vital need to examine successes and challenges with office technologies including those that allow safer and more flexible workspaces as well as ensure business continuity.

Businesses’ ability to quickly adapt to remote work environments has been an unexpected benefit of sheltering in place. As workers return to a more stable phase of opened job sites, and increased construction activity, business owners and workers are reexamining previously recognized standards for workplace environments. In the office, flexible schedules and work-from-home policies boost recruiting efforts, improve retention and reduce overhead costs. While versatility in work location can reduce or eliminate commuting times and increase productivity, there can be significant challenges to maintaining work-life balance, managing increased fatigue and maintaining the ability to stay focused.

Communicate with Workers Often
Communication is one of the most important pathways to team success and generating a productive company culture. Best practices to make remote meetings more purposeful include turning on webcams, interacting through open-ended questions and promoting dialogue between all participants. While it takes more energy to connect and engage through a webcam than in person, consider features to help invigorate the creative process. A diverse spectrum of software tools are available to bolster team camaraderie, and it’s worthwhile to evaluate which free and premium components create the most comprehensive collaboration packages to drive project results.

Systems like Zoom and Microsoft Teams champion extended video capabilities like screen sharing, recording, digital whiteboarding, instant messaging, Q&A sessions and audience polls. Zoom is heavily leveraged for video meetings and webinars, providing advanced meeting analytics; and its free version allows for 100 participants per call. Microsoft Teams, a component of the Office 365 enterprise-grade cloud, boasts extremely robust security, foundational software compatibility, advanced search capabilities and strong document collaboration. Digital collaboration platforms like Monday.com and Mural also advocate creative workflows and team ideation.

Remote working conditions have underscored the importance for a secure and resilient data strategy at all levels of an organization. It is critical to make data accessible to those authorized to use it regardless of their location, but also to protect the information from undesired visibility and access. Like all aspects of successful technology implementation, a strong foundational data strategy starts with educating and empowering employees to be the first line of defense.

Practice Sound Data Strategies to Protect Your Business
Strong data strategies begin by positioning employees to practice vigilance. This includes robust password training, multi-factor security, limiting work to within virtual private networks or VPNs, eliminating or strongly delineating between work on personal and corporate devices, and educating teams on the dangers of phishing through fraudulent emails. Workers should always be wary of digital messages that call for immediate payment, request login information, or have embedded links, especially in vulnerable times of uncertainty. When in doubt, it is always worth making a direct call to colleagues, suppliers and clients versus exposing the company to increased data risk.

When preparing for the future of work, it is now more critical than ever to invest in a robust private office network with powerful security features. For workers who travel between jobsites, consider hotspot capabilities on company devices to reduce usage and risks of public Wi-Fi access points. While hotspots can be set up through most major carriers and count against existing data limits, the cost is minimal relative to the potential downside of a significant information breach. Cloud applications for project management, like Office 365, Procore, Autodesk’s BIM 360, and Milwaukee Tool’s ONE-KEY asset management platform, also offer securely managed remote access to data regardless of worker location. Managed remote access provides role and credential customization throughout all phases of a project.

Continue Practicing Technology and Leadership Best Practices
Best practices and standard operating procedures for the future of construction continue to evolve at a rapid pace due to external considerations including technological advancement. No matter the turns taken by the economy and outside factors, people and culture will always be the core to successful business endeavors. As industry leaders, consider ways to build a robust corporate infrastructure, healthy enthusiasm for new solutions, and clear lines of communication within your organization. Commit to self-development, shared team goals, and corporate advancement by leveraging internal expertise and the larger knowledge base of the entire SMACNA network. As always, remain curious, enthusiastic, and practical when embracing new ideas to mobilize for the future of the industry.

Tauhira Ali is senior manager of construction technology at Milwaukee Tool.