While the cost of improving collaboration within the architectural, engineering, and construction industries can be high, it’s one that has become increasingly worth paying, argues Tim Whiteley, co-founder of virtual desktop infrastructure firm Inevidesk
The discussion around workplace collaboration now often defaults to hybrid working between office and home-based employees. Yet, for many companies in the architectural, engineering, and construction (AEC) sectors, where the office remains an important hub, legacy technology still presents a barrier to in-office collaboration.
This is because the high-performance software these teams use – think Autodesk Revit, Vectorworks, and the Bentley suite – require computers with high processing and graphical capabilities. Traditionally, this meant working on large fixed tower workstations, so members working at desks on different sides of the room in the same office could still struggle to collaborate efficiently in real-time.
This is an unnecessary barrier to efficient working and good collaboration, as is the traditional tower workstation’s dependence on solitary power sources and network connections, which can cause extreme disruption when they fail. There is also the performance ‘lag’ experienced by people attempting to work remotely – which can be exacerbated by low bandwidth or latency generated by those working long distance.
It’s fair to say that the change in working conditions during the pandemic opened many AEC organisations’ eyes to the fact that they needed to change and better support collaboration both and out of office.
Indeed, Peter Inglis, former practice leader at architecture studio Cullinan Studio, previously said: “The notion that everyone in the studio has to have a fixed desk and a big workstation and the inherent constraints that then placed on how we use our building was brought into question by how effectively we were able to work without really having an office at all for large parts of the year.
“The experience didn’t negate the need for an office at all, but it did force us to question how and why we use the office and what we could do in the future to make our use of the space more effective.”
Collaboration, productivity, design
Cullinan Studio moved from physical workstations in its offices to using virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), which essentially houses an organisation’s desktop resource on a server that is hosted in the cloud or within an existing site-based infrastructure.
While used widely in many industries, the AEC sectors have been slower to adopt the technology due to the expensive and complex high-compute and graphical requirements needed by CAD and 3D modelling software. Particularly as the offerings of more traditional players in this space, which include tech giants like VMware and Citrix, are more geared towards enterprise clients.
However, as we are seeing across the wider tech market more broadly, there are now disruptors that are able to better serve the needs of small- to mid-sized organisations.
“For many AEC companies, it may be the first time in decades that the design of their own workspaces hasn’t been dictated by hardware and cables”
What VDI enables organisations to do is untether their employees from physical workstations, so that people can work from anywhere and collaborate freely with colleagues. This encourages greater productivity, enables team members to share ideas more easily, and empowers the organisation itself to create more dynamic, interesting, and responsive spaces.
Indeed, for many AEC companies, for whom design is at the very heart of what they do, it may be the first time in decades that the design of their own workspaces hasn’t been dictated by hardware and cables.
The remaining barriers
As we continue to assess and explore how we can improve collaboration, it’s critical that the inherent challenges of our physical workplaces aren’t forgotten.
It cannot just focus on finding solutions that connect remote employees when keeping team members tied to a fixed desk continues to act as a barrier to discussion, ideation, and creativity in the office.
Image: Tim Whiteley, co-founder, Inevidesk
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