Ask the engineering expert: How LAN is handling COVID-19 (Source: Consulting-Specifying Engineer)

Jun 11, 2020

By Jeff Thomas

Learn from Jeffrey R. Thomas, PE, CEM, CEA, CHC, Vice President, Business Group Director, at Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam Inc., Houston. Consulting-Specifying Engineer sat down with him virtually to discuss engineering and business trends during the coronavirus pandemic.

How has your staff/team adjusted to the new work-from-home environment? What tips or suggestions do you have to help other firms remain connected while working remotely?

Jeffrey R. Thomas: Our teams have adjusted very well to the new work-from-home environment. My team is split across three geographically diverse regions with supervisors and resources separated by distance. This environment helped us transition to working from home with very little disruption. We have (always had) virtual weekly meetings of the discipline groups to review project progress and to discuss upcoming projects and how best to tackle them. My project managers also meet virtually every Friday to discuss overall project performance and resource allocation and utilization for the upcoming week.

The key, not surprisingly, is communication. Where managers used to manage by walking around, we now must set up and attend more virtual meetings, make phone calls or use other team communication tools to remain in the know. We also must ask more specific questions. Whereas we used to check in on production staff, see what they were producing and make suggestions, we now must ask them to show the work in progress.

Additionally, the production staff must have the resources they need to be successful. In our case that meant allowing people to take computers and monitors home so they could do their work. Our firm already had a robust information technology infrastructure, which has been invaluable during this time.

Finally, everyone needs a little more communication to let them know what’s going on and to assure them they are still valuable members of the team. We must attempt to provide some replacement for the normal office socialization that we have lost.

Is your firm conducting any travel to visit clients or projects? If so, what types of projects are you working on?

Jeffrey R. Thomas: Yes. We have projects under construction that require our presence as well as assessment and evaluation projects that require our employees to be on-site. Just recently, I attended the construction kickoff meeting for a project in the Houston area. We all arrived on-site and stood in a large circle with our masks to discuss various aspects of getting the construction started. We’ve also had teams evaluating buildings at a community college system in central Texas. Our assessments are used by the system to formulate their capital improvement plans for the coming year(s).