Remote collaborative design transforms the drawing board

6th August 2020
Alex Lynn

If there were ever any previous concerns about remote working, COVID-19 has quashed them. That is, unless you are a knowledge worker. Many office professionals can quite happily work from home with the aid of MS Teams, Webex or Google Drive. However, engineers, architects, planners or surveyors, working on construction or other complex design projects, do not have the same luxury (nor does anyone doing anything complicated or visual), but remote collaborative design can help.

By Jocelyn Lomer, Chief Executive, nuVa Enterprises

If they can’t physically visit sites, it isn’t enough to be able to share a screen on a lagging conference call when dealing with complex and intricate details on CAD or other 3D models.

Before the civilised world became what we know it to be today, people collaborated by sitting around a campfire, drawing pictures in the sand. Psychologically, this is how our bodies and minds prefer to connect. Replicating these face-to-face behaviours with tiny desktop screens results in major constraints in comprehension and cognition.

Desktop collaboration is rigid, slow, and doesn’t foster collaboration, let alone innovation. Similarly to our ancestors, we prefer to huddle together, bouncing ideas off one another, thinking quickly and fluidly. This form of collaboration creates a larger mind, built on collaboration expertise and common understanding, delivering immediate results and innovative solutions.

Ditch the desktop

The desktop is a tiny little box that has been constraining our thinking for nearly forty years, the fundamentals of human behaviour have been ignored, delivering a constrained environment for breakthrough collaboration remotely.

Research from Brennan and Clarke found that the more ‘natural the interface’ the more likely people are to actually use it. If a meeting is unnatural, it cuts across the way that our minds have evolved, and requires more cognitive effort. This is something that has been emphasised by the lockdown period, where more and more professionals are feeling the exhaustion of remote working.

Since the transition to mass remote working, 9 in 10 workers have been suffering with ‘lockdown lethargy’, according to a survey undertaken by Actus. Much of the blame for this can be put on the amount of video calls that employees are taking part in - requiring much more cognitive effort, missing out on the physical cues naturally found in face-to-face conversation, and needing to pay more attention as a result.

A natural meeting must be emulated. The models on which knowledge workers collaborate for large projects are too sophisticated to load into a standard conference call.

Engineers, architects and designers - who can’t meet in person or on site - need their remote working practices to be improved if businesses wish for them to be able to work effectively from remote locations. In a world where 70% of companies either have a digital transformation strategy in place or are working on one, the construction industry needs to keep pace with the latest developments in remote working technology if it wishes to make the most of the unique talent and expertise available all over the world.

Remote access is essential

Digital transformation is not only about digital models existing in one place, but the modern

project requires access from multiple remote experts, so that all participants can collaboratively make decisions immediately without needing to travel and meet in one place. Nowadays, teams will be dispersed geographically, and organisations need to be able to share designs, plans and drafts over a rich enough medium to avoid the need to meet in person - which can potentially cause delays to the eventual decision-making, which can have major cost implications.

We collaborate best in a ‘natural meeting’ because this is how our social activity, bodies and minds have evolved over millions of years. Sponsored academic research has validated that the more ‘natural’ the medium of collaboration, the better the cognition. If a business can electronically emulate a round table collaborative meeting with people and artefacts, it can deliver optimal collaborative cognition contributors will be able to understand each other better.

Fostering collaboration

With tools emulating a ‘natural meeting’, complex projects - worked on by experts all over the globe - can be completed remotely, with no need for any face-to-face meetings. We can transform organisational activity.

Decisions can be made immediately, and any tweaks can be made just as quickly, with live platforms ready to be updated, however needed, wherever needed. In this way, knowledge from all over the world can be applied easily, delivering competitive advantage as a result.

With this rich collaborative media in place, there are a host of business benefits that this level of digital transformation will result in. No delays are caused in time to completion, all issues can be solved quickly, from anywhere. Travel and office costs are cut significantly, while travel times themselves become non-existent. Knowledge can be immediately applied from anywhere in the world, creating an ‘organisation brain’ superior to any other.

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