In this second edition of the CSI Discussion Forum, Construction Specifications Chief Executive Officer Mark Dorsey, FASAE, CAE, moderates a discussion with Erica Kennedy, AIA, CSI, CDT, NCARB, architect and business development with ODA architecture, William Sundquist, CSI, regional sales manager with Whitacre Greer, and Andrea Zawodny, CSI, CCS, LEED AP, senior associate and senior specifications writer for HOK, about how COVID-19 is impacting the ACE community, and what future changes panelists see as it relates to their practice and trends in the industry. Listen to the entire discussion.
Erica Kennedy: Typically, we do a Monday morning management meeting. But with everything changing so quickly and everyone working remotely, we had to move to Monday, Wednesday, Friday so we can collaborate and still see each other. Sixty percent of our work is hospitality and obviously that has been hit really hard. We have created this Task force and are calling it T-A-S-C, which stands for a tactful approach to sustainable cleanliness. We’ll also be sending out a newsletter and keeping all the information we collect, along with the changes we've seen so far with ODA.
William Sundquist: We're on the manufacturing side and the state we’re in shut facilities down for a over a month. Not only did we experience a shutdown in production, we also experienced new social distancing requirements for employees and the sequencing of materials. The biggest challenge is going from a 12-month manufacturing year down to a 10-month manufacturing year and keeping everybody supplied with product. Then, of course, stopping travel
Andrea Zawodny: What we’ve seen seeing is the over communication that is happening. The many different platforms we use to communicate with each other takes a bit of getting used to, along with increased emails and multiple different teams use different software. Instead of monthly staff meetings, we're doing twice a week studio huddles for a half-hour or a quick rundown. There's a lot more team meetings that are virtual. There’s also a challenge with what materials are available and keeping schedules on time. That is an issue.
MD: Talk about your firms and what it looks like when you have a huddle.
EK: We’re an architecture firm out of Charlotte, North Carolina. We do a little bit of interiors. When I started a year ago, we were around 30 people. I think we’re 21 now with the economy. We've been going after RFQs, RFPs we normally haven't done because we had hospitality clients that were repeats. We didn’t really need to go out and look for work. I came to ODA to do about 20 percent business development and throughout the last year, I’ve done a lot more project management.
AZ: HOK has offices all over the world so that is challenging right now. I’m out of Kansas City and we do an awful lot of large assembly projects, sports, ballparks, arenas, football. We also do corporate headquarters and interiors for clients all over the country. Our office is running right about 120, and we use studio huddles for everybody in our office. We actually are using Teams for those.
WS: The interesting thing I have found is this industry was pretty linear in its thinking as to what needed to be done to execute from A to Z and the definition of essential became part of the mainstream lexicon. I found out everyone has a different definition of what essential means. I had a project where our state was shut down and people in the other state are still working, they say, “What do you mean I can't get samples? Our industry is essential.”
AZ: The sourcing of materials has suddenly come up on a project we’ve been informed has zero flow time in the schedule, and we have to get products right away. The original thought from the owner was that we have everything made in the United States. Unfortunately just because something’s made here, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have components from overseas. The flip side is there are a lot of things that are made overseas that are stocked here. Being flexible is key to finding comparable products to what you’re designing around.
MD: What changes are you seeing in terms of being able to present product?
AZ: What we have been seeing with interiors is that there are finished boards and samples that are put together and actually shipped to a client. We can get online and show you first, then shift the samples to a client to make sure it looks like what they thought it looks like and can sign off on it. Unfortunately on some of the larger projects, there’s more than one client who needs to sign off on it.
MD: Do you have any creative ideas for fostering something akin to the impromptu water cooler discussion in the context of the project team?
WS: Years ago when I was in the Knoxville Chapter, we did a scavenger hunt in the downtown area. I was thinking about when things get safe, getting a small group together in CDC requirements and regulations and social distance, and do an outside tour and walk around in town and point out a hundred-year-old building and a 50-year-old building and a 10-year-old building and note the differences and point out the design details.
AZ: Team meetings are running longer than traditional business meetings because we’re talking more. Sometimes it’s simply, “What are you doing,” or somebody's kid will run up and give them a hug in the middle of the meeting, which is humanizes everything. It really makes it a little bit more comfortable. One thing I’m going to try is setting up a teams meeting for a half an hour every single day, the same time every single day. Anybody who wants to talk or have a question about their project can jump on because I will be there every single day.
MD: What changes do you see happening to your business practice?
AZ: More sharing of spaces once everybody is comfortable with that, so we can rearrange furniture and keep that physical distance. I’m hearing people are much more productive from their home, because they can have the freedom to work at different times of day. I think that’s something to consider as firms really hone in on what is comfortable for each individual.
WS: There’s going to be a huge leap from the technology side. I had some distributors sending me links to beta sites for selecting products and more online shopping as it relates to building materials. That excites me because I think we’re going to embrace technology in a way this industry probably should have done sooner.
EK: I agree with Andrea. We’re being more productive at home. There are certain days where I get frustrated because I can’t collaborate in person, but for the most part, if I’m focused and doing a task, I actually love my home office. I’m facing a window now. I’ve made time for yoga. I never had time for that before.