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Let’s Meet at the Virtual Water Cooler

Virtual Life @ PES Structural Engineers

Virtual life has been woven into the fabric of PES’s culture for several years. It has become the essence of our connectivity and responsiveness as design professionals working with great people, a strong practice, and utilizing technological tools. Classically, we call this the 3P’s (people, process, and platforms). What does that really mean when virtual life or what many generations refer to as virtuality becomes a requirement, a protocol, a continuance of business while keeping our co-workers safe?

For PES, the transition into the complete virtual space was easier than other design firms and state agencies that we have reached out to. Easier may be an overstatement as some challenges were encountered (like ramping up with additional software licenses) but through years of planning and internal acceptance, the transition was relatively painless. Principal David Aucoin, P.E. relayed that “we found we were in a great place to pivot quickly and to have everyone work from home. Our leadership team meets every Monday morning in an open forum that allows us to be agile. We quickly put into motion our plan for all employees to be working from home the very next day.”

Human connectivity at various levels is how we are all wired. We want to stay connected when we are physically removed from each other. What happens when separation reaches a company that genuinely enjoys working with one another. What, alternatives exist? PES began migrating to Microsoft 365 about three years ago starting with our email exchange server. Over time PES has made an intentional commitment to multiple applications within Microsoft 365. David Aucoin stated “the interoperability between these applications has really accelerated our efficiencies. We have given much attention to Microsoft Teams for a diversity of internal communication objectives including project management.”

Quality Assurance Manager Sarah Scarborough, P.E., S.E conveyed, “PES has paved the way for us with early migration. The leadership team has been instrumental using webcams in all meetings and giving the company a much broader exposure to Microsoft Teams. As engineers, we have a passion to explore new tools not only professionally but personally as well.” The overall experience has allowed PES to offer their virtual culture externally with their design partners. This has enabled a much stronger connection with clients and has developed a more personal experience.

Internally there has been an effort for more virtual outreach between co-workers, with support groups focused on well-being and making sure we are all doing well during the pandemic. There has been a simulation and extension of office life through internal Teams channels (i.e. The Water Cooler), screen sharing, and video calls. PES’s “Technical Thursday Tech Talks” have continued virtually along with many social events like Growler Friday, trivia night, murder mystery night. We have even scheduled weekly virtual coffee breaks and lunch gatherings.

“Tech plays a big role but is not the only thing!” acknowledged Matt Sweeney, P.E., Production Technology & Innovation Manager.  “As we started integrating Microsoft Teams, we found that it has greatly enhanced our interoffice communications, and everything is tied together.  As a small sampling, we utilize the Planner Boards and One Note extensively. We have had a steady acceptance and adoption throughout all levels of our organization. Very early on PES had been setting the foundation for virtual life and driving adoption!”

Matt asserted “we have experienced incredible team building and camaraderie while at the same time learning much more about our co-workers. During these times, working from home and having to navigate and balance family life, kids e-learning, and work has been a challenge, but this soon will pass. We have also been learning so much more about our co-workers and friends virtually with house tours and family activities – a very human aspect to life! This learning has also transpired to our clients.”

As we come out of this, the experiences we gain working remotely and virtually today will uncover many unforeseen benefits and make our resilient company even that much stronger!

Written by David C. Brownell, Northeast Director of Marketing and Business Development