How Remote Working can Increase Opportunity, Innovation and Inclusiveness in Project Delivery

As the structural design lead of a major underground station project in Australia, Alex Staak, our Regional Executive for Bridges and Structures in Adelaide, recognises the skills our team has developed which have kept us in good stead in this ever-changing world, fast tracked by the need to isolate ourselves for the safety of the community through the COVID-19 crisis.

What is it about the success of this team that allows us to work in a business as usual manner in this physical distancing world, while maintaining program delivery and innovation?
Alex points to technology, diversity and communication as the answers.



“Members of our station design team have worked remotely for the last three years: listening, collaborating, and providing innovative and high-quality solutions from the comfort of their own home city,” explains Alex.


“Part of our success is owed to the technology available to us – it’s the glue that enables the effectiveness of a remote team. From laptops to software and live documents held in the cloud, all any team member can connect any time, any place to provide input.


“Making use of PDF viewer/markup software such as Bluebeam means you can kiss goodbye to that red pen, printer and endless sets of drawings!. Not only more effective, this generation of software produces high-quality markups, allowing succinct communication to colleagues and professional output for clients. The result? Less mistakes, and more opportunity for collaboration – to get it right.”


Modelling software such as Revit, Revizto, Navisworks and the like, allow teams, builders and clients to view the latest federated model combining structural, civil, building services, architecture and landscape – you can rotate, zoom, make comments, ask questions of other design teams such as building services, architects, and get responses in real time. This limits the need for meetings to raise critical items that allow us to make best for project decisions. On our underground station project, this has also seamlessly allowed for supplementing our design and modelling team in Australia and the Philippines.”


Eliminating face to face meetings by using video conferencing software such as Skype or MS Teams prevents the need for travel, allowing more time to action programmed deliverables. Virtual whiteboards and sharing screens over the internet enable the same amount of collaboration as having everyone in the same room. “Here’s my top tip on this one,” says Alex, “Train your staff to use the software. There are certainly benefits of travel to be at a critical meeting in person, but by and large, most things can be achieved virtually as the COVID-19 situation has shown us – we’re thriving and delivering to program without a redeye flight in sight.”



It has been said that diverse teams lead to diverse and more innovative solutions. Alex is a true believer in allowing for an inclusive, supportive environment. She says, “Our station structural design team comprises 50:50 female to male representation. But it’s not this on its own that creates the most effective team in which I’ve ever worked: inclusiveness is key. Providing an environment where collaboration, respect, and team support are expected means that no one gets shut down for an idea or told they’re asking too many questions. What’s the big deal with this one? People speak up, contribution goes through the roof, and solutions that are best for project get signed, sealed and delivered. Work satisfaction, anyone?


“Our remote station design team proves that diverse, inclusive teams are happy, more productive teams. As the end of design phase approaches, each team member takes with them the knowledge and ability to collaborate in an inclusive way – with firsthand experience of how good it is to be in a team that listens and supports one another.


”Would you rather be in a team that follows the herd, or a team that challenges status quo while respecting one another’s opinions and strengths? If you answered the latter: listen, include, support.”



Whether it be verbal, written, or drawn, communication is critical to remote working. “You may have already noticed communication feature quite prominently in the technology and diversity remote team success must-haves,” says Alex. “And, you’d be right in saying communication is important to any successful team. But to a remote team: communication is the electricity to your light switch. There is no lightbulb moment without it.”


Here’s a fact: everyone listens differently. What you say may not be heard in the way you intend it to be heard.


“Part of communication is listening – really listening – to clients, other design teams, and members of your own team,” adds Alex “Our underground station structural engineers need information from Architects, Services Engineers and the Construction team to develop safe and practical solutions. Without listening skills, how do they know where to spend their time and energy?


“Communicating back to your client or design team is just important. Consider using a couple of different tools, and adapting to your audience. You can’t gauge a person’s understanding remotely using body language, even if you have a good video streaming tool. So, consider calling first to talk it through, then provide the same answer in words with a sketch.


“Successful communication within your team will develop trust, improve productivity, and happiness levels. Be a leader that connects with your team members. Be personable, approachable, and above all, listen.


“In our industry, we are all capable of maintaining the efficiency, quality and quantum of work in the pipeline in this new normal of working from home, in isolation, and distanced from others. Projects can be delivered just as efficiently remotely as they can face-to-face with a simple focus on technology, diversity and communication.

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