SAN FRANCISCO technology was especially important when construction sites in the Bay Area closed down. Overall, however, numerous digital tools and processes have been used in the past six months to drive construction projects forward.
Construction companies like Suffolk have overcome many COVID-related challenges to keep the projects on track. Sabrina Odah, Construction Solutions Director at Suffolk, recently discussed some of the digital tools and processes used during the pandemic.
GlobeSt.com: How has COVID-19 impacted projects in Suffolk?
Odah: As in almost all industries, the coronavirus has hit the construction industry hard. When government ordinances fluctuated over whether construction workers were considered essential and how best to protect them locally, Suffolk took matters into their own hands to ensure that all workers in all regions continue to be safe.
Our overall approach to workplace safety consists of a combination of actions including piloting safety technologies and improving our robust hygiene practices. Understanding that every office and construction site is unique, Suffolk is testing infrared temperature screening, social distancing monitors (triax monitors attached to hard hats for social distancing), and various video collaboration tools.
GlobeSt.com: How were you able to lead / support your team during this period?
Odah: In my position, I work closely with project leaders to identify potential problems and then find solutions by testing and scaling new technologies. If I am more involved in the process from the start, I can work more effectively and improve the workflow of a project team.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 Accommodation Accommodation Guidelines, I have helped project teams implement technology solutions to help digitize processes and track progress, and keep them connected with colleagues while working remotely. For example, the acceptance of reality capture platforms like OpenSpace, which are easy to use and allow project teams to virtually enter their construction sites, has increased significantly. I've also supported project teams by enabling remote pull plans where we refer to the OxBlue live feed of the project to see the current status without having to meet on site. In addition, the utilization rates of digitization and automation platforms like Nyfty Manpower Bot, Voyage Control and Rhumbix T&M have increased across the company as employees adapt to the remote work environment. Despite the challenges our teams have faced in the face of the impact of COVID-19, I'm proud to see their resilience, adaptability, and creativity in problem solving and project progress.
GlobeSt.com: What technology solutions were fundamental to keeping projects on track?
Odah: At Suffolk, we internalize a mindset that turns out to be impossible when we approach a project. This is about adding value to customers through earlier collaboration and more sophisticated technology and processes so that we can provide our customers with a more predictable experience and better results.
By integrating data from the architect and civil engineers into a comprehensive construction model, for example, we can generate more team collaboration and better coordination during the planning phase of the project. The model enables us to identify design discrepancies and suggest constructability solutions much earlier in the process, long before they can become problems.
During the construction phase, everyone involved in the project can use digital tools on site to access sophisticated models in real time. This means that everyone is always working on the same updated plans that help us minimize risks, minimize errors and rework, and increase the productivity of our local trading partners.
GlobeSt.com: What is an example of a current project where you are using these solutions?
Odah: By using a technologically advanced construction approach, my team and I have saved a great deal of time and money while providing an unprecedented level of predictability for complex developments, including projects like MIRO, a mixed-use high-rise residential project in downtown San Jose. For MIRO, I worked with the project teams to implement comprehensive planning services, innovative solutions and technologies, as well as proven processes such as Lean Construction Principles and Virtual Design and Construction / VDC, to complete the most complex construction projects on time and within budget with minimal risk . This has helped improve collaboration between architects, trading partners and Suffolk's own teams, which has resulted in a more seamless and predictable building experience.
With a proven track record of success with MIRO, I am helping teams in the Bay Area apply similar techniques and processes, including the 200 Linden Ave project. in San Francisco (seven story development with 97 units) and the City Gardens project in San Francisco (eight) (story) and the Moxy Hotel project in Oakland (seven story hotel complex with 171 units).
GlobeSt.com: Do you see these solutions adding to the technological acceptance of the construction industry?
Odah: While most other industries were already affected by the digital transformation, the construction industry traditionally lagged behind. COVID-19 not only forced the industry to rethink its tight-knit practices, it was technologically advanced in the process.
I hope that Suffolk's first technological approach will set new expectations for the industry and raise the bar for the construction work. The introduction of COVID-19 shifted the technology adoption curve and allowed us to identify and engage more technology champions in our company. The opportunity that lies ahead is to ensure our processes run seamlessly to increase the overall project performance and set the standard for our projects and the industry.
GlobeSt.com: What do you see for the future of a construction industry after COVID-19?
Odah: I believe a lot of construction scars have been questioned in the past few months. One topic kept coming up during the pandemic: This talent isn't limited to location. My remote working experience focused on effectiveness, using the tools available to find ways to foster deep team connections and drive projects forward.
I believe that the future of the construction industry will retain that flexibility and empower team members to decide whether in-person or remote work is best suited to achieve their goals. This flexible work environment requires personal responsibility to ensure we meet our commitments. And with this flexibility, I hope that the candidates we attract are diverse: people with different backgrounds and different skills to fuel our innovation fire.
As a woman in the construction industry and an advocate of diversity and inclusion, I see the future workforce will be more inclusive as remote working opens the door to a larger talent pool. Through my involvement with UC Berkeley, Stanford, and the Plug and Play Tech Center, I have been able to share my experience with a group of diverse candidates who are studying engineering degrees and careers in construction. Much like our technology tools, which require early and frequent communication, I believe this also applies to creating the next generation of workers.