The global COVID-19 pandemic has tested business continuity plans and leadership resolve, but it has also triggered new ideas about the way we work and connect with clients.
A crisis demands quick and creative solutions to problems, but can also act as a catalyst for lasting change. If you can absorb the short-term shocks, it can point your business towards unexpected opportunities.
At Aurecon, an international engineering, design and advisory company and one of Australia’s leading engineering consultancy firms, 95 per cent of staff had to quickly adjust to working from home. That sparked an experimental mindset to solve issues.
“Engineers may have a tendency to be conservative and technical, but the last 120 days has shown we can also be creative and respond quickly to challenges,” Aurecon Chief Executive for Australia and New Zealand Louise Adams says.
According to Adams, the sense of urgency drove significant innovation.
“We achieved things people would have thought impossible six months ago, in terms of the way we work, keep our people safe and how we collaborate. We’re also seeing that the crisis has provided a foundation for greater collaboration between government and industry. We are currently focussing on quickly packaging up work to be ‘shovel-ready’ for when restrictions are eased, in order to help quickly stimulate employment growth.”
At PICA, Australia’s largest strata management company, Group Managing Director Wayne Walker says he was also, “amazed by our ability to influence change at speed. When you have a sense of urgency, and you don’t have a choice, it’s incredible what you can do.”
He sees the sector’s COVID-19-related legislative loosening as a, “golden opportunity to push for more permanent changes. Convening virtual meetings and using electronic signatures has proven more flexible and efficient.”
Leaps forward in efficiency
Change doesn’t need to be transformational to be effective. At Aurecon, one simple solution involved little more than an iPad.
“Usually, we’d send 12 people to a major site visit,” Adams explains. Social distancing and travel restrictions made that impossible, so they sent two people with an iPad and connected with 15 others via Microsoft Teams. Using the camera, the meeting participants could view every aspect of the site.
“This is certainly the safest way to conduct a site visit in a COVID-19 world, but it’s also more efficient and will reduce travel budgets,” says Adams. “Where we may have previously flown people in to do a progress meeting and look at drawings, we’ve upskilled ourselves to run workshops virtually much more regularly and efficiently.”
Another example is re-thinking the need for hard copy signatures on documents. “We now use Diligent, a virtual platform, to scan documents like board papers, contracts and bids, and accept an electronic signature,” explains Aurecon’s Group CFO Francoise Merit. It’s a lot more efficient and helps her team keep digital records.
Walker says legislative changes across states and territories have enabled significant improvements for strata. Between March and May, when COVID-19 lockdowns rolled out, his teams convened more than 4,000 strata committee meetings and annual general meetings – virtually.
“We had already rolled out Strata Vote, to automate meeting agendas and enable online voting on decisions. The meetings have been more focused and effective, and they’re no longer always late at night.” He believes smaller owners corporations will continue to meet virtually, as it’s more flexible and convenient.