By John Schneidawind, vice president, public affairs, ARTBA

Technology and the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to influence transportation construction work zones and other workplaces, a panel of industry leaders and outside experts told ARTBA’s combined Central and Western regional meetings and Dr. J. Don Brock TransOvation™ Workshop.

“The pandemic has affected so many industries so differently,” said Ross Smith, engineering manager of modern work at Microsoft. “Tech workers are busy, while the customers of construction companies are locked down working at home.”

Industries and companies will adapt, with the “likelihood of going to a hub-and-spoke design while corporate headquarters will downsize significantly due to changing transportation needs,” predicted Laura Cataldo, senior manager of construction and real estate at Baker Tilly.  “There will be smaller offices closer to home, and transportation systems will follow suit.”

Technology also will play a key role in how transportation agencies and construction firms adapt, noted Bryan Nicol, managing director of infrastructure and capital projects for Deloitte.  He predicted that state departments of transportation will need to focus on which skillsets new hires need to help agencies leverage the latest technology. DOTs might consider creating a “chief data officer” position, he added.

Idaho Transportation Department Director Brian Ness said he had three goals when his agency’s work was deemed “essential” at the outset of the pandemic: employee safety, continuing construction, and staying flexible.

Ness said he is gratified by the ability of virtual conferencing to save on travel costs. But he predicted the work-at-home trend – aided by new virtual technology for communicating at the workplace – will end once a COVID-19 vaccine is available. He cited several reasons:

  • Workers have too many distractions at home;
  • Difficulty of training employees remotely, especially on how to operate or maintain heavy equipment; and
  • Strategic planning, innovation, and creativity suffer in a virtual environment with employees disconnected and isolated. 

James Minor, president of the Milling Division of Swank Construction Co., moderated the Nov. 16 panel.