Conducting Site Visits During a Pandemic

virtual construction site visits

By Camilla Cok and Mike Meade

The new 800-foot extension of Portland International Airport’s Concourse E is slated to open this summer, the culmination of six years of design and construction. In Oregon, construction is designated an essential activity, allowing projects like these to move forward. But along with construction comes construction administration, or CA, by the design team — an in-person activity. How do you conduct safe site visits while practicing physical distancing?

CA is an inherently collaborative process that requires constant, clear communication. Our team is very large — much larger than many projects, with a design team of more than 30 consultants, including our Denver-based design partner Fentress Architects, and more than a dozen airport stakeholders. So, keeping people engaged and in the loop about what is happening on site each week has always been important.

During CA, owner/architect/contractor (OAC) site walks allow for efficient real-time quality control and problem-solving. When physical distancing guidelines were first rolled out, the OAC site walk was immediately limited to once a week, with a smaller-than-typical group all wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart. To include more team members, we incorporated a virtual meeting component broadcast via iPad and Microsoft Teams. Participants join remotely and interact with the on-site team from their home office.

virtual construction site visit
Any team member can view the OAC broadcast from home.

Virtual construction site visits are crucial to this project continuing on schedule, especially with a large client user-group — many people need to view in-field progress of various components. Broadcasting our walks enables us to easily include all of those people. We’ve had numerous “first-in-place prototype” reviews, with participants making comments and asking questions virtually.

There is a silver lining of this approach. Through our online broadcast, we’ve created an opportunity for less-experienced design staff, or other team members who wouldn’t normally participate in a site visit, to engage and learn from this process in a way they may not otherwise get to.

Following the walks, site photos are shared with all team members to review existing conditions and keep up to speed with our fast-moving project. Occasionally we include photos from the firm’s 360-degree camera. Everyone is encouraged to review photos and add comments or questions into a shared Smartsheet, from which weekly field reports are compiled. This happens within 24 hours of the OAC site walk.

virtual construction site visits
While Mike “broadcasts” and narrates the walk to viewers, Camilla takes photos and notes to share with the design team for their own post-walk review.

Additionally, our construction partner Skanska implemented new site safety protocols, adding signage about physical distancing, incorporating hand-sanitizing and hand-washing stations, and limiting the number of people on site. All workers are now required to wear masks, and anyone coming to the field office must sign in and out to help track any potential COVID-19 exposure.

Our team is many individuals working on different pieces of this large project, and being able to have everyone’s eyes on the building as it progresses is vital for a successful outcome. Virtual construction site visits limit potential exposure to each other and to the workers on site while keeping the entire team engaged.

virtual construction site visits
We previously had 3-6 people on site walks in person, multiple times per week, depending on the week; now just two participate from Hennebery Eddy, once a week.