The ease of technology and workforce mobility enable a project to be done in remote location. Nowadays, it is very common to see a project where the client, designer, and project location located in a different countries and time zone. It can be a multinational company with project management team in headquarter but build their factory in different region, a design firm who outsource the work to a different country, or a government project who build their property abroad.
At first, living in a digital world nowadays seems you can do it all. Your client is only an email or a phone call away. A group chat can be easily created and everyone can share everything for 24 hours. In everyday life where ordering food and shopping can be done through few clicks, relying on technology in managing project doesn’t sounds too rocket science.
However, I’ve learned that in the field of design and construction projects, the reality is much more complex than that. Project team who are not located in the same city and without regular face to face meetings will meet specific challenges and complexity compared to project team who can work and collaborate directly.
Firstly, a sense of urgency might be developed differently among stakeholders. Too many gestures, body language, and different voice tone cannot be captured in written text or a voice call. A misunderstanding is prone to happen between parties.
Especially in design review phase, it will take longer to discuss and debate a design idea. Clarification needs to be done several times to verify assumptions made during the design. It is much simpler when people can sit together and discuss a page of drawing. A trust and collaborative nature also might not come naturally. In the long run, it can create obstacle to the collaboration process of the team. I will focus to discuss on managing project remotely during design phase. Managing construction phase remotely have its own unique challenges and will be discussed separately.
- Having a proper communication and documentation set up from the very beginning.
o Allocate regular time for meeting to update any progress and issue. If the stakeholders have significant different time zone, choose the best compromise time where it is still working-hour friendly for all parties.
o For remote project, the dependency on documents will be higher than when regular project where face to face meetings can be held easily. Agree on platform for project documentation. Whatever the documentation platform was chosen (whether it is BIM 360, Asite, Box, google drive), make sure that both the Client and consultant will be consistent in following the rules of document management.
- Agree on approval process.
o Approval and review design process can be a very crucial part in managing the design. Determine on how many review cycle will be held along the project. Every back-and-forth discussion should achieve significant progress.
o Determine how many people will be involved in the approval phase and when is their involvement. The process of redundant rework (due to unclear decision from the client) will delay the project and often demotivate the team.
o In principle, the earlier the design stage, the more intense the communication should be. Change in the later design stage will be more expensive and more time consuming. Make sure the client is agreed upon the building flow, single line diagram, or load plan.
- Preparation is the key prior to design clarification meeting.
o Prior to any design clarification meeting, make sure that both parties (designer and client) have the same expectation regarding the output and decision coming from the meeting. o Make sure that both parties have sufficient time to review the comments and prepare clarification prior to design clarification.
- The more concise, the better.
o Too much information can be counterproductive to decision making. A complete information needs to be communicated but always highlight the important information. This might look simple but chances are the client will skip a long ‘story telling’ email on Friday afternoon. The more straight forward, the easier it is for the client to answer any queries or clarification.
- Time frame to clarify urgent decision
o Not all issues should be treated equally with the same time response. Analyze what are the crucial issues that need more immediate response and expect the Client to give answer in an agreed time frame.
A long distance or a remote design project can easily be forgotten and not being prioritized amidst the urgent issues that people face everyday directly in front of their faces. Setting clear expectation and prepare the review cycle accordingly in the beginning can save time and smooth up the collaboration process. If it is done right, it can truly unlock the huge potential of knowledge transfer and cross-cultural learning while executing great design projects.