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Earlier this year, the engineering and construction industry ground to a halt in response to mandatory shelter-in-place orders. As businesses adapted to the challenges of this new working environment, project teams were called on to rise to the occasion and find ways to keep building safely and efficiently through these uncertain times.

As anyone who has been around the industry long enough can tell you, construction project management is a team sport involving dozens of companies. Tight schedules and even tighter margins are the norm, and a decrease in communication, collaboration, and cooperation would likely mean a loss of momentum and lower performance across every aspect of the project life cycle. Now, new research into work-from-home trends suggests that in an industry commonly considered behind the times in tech adoption, technology may have played a key role in driving construction work forward.

Analysis of data pulled from the InEight platform revealed new trends and behaviors as teams continued work, providing clues about the benefits of digital transformation and the future of work for the engineering and construction industry. The analysis was produced by researching user behaviors on the InEight Document project document management (PDM) solution from February 2020 through July 2020 comprising an average of more than 250,000 unique users across more than 2,100 international projects. The data was anonymized and normalized to show spikes in usage above and beyond normal year-over-year growth rates.

Increased Collaboration

During the early weeks of social distancing and work from home, user activity on the platform dropped significantly across the board. Starting in month two, however, new users swarmed the platform. Unique logins jumped more than 30% to reach an all-time high, remaining steady at an average of more than 6% above normal through July. At the same time, total monthly logins surged by an average of more than 11%.

As more people began working remotely, project teams needed a central repository to keep critical information accessible and available to everyone regardless of physical location. One way this need was addressed, according to the data, was with increased collaboration in the shape of total document uploads increasing by almost 40% YOY.

The data also reflect a jump in another area of digital collaboration—the use of InEight Forms. Forms allow project teams to manage things like requests for information, submittals, non-conformance reports and other workflows requiring multiple stakeholders input. Forms usage was up by more than 28% YOY and reached an all-time high at a nearly 80% increase in June YOY.

The increased usage of these features indicate that not only were engineering and construction businesses actively seeking out new ways to keep building, but also that they found value in deepening their use of an existing solution, achieving new levels of returns on an existing investment.

Decreased Field Activity

Even though the industry had been launched into a more collaborative environment than ever before, analysis of how customers were using the InEight PDM module suggests that the work happening on the platform was primarily back-office work. Researchers found that features typically used by project professionals as they walk the site showed sharp declines between February and July.

Take document downloads for example. Construction sites typically have terrible WiFi and mobile data connectivity, so team members frequently download project documents to a mobile device before starting work on the project site. Document downloads decreased by a total of nearly 30% during the period surveyed, indicating fewer people were physically present on project sites.

Likewise, picture uploads were down by roughly 26%. Normally someone uploads a picture from the project site to add context to a request and allow off-site team members to see how things look on the ground. With fewer people onsite, it follows that there would be fewer pictures uploaded.

The Road Ahead

The construction industry displayed tremendous agility and creativity in adapting to the challenges of remote work. At the same time, analysis of data from July showed signs of life in the field with more documents downloaded and a sharp uptick in project photos uploaded.

Meanwhile, third-party statistics show that the recovery of the construction industry has been building for several months. In May, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the industry had gained back more than 460,000 jobs. A recent report by accounting firm Marcum said construction has regained nearly 60% of jobs.

Still, even as crews returned to work and onsite activity increased, normalized use of the platform remained up YOY for digital collaboration in new workflows. InEight Document users dug deeper to embrace platform features and unlocked new levels of value from their software. If these trends continue, this may be the moment that engineering and construction businesses embraced the future of technology.

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