Propeller Asks: How Has COVID-19 Affected Your Operations?

A quick note on this initiative:

This is the first post in a new monthly blog series we’re calling Propeller Asks. Each month, we’ll ask our customers one timely question relevant to those working in construction and earthworks, and share some of their responses here. Our goal is to take the pulse of the industry, and hopefully learn a thing or two from one another.

Read on to find out what people are saying.

It’s an understatement to say we’re living through unprecedented times. COVID-19 has taken the world by surprise and disrupted nearly every industry, in one way or another. No one knows when or how we’ll get back to normal—or what “normal” will even look like. 

For those in the heavy civil and resource landscape, uncertainty is just as rampant. Many jobs are in a holding pattern, and worksites that are still active have been forced to find new ways to keep their workers safe. 

With so much confusion as to what the future holds, we decided to use the first post in our new series, Propeller Asks, to pose to our customers the one question that’s on everyone’s mind:

How has COVID-19 affected your operations?

We received dozens of responses from people who serve in a variety of roles: site managers, construction company owners, surveyors, drone service providers, and more. The responses we received run the gamut, but one thing is clear: it’s definitely not all doom and gloom. 

We’re lucky to work in an industry with some of the most resilient, innovative problem-solvers on the planet. While yes, many reported a decrease in work and difficulties adjusting, just as many were hopeful about the future.

Below is just a sampling of the answers we received, but we think together they show an accurate, cautiously optimistic snapshot of where the industry stands.  

Covid-19 has had a massive impact on the way we do things on site, from paperwork to physical work. The most difficult part is the social distancing, especially when heavy objects need a two-man lift. These can no longer be done, so we have had to adapt our techniques. 

Also, the use of facilities has had to change, due to only being able to accommodate so many people when keeping two meters apart. Break times now have to be staggered, and start times on site have to be staggered too. 

I think our sites will be able to manage going forward. It’s a case of how quickly the site operatives are able to adapt. Once you get past the first week, it does become easier.”

— Site manager

“The demands decreased a lot. We had to dismiss some teams and sell some equipment. In addition, contractors have been demanding a minimum quarantine of seven days at construction sites, further increasing project costs.”

— Survey manager

“Except for a shortage of some supplies, all has gone on as before.”

— Technical construction manager

“Per our state’s proclamation to shelter in place and at the good advice of medical professionals, we have moved to a work-from-home operation as much as possible. 

We have been able to support our clients from a work-at-home operation, especially through current technology. It still is not the same as being in a room full of people and feeling the energy and thoughts being shared. 

Financially, we have been blessed with being able to still generate income during these trying times for so many. We have not had to count on assistance from the government stimulus packages so far, but I know there are many that would not be able to survive without that assistance, such as restaurants, bars, hairdressers, gyms, and more.”

— President and owner of a construction company

“We are obviously implementing the necessary ‘stay safe’ procedures to all UAV operations, washing hands, maintaining distance between personnel.”

— Research engineer

“I run a one-person UAS team within our larger surveying department. For the most part, the coronavirus has not greatly affected UAS operations. I am almost always alone on sites, and now I take greater care to ensure I don’t get close to anyone else who may be on the project site.”

— UAS operations manager

“The spread of COVID-19 has created an opportunity for us to shift most of our operations to an online delivery format. It has also made flying RPAS missions around normally busy areas, such as our main campus, a LOT easier due to the lack of people.”

— Director of the RPAS Hub at British Columbia Institute of Technology

“Ground breaking for our biggest (to date) construction project has been pushed back several weeks. This is giving us the opportunity to conduct [drone surveys] of this and other sites that we would not have done in the past. We do this in order to conduct virtual reporting and real-time estimating and planning. 

Propeller is a part of this. We depend on their system and our client’s ability to access site data at will. We also use SCENE WebShare cloud services for reporting of different data. 3D, ground-based photogrammetry is also very useful to this end. 

COVID-19 is a very dark cloud, but one with a high-tech ‘silver lining’ for those who always wanted to use this technology but could not because of ‘box-thinkers’”

— Chief Surveyor

“Being in lockdown in New Zealand has put all site work on hold, unless deemed ‘critical.’ We have been focusing on using the data previously gathered to provide remote consultancy services.”

— Senior geotechnical engineer

“Working in construction and surveying has been a blessing during the pandemic, as we are one of the few industries that are somewhat continuing with business as usual. 

Providing drone services internally as well as to external clients has continued on pace. If anything, [the pace] has increased slightly, as a single pilot and drone are much less intrusive then having many different individuals from the project management team going to the sites just to track progress. 

The drone program is able to continue providing data on a consistent basis, but the simple logistical visuals are more important than ever.”

— Virtual design and construction (VDC) manager

“Coronavirus has impacted oil and ethanol industries greatly. Those drops in value trickle down to the grain industry via a lack of demand for product. Since people are not traveling, fuel is in less demand, therefore a valuable outlet for our supply is missing. 

As a service provider, it is hard to get farmers to commit to precision ag services at this time, even though it is a way to get the right input, in the right place at the right time and improves the bottom line. The idea that they can do it themselves to save a buck is more desirable. As a company, we are striving to demonstrate the value of our service through blogs and case studies.”

— CEO

“Preventive services are provided, but visits to [worksites] are not allowed. Demands for scope alignment via the web are happening through platforms like Hangout and Zoom. We still perform inspections, but only in critical cases, and with the necessary precautions needed for this moment.”

— Engineer for a drone services company

“It’s forced our entire team to work remotely when not in the field. 

We are an environmental engineering firm so we are used to working with hazardous materials, wearing PPE, decontaminating before exiting hot zones, etc. In some respects, the pandemic did not really force us out of our comfort zone, as we have existing health and safety training and protocols in place. 

Implementing social distancing has proven quite challenging for sampling activities. For example, two field staff workers typically ride together to a jobsite or on boats for sediment sampling.

It is also harder to track and oversee our junior staff when they are working remotely. We implemented new biweekly status update meetings – only 15 minutes long – just to keep our pulse on the team. This has proven quite helpful.”

— Senior business development manager

“We provide inspections and mapping services mainly to the mining industry. Many projects we were involved in were cancelled or postponed, so our projections have shifted. We are trying to lift our heads and look at a more distant horizon to build a path to that vision.”

— CEO

Join us today and step confidently into the future with Propeller! 

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Related resources:

Five Things You Can Do (Remotely) Right Now to Sharpen Your Drone Data Analytics Skills

A Deep Dive into Propeller Support: How We Support Drone Programs Remotely

Bracing for 2020: Past, Present, and Future of Drones in Construction

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