DKO Architecture embrace remote working with Drawboard Projects

Scott Cooper on

Remote work is not a new concept for DKO Architecture. However, having to scale its remote practice within a few weeks to cater for the entire company meant adapting their processes. Part of that change was adopting new tools like Drawboard Projects to continue operating without interruption. 

2020 has been a challenging year for organizations spanning all industries as working from home has become the new norm. With this shift in the way that we work, remote collaboration tools and processes have become critical to the success of all teams. 

DKO Architecture are no exception, and as National BIM Manager and Senior Associate, Blair Calvert says, even with remote working processes in place it’s been a big adjustment for the entire team. 

“We’ve got people that have been working at home for a while now, it’s gradually ramped up as people have found the need to work from home.”

Watch the full interview with Blair at the bottom of this article.

Blair Calvert, DKO Architecture

With offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Auckland and Ho Chi Minh City, processes that allowed the team to be able to interact and collaborate digitally had already been of high importance, but were not scaled into all employees’ homes.

“As things started developing very quickly throughout the start of COVID-19 restrictions, we decided to test sending half, if not all, of the office home all at once, which was taxing to say the least.” Says Blair.

“We did a 50/50 test and got our remote working procedures ramped up across all staff, which is about 200 staff globally, within the space of a week. This was very accelerated compared to the previous 5-6 people we had working at home at that point.”

Though this was a major change to the way that DKO operates as a company, Blair says that generally, it was a pretty successful process.

“There were a few hiccups, as you’d expect, but the big thing for us was that we already had systems in place – it was just about scaling them to potentially have the entire DKO workforce working from home.”

As other countries were already starting to go into full lockdown around this time, DKO wanted to get on the front foot and ensure that systems were in place prior to the lockdown to ensure that their team could continue working without disruption. 

Arkadia, Alexandria, NSW

Adjusting to remote work systems and tools

For many organizations globally, one of the biggest challenges that comes with remote work is being able to give team members access to their secure servers, as well as moving from in person meetings to virtual collaboration. For DKO, setting up a few key systems has allowed them to have a seamless transition.

“We have a remote desktop functionality so staff can access their work computer from home, and have used Zoom as the primary meeting platform.

“For markups and documents we’ve been using Drawboard Projects pretty extensively. The majority of our team are now on the system.”  

A major concern was removing the onus on staff to have high end technology available in their home.

“Large CAD programs generally require a high powered machine to run, and we don’t expect that our staff have that in their home. Also, this eliminates the risk of using equipment that might cause a security risk when connected to our secure network.”

The DKO Architecture senior team are leading the way when it comes to remote communication

Even though it’s a big change for most team members, Blair says that so far, it’s been pretty well received. 

“There were concerns around having staff that have never worked remotely before now working from home, and how they might feel about it, as well as productivity levels, and how people might react outside the office environment.”

“We’ve found that meeting with our teams regularly on Zoom, in conjunction with Projects, to markup documents on screen we’ve been able to replace that normal side-by-side office interaction from when they were in the office.”

While these tools have been successful across most areas within the company, there are still challenges. Blair tells us that in situations where senior team members could be in a room and iterate on designs very quickly, they are still working on how to improve their processes. 

“Fundamentally the big thing that we are missing is the ability to regularly get the design directors and staff working on major projects and tenders bids. These projects have a rapid design change method … those high speed design and review sessions result in layers upon layers of hand markups. Someone then goes and models that up.

“That form of interaction can be very difficult if you are not all in the same room, however we are now working to move this process across to Drawboard Projects.“

When it comes to documenting design and completing drawing sets, Blair says that the move across to Drawboard Projects has been seamless. 

“From a documentation point of view, we were always going to have to mark up PDFs anyway, so that’s been completely seamless. We’ve completed thousands of shop drawings in the past few months online through Projects.” 

Over the past few years DKO have already started to transform in-office meetings into digital processes with the use of digital whiteboards, and helping senior staff to embrace online collaboration tools. 

“In our Melbourne and Sydney offices we do have some large digital whiteboards, and they have been very beneficial to have when it comes to virtually expressing design evolution. The majority of our management team also have Surface Pros or iPad Pros, so they can all design and mark up directly on a screen using both Drawboard Projects and Drawboard PDF. “

Changing the way we work

While setting up and adjusting to digital tools was a key part of the process, the other challenge that the DKO team have had is managing the office space itself while meeting social distancing requirements for when people were allowed to be present in the office.

As Blair discusses, it’s taken many iterations, but has worked well to date. 

“We didn’t want to end up in the situation where we had an infected staff member, who then triggered an entire team to be self isolating for two weeks. It’s been a huge amount of work with many iterations, but it seems to be working pretty well.”

Team leads are doing regular checkins with team members outside of work performance

When it comes to advice on how to effectively get through remote working challenges, Blair tells us that a good IT team or support system is important to help you through the setup process. DKO’s IT team was instrumental in helping scale up the systems needed to take the organization online.

“If you have got the ability to do so, it’s well worth paying someone who has the expertise to set that up for you, because once it’s running, it’s running.” 

When it comes to finding the right process for your business, Blair has some great advice for those who are looking to adopt new software and systems. 

“There are a heap of online platforms out there, so ask around for recommendations. As architects, we don’t tend to communicate between ourselves as often as we probably should. Just send an email as ask what others are doing. Everyone is helping each other, it’s nice to see everyone pushing in the same direction rather than competing against each other.”

Key focus areas are still the same across the business, with a priority on meeting deadlines, however now DKO are also making a substantial effort to ensure that productivity is up.

“At the end of the day we are engaged to perform a service as architects, and we need to meet those or it will negatively impact our billing, and therefore job security.”

What does the future of the architecture industry look like? 

“There’s definitely some nervousness.” says Blair. 

“Our primary concern was that if a lockdown went on for an extended period within which builders could not operate, we would have no work at that point. This leads to how we keep trading if we don’t have customers, and that’s not just architecture, that’s any industry.“

Even with that uncertainty hanging over the world at the moment, progress is being made across many industries, and the architecture industry is no exception. 

“From our point of view, we are certainly no less busy than a few months ago. We still have a huge amount of work to get done, hence why we are working to ensure that all of our staff are as productive as possible.“

Tips for companies scaling remote work processes

As with any remote workforce, communication is the key, and ensuring business leaders are embracing and encouraging that communication to set an example can really help all staff. 

“We’ve really asked the associates and team leaders to drive the communications to make sure everyone feels connected. If you live alone or in a small apartment it can feel pretty lonely when you are used to being in an office of 90 to 100 people.”

“We have pushed out team leads pretty hard to make sure that they are leading their teams as if they were still in the office, and doing regular check ins – not so much for productivity, but to check and see how team members are going personally.”

Due to the fundamental shift in how team members deal with their day when working from home, DKO has made a concerted effort to center regular catchups around mental health.  

“If you’ve been in an office on a regular basis, and then are suddenly switched to working from home, a lot of people struggle with the boundaries between work and home, and where you start work earlier, and are finishing later. So providing guidance around that has been important”

Blair continues, “On the mental health front, we’ve tried to make it clear that if anyone needs help, all they need to do is ask. There are some great resources available, Beyond Blue have now got a specific COVID/Isolation service as they’ve had a huge ramp up in calls.”

“It’s about that awareness that we are looking after our staff and that they are comfortable working from home” says Blair. “Because if they are happy and comfortable the productivity will follow.“

Bendigo Bank, Docklands, VIC

The impact of Drawboard Projects at DKO

At DKO there are two clear elements to the design and documentation process capturing both the creative development stage, and then detailing out, as Blair explains. 

“From a design point of view, generally we use CAD and modelling software pretty early in the process, even if it’s in a basic state. The typical work process is that we’ll do that, and then the design team will go through them and review to build out.” 

“From there we add the next layer of design elements, building out the original sketches. That might be redoing the balconies, or curving the facade. This process all happens with PDFs being uploaded, people drawing over the top of it [in Drawboard Projects], and there are also phone or Zoom calls within this process to walkthrough the updates on screen with the team.” 

This process has replaced the in-person interactions, and allowed the team to progress designs without compromising on internal collaboration, and then being efficient throughout the documentation process.

“From a documentation point of view, it’s quite a traditional workflow where the lead architect will ask for a package of drawings. The person doing the work will then publish them up for approval, at which stage they are approved by either signing them off, or marking up with the required changes.” 

This is a system that has been in place for quite a while for the DKO offices. It allows Melbourne, Sydney and Ho Chi Minh to do components of each other’s work and collaborate – meaning the team can share their workload depending on which staff have more capacity.

“We have a system that replicates the old pen and paper markups – mark things up in red, put your notes in blue, and then use the highlighter to show which revisions have been incorporated back into the drawings – and we’ve been doing that for quite some time.”

Blair says that the breadth of what DKO are doing has expanded, and the sheer volume of people involved that are engaged with Drawboard Projects at the moment has increased dramatically. 

“I think the instant interaction between remote users has been an absolute boom for what we do. That, for us, has been the major thing [with Drawboard Projects]. It’s two-fold, it’s interactive display and being able to talk someone through your markup or document, and also not having to print out shop drawings and manually mark them up and scan them back in – which in a remote capacity, is simply not possible.”

When talking about what to look for in a remote collaboration system, Blair says keep your eyes and ears open. 

“Listen to the feedback, it doesn’t take long to jump online and get a feel for what’s working for people and what’s not – then get in and get it working, as that’s the best way to really test it out. Through this process, also make sure you are communicating actively with your staff, and everything else will fall in place – you’ll make it work.”

Watch the full interview

Watch the full interview with Blair Calvert

Drawboard Projects brings handwritten markup to a cloud based team platform accessible on Windows 10, any web browser and iOS. Project teams can see everyone’s markups and annotations in real-time on any PDF drawing or document, wherever they are in the world.

Projects is powered by a document management system that is the first of its kind, eliminating the need to print, deal with version control problems, and use disparate systems for markup control.