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How to Make Virtual Construction Effective in the Era of COVID-19

By Chris Balandran

April 23, 2020

These are unprecedented times for our industry. In states such as New York and Pennsylvania, non-emergency construction work has come to a halt by executive order. In the San Francisco Bay Area, some residential projects are permitted to continue, though all commercial construction has been shut down. While OSHA has released guidelines on preparing workplaces for COVID-19, there’s a patchwork of rules across the nation governing construction right now.

If you’re in a state and municipality where construction is still deemed an essential activity, you’re no doubt trying to limit the number of workers on your job sites by using construction progress tracking software to manage projects remotely. 

To that end, OpenSpace’s virtual walkthroughs enable general contractors, owners, architects, and other stakeholders to track progress in minute detail from the safety of their homes. Using construction progress tracking software, they can also monitor closed sites for damage or theft and keep bids moving by giving subcontractors access to up-to-date 360° digital twins.

Here are five ways that virtual construction tools can help keep your jobs running during the shutdown:

1. Keep at-home team members up to speed.

With OpenSpace, your at-home team members can access the job site remotely from any desktop or mobile device. If you can use Google Street View, you can use OpenSpace. Simply open the project, choose a floor, and drop in to the 360° images. You can also create custom views for each trade or role to ensure they only see what matters to them.

2. Track progress.

360° photo documentation from OpenSpace is automatically time-stamped, mapped to floor plans, and made searchable, which makes construction site monitoring easier. Processing times are lightning fast, resulting in updated results within minutes instead of hours or days. You can also visit areas of your site at any previous point in time to better understand the progress being made.

Just remember that having up-to-date 360° imagery via daily site walks is a precursor to unlocking remote site management capabilities. 

3. Keep tabs on closed sites.

Even if you’re shut down, it’s still a good idea to periodically capture your sites for security reasons (to ensure there’s been no theft or damage on the site), which is a practice one OpenSpace client has recently embraced. Once you do start back up, lenders and owners will have ground-truth to validate progress and you can share current conditions with the team to get everyone up to speed quickly.

4. Maintain safety standards.

OpenSpace can help keep your safety programs even if you can’t get your more experienced team member to the site every day. Using Field Notes, remote team members can comment directly on images from their desktop to track issues to maintain oversight. On-site team members can take pictures of specific issues or items from their phones and have them automatically pinned to plans and shared with the group.

Field Notes make 360° images actionable and trackable.  Since the COVID-19 crisis began, we’ve observed record usage of this feature by desktop users. 

5. Keep inspections and bids moving.

Even if inspectors can’t get to the job site, a complete 360° visual twin can be used to document progress at key milestones to keep inspections moving. A single on-site capture can support dozens of individual inspections, and time-stamped images provide a trusted record of progress. Field Notes can provide higher-res images of key areas and be used to flag any issues or questions.

Meanwhile, OpenSpace customer Lee Kennedy is implementing virtual bid walkthroughs to keep work moving. A renovation job would typically involve a subcontractor walkthrough of up to 20 to 30 people, which isn’t feasible right now. Instead, Lee Kennedy can have a single team member walk the site to document existing conditions and make that information available to the larger group.

In the midst of these difficult times, we certainly hope that remote construction site monitoring is a short-term fix rather than a long-term solution. We know how anxious everyone in the construction industry is to get back to work at full capacity. At the same time, the fluency you gain now in using virtual construction tools can be an investment in the future. You won’t have to depend on them after stay-at-home orders are lifted, but they can help you save time and improve collaboration if they’re integrated into your normal workflows in the future. 

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