May 27 2020
Notes from Edinburgh: Transitioning Out of Lockdown
Andrew Forshaw is an Associate based in our growing Edinburgh office, which offers structural and civil engineering services, with a speciality in sustainable drainage projects across the UK. Edinburgh also supports Entuitive’s fire engineering and pedestrian modelling team.
We asked Andrew to share his observations during his lockdown experience, including what he sees as opportunities to reshape how we approach the way we work and the way we build.
This article is the first in a series of interviews with Entuitive leaders to understand their impressions and lessons learned from the lockdown.
Reshaping His Approach to Work
Like most of us, I’ve been working from home for several months since lockdown began and of course I have a few observations on how my approach to work has changed. The most obvious observation relates to how most of our work lives have changed, and the effect that working from home has had on how we interact with our colleagues and our families. I have young children and the balance of fitting in a workday with a schooling day has meant that my working day has become fragmented and longer. Currently, I start around 7am and can finish late into the evening, with frequent breaks through the day. I’m finding that this pattern allows my working hours to be more productive.
My commute to work used to be reasonably short but could still take a while since I live in what is arguably one of the most congested cities in the UK. I have mixed feelings about my commute. On the one hand, commuting can clearly be a waste of time and largely unproductive, but on the other it can sometimes be cathartic, helping me shift into a work mindset on the way in or helping me wind down on the way out. On balance, though, I find I could quite happily live without it and I wonder how many of you feel the same. Has the lockdown shifted our perceptions such that it could change the way we work or travel to work?
The (Dis)Comforts of Home
The space where I work at home is tucked away from the hustle of the house, but it is not a perfect setup. I would question how many of us working from home have noticed aches and pains from using a working place which is ergonomically poor? I wonder what might be required of employers in this regard if we move to a permanent or part-time work from home scenario in the future?
The explosion of video conferencing platforms seems to have taken people by surprise, but Entuitive has always embraced remote meetings. As I mentioned, we have a One Company philosophy which connects all our people across a flat organisation and allows us to work together on projects from across the globe. It also means that we are well practiced in keeping in touch, reaching out, and using video conference technologies – although there is always room for improvement.
We have successfully used GoTo and Skype for years and have now begun to use Teams and Zoom as well. I find that the best platforms are the ones where all participants can be seen on one screen at once. I attended an Institution of Civil Engineers seminar the other week using WebEx, which had a novel (at least to me) mark-up facility that allowed participants to mark on the presentation for all to see. It gave an extra level of engagement which is to be encouraged. I think that connectivity tools and our discipline in using them will continue to evolve post-lockdown.
So, what is to become of these unique experiences as we transition out of lockdown? There will be no return to exactly the way things were and, as we transition, I think it’s important that we embrace the lessons we have learned and implement them into a new way of working. When I say lessons, I mean there are more than just my experiences as I have been finding out through the industry round-tables Entuitive has been hosting.
These roundtables have been held across all regions where Entuitive operates, and the discussions reflect consistent questions we’ve been asking ourselves. It’s amazing to see the overlap between the regions and I think it’s important that industries come together to share what they’ve learned and work together to determine best practices and create a way forward.
Firstly, I think many are realizing a more flexible approach to work, with a mix of working from home and office, might be needed moving forward. This could help to create a better sense of work/life balance, something we have all benefited from over the last couple of months. Of course, if a scenario like this were to become a new way forward, then working from home needs a managed approach which recognises that working from a kitchen table on a stool probably isn’t the best long-term solution. Luckily, it doesn’t take much to set up a decent working rig to allow good, comfortable, and productive home working and as employers we need to continue to consider how the future might look in this regard.
Going hand in hand with more home working, we’ve also been hearing a greater need for flexible hours that can stretch the working day across several periods of activity. This will undoubtedly improve concentration and productivity, but as employers we’ll need to be mindful of encouraging employees to take breaks and time away from the computer, as we’ve heard it will be difficult for some individuals to avoid burning candles at both ends with the hopes of gaining some advantage in getting things done.
We’ve all benefited from online meetings and there is a strong desire for the use of collaboration tools, such as remote conferencing to continue when and where possible. I think the feeling is, and I’d agree, that if you need to see a client face to face, go and see them, but for large round table discussions, a two-hour video conference is much more productive, than a half day of travelling. I would ask that everyone gets some decent training, though, in how to manage online meetings (and I’m thinking of the person who doesn’t mute himself when he takes another call!).
Reshaping Our Approach to Building
At Entuitive, we exist to build a better world and our commitment to sustainability is strong. Ultimately, I am hopeful that the lockdown might create an impetus for the emergence of a more sustainable world and the acceptance of sustainability into the mainstream conscience. Of course, we will return to using our cars, we will return to work in our offices, we will return to construction sites, but it can be in a different way.
Environment and Sustainability
One of the most interesting consequences of lockdown are the improvements to our environment which have been seen. From global improvements in air quality due to pollution reduction because of lessened industrial impacts and vehicle use, to more people cycling as a form of exercise, there have been a variety of positive trends. Yet, these improvements are not guaranteed. In fact, one of my colleagues, Nick Zeeb who is part of our Sustainable Performance Group, recently wrote an interesting piece on why COVID-19 does not solve the climate crisis. It’s certainly a thought-provoking read that shows there’s much work to be done and that Entuitive will continue to do this work.
At a local level, people are taking the opportunity to get out for their daily exercise and are generally favouring walking, running and cycling – all sustainable modes of transport. There are a huge number of people who have dusted off their bikes for the first time in many years – you can tell so much from an inefficient seat height! But they should be encouraged to continue. Unwittingly, with these behaviours we’ve all become part of the green agenda and I hope that we continue to make these choices as we move out of lockdown.
In this regard, and more broadly, I see an opportunity for the construction industry to push the sustainability credentials of the built environment and to embed a sustainable and flexible approach into the design of homes, schools, offices, transportation infrastructure and public spaces.
The recent embrace of the bicycle needs to be encouraged to continue with short term investment in green transport initiatives. The Scottish Government has made funding available to local authorities to create improved sustainable transport features such as cycle lanes during the lockdown, and I applaud this. Bicycle storage provision is embedded in planning policy but the supporting infrastructure isn’t. As an example, we are providing civil and structural advice for a 400-bed student residence in Leeds where the development itself has strong sustainability credentials, but wouldn’t it be great if there was supporting infrastructure to encourage green transport?
Let’s think bigger and start to introduce radical environmental actions – dedicated cycle lanes with the verge used for sustainable drainage; more vehicle-free areas and shared surfaces, which would bring in soft landscaping to our towns, cities and high streets. In Ipswich, we are working with Erect Architecture to transform an historical quarter of the city by creating a shared space with improved sustainable credentials which will do exactly this.
Sustainable Approaches to Construction
In this way, construction will hopefully follow a similar path toward sustainability and embrace the opportunities that lockdown is providing. Entuitive supports the re-use and re-modelling of buildings over demolition and re-build and we will promote this movement even more in the future. Our support of a project in Portobello is already ahead of the game in terms of sustainability. We’re reusing and repurposing old site cabins, that were destined for the scrap heap, into artisan workshops. Our approach is to be as open as possible and to guide the client through the stages of the project. We assessed the structural capacity of the cabins and provided certification for their compliance with Building Standards.
One of the projects we’re most proud of is the transformation of the Ken Soble Tower in Hamilton, Ontario which is a ground-breaking project rehabilitating a post-war apartment tower to the Passive House EnerPHit retrofit standard – reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 94% .
At 18 storeys the Ken Soble Tower will be one of the largest EnerPHit certified projects in the world, providing residents with improved comfort and control of their indoor environments and with the ability to withstand extreme climate events into the future.
We provided Building Envelope and structural engineering services to this project, which is a great example of the retro-first approach we support. We are also planning on expanding our Building Envelope capabilities into the UK markets to further support our sustainability credentials, offering services such as advanced performance analysis.
All this revolves around Entuitive’s aim to build a better world and design a sustainable future for our clients and the communities in which we live and work. I, for one, am really looking forward to continuing the journey.
Interested in reaching out to Andrew to explore these ideas further? Click here to contact him.