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Remote working and the new normal for civil engineers

23rd April 2020

Many people are talking about the new normal, but nobody knows at this stage what it will be. Over the last few weeks here at PDMA, we have had to adapt to our team working from home, which has already changed the way we work and will change the way we work in whatever becomes the new normal.

Previously, I have often done work from home but relatively simple things which can be done with my laptop. Doing regular design and checking from home has proven far more difficult and has taken some getting used to.

Everything is now running smoothly with a home-office network, copies of standards at home and space to spread out drawings and other documents. The way of working in the office developed and improved over many years to reach the peak of efficiency.

Now we are not sat next to each other, passing documents between team members is more difficult. It requires modifications to our way of working, but I’m confident we’ll develop the best way of doing things over the next few weeks and achieve the same efficiency as before.

Temporary works design projects often require a site visit prior to undertaking a design and other times a face-to-face meeting is useful.

However, there have been many occasions in the past when I have travelled all day for a meeting that would have delivered the same outcomes had it been an online video chat.

This enforced remote working has shown that electronic meetings are not only a viable alternative to face-to-face meetings, but save a huge amount of travel time, to say nothing of the reduction in carbon footprint if meetings involve many who would have commuted.

Work is what we do not where we go

We have had some of our people regularly working from home and for some time, we have operated a flexi-time system in the office, which has been well-received. It allows everyone to work around such things as child-care commitments and to avoid peak traffic, for example.

Although we keep timesheets, I don’t rigorously check that everyone has worked their full allotted hours every month; as long as the work gets done on time and people are producing deliverables for our clients, then I believe people don’t need micro-managing.

Now, I’m fortunate that I have space to make a home office and am happy interacting with people electronically. Other people won’t be in the same position and some will have a full house, with children or other dependents to manage, which will make working from home more difficult.

The government is encouraging people to work from home wherever possible and for these people it might just not be possible. Also, some people need the social aspects of going to work and thrive on the interactions with other people.

I’m sure some will just not be able to get started without the need to leave home and get to the office, while others will feel the need to be working all the time.

Remote home will be difficult for some people so this is not the end of the office but smaller offices with more flexible working space will become part of the new normal – whatever that looks like in the future.