Tips for Design Managers Working Remotely

Tips for Design Managers Working Remotely

 27 Apr 2020

    Design Manager

Tips for Construction Design Managers Working Remotely

Since the UK lock down on March 23rd 2020, by now we have all had many weeks experience working remotely from home, for this blog we contacted a number of Civil Engineering & Building Main Contractors (Regional and National Contractors) to ask their Design Management department heads and Senior Design Managers what their top tips are for working remotely based on their experiences in recent weeks.


We have compiled details of their tips below, separating them into categories and hope they will be of use to you now and also in the future, as we suspect an increase in remote working could be something that is embraced more by companies moving forward.



Its communication, communication, communication that will keep the cogs turning.


  • Email is the primary tool for most people. Try to keep all communication concise, to the subject and only cc those who need to know. Long email recipient lists will simply result in a massive ping-pong of emails and take time away from the job at hand. 


  • Another approach to minimise email traffic is chat software such as WhatsApp (other providers are available). This gives home workers the option to ‘small talk’ issues with colleagues and other team members. It was also suggested that if chat software is done via a small mobile keyboard, there is a tendency to have more focus, limits the amount of narrative and the response is always almost immediate. Problem solving or bouncing around ideas in this way can be very effective.


  • Use the instant messaging function that TEAMS (other systems are available) has. Set up groups for teams just to fire quick messages around. Not everything has to be a Video call.


  • Also encourage TEAMS/email/whatsapp chat to keep up morale among staff.


  • Use of Teams / Skype is highly beneficial, and most line managers felt should be used more once life returns to normal.


  • Schedule some weekly catch up meetings with the site team, raise any issues or just have a chat. Stay connected.


  • Online Meetings are great, but the extra effort of reinforcing the message via email and as much voice calls as possible to give clear direction to all.



Using Systems, Software & Technology

  • The vast majority spoken to agreed Microsoft Teams seemed to be favoured as being most effective as a collaborative virtual meeting system.


  • Using these systems was felt positive to progress Design Team Meetings effectively, sharing views and screens etc.


  • Ensure there is a teams button in Outlook calendar for setting up appointments.


  • Using the projects 3D Model can be useful to share areas of concern.


  • Install the VFP desktop app if you just want to view drawings but not edit them.


  • Using PDF mark-up software such as Bluebeam


  • If you have hand marked drawings, use Lens on your phone to take a photo as this will “Square-up” the image and create a PDF of multiple images and save to your folder.


  • Having an Information Management System to share information to multiple parties now becomes essential.


  • Server access to your company’s information or project files ideally. If you have remote access, good. If not, consider cloud hosting as a temporary solution. There are many out there, and as with meeting software, they all basically do the same thing. 


  • Only connect to company network systems when needed to ensure faster connection for those using it. 


  • The biggest challenges for most being that the sites are still open, but Design Managers can’t get there.  So, Design Managers are relying on better coms; calls, photos, video calls, to try to understand the issues site teams are facing.  Normally you would be looking up to the ceiling and pointing together with the site team. Things are taking longer now to resolve because of this, and this can feel frustrating to all. To tackle this some companies are encouraging more use of relaying live video, which can even be attached to site workers PPE. This could also cut down the need for some site visits in future if the technology proves effective.  


  • On a more positive and comical note though it was commented that some design managers have been more productive working remotely as they are not seeing the day to day distractions of “I can’t find the drawing”.



Online Meetings

  • This is probably the best form of communication during this period. However, they can become a monster if not controlled. There are many platforms out there and whilst they all basically do the same thing it’s worth doing some research before subscribing to one. If your company already has one, that’s great!


  • Whilst they are very helpful most agreed that they can be over used and just because you can be in all of the meetings now via Zoom/TEAMS only attend if relevant.


  • It is easy to end up spending the whole working day hopping between calls, but this allows no time for actual work, it was suggested to aim for maximum of 4 hours a day of online meetings.


  • Make sure people are prepared for meetings with any relevant material ready to share. Some material can be shared prior to the meeting to be reviewed. Both good practice normally but more important than ever now.


  • Have handy copies of any drawings you need to see in the meeting.


  • A white board function can also be used in the TEAMS application.


  • You need ground rules so that people don’t talk over each other with a Clear Agenda, we will delve deeper into online meetings and meeting etiquette in another blog.


  • Whether you are the host or an invitee, try to plan the meeting beforehand. As a host, collate an agenda and or a set of minutes from the previous meeting, ensure all recipients have received the same, and if time permits, specifically task responses required during the meeting.


  • Try to restrict the number of invitees. This will reduce meeting times and make for more effective meetings.


  • Most platforms offer screen sharing and meeting recording. These can be valuable tools for producing post meeting notes or minutes. Often as a host, you do not have time to record everything adequately and run the meeting also.


Time Management

  • Try to structure your day as if you were at the office and set yourself targets and goals.


  • If you are part of a larger team, your superiors or line managers should be able to help in tasking your workload.


  • You will find you are invited to a lot more meetings as people will just assume you are free as you are in front of your laptop. If you do not need to attend, then don’t.


Creating a Work Environment

  • Working from home requires a huge amount of self-discipline. It is easy to get distracted if there are other people in the house. As such, try to find a space that you can call your own if you do not have a home office. If you do have an office space even better.


  • Get a screen or two and docking station from your company / I.T team if you can.


  • Ensure screens are set at right height and the use of appropriate office chair.


  • If possible, get a USB headset.


  • It may also be advisable to get a separate USB camera with microphone, as USB headsets can become uncomfortable when using a lot.


  • You can “blur” the camera background in “TEAMS” if you do not have a quiet home office.


  • Ensure audio tests are done in preparation to joining online meetings.


  • Maintain office hours (were practical), take normal and regular breaks (coffee/tea etc.) and always stop for lunch. This is beneficial as it gives you a little down time. Mental health will be an issue for a lot of people. So, ensure that a regular dialogue is maintained between all team members, so all can support each other. We will also discuss further in another blog the topic of mental health and wellbeing during remote working.




  • Lots of free tutorials for software training (i.e. Autodesk products) made available online aimed at schools/colleges. Encourage staff to take advantage of these.


  • Now could also be a great opportunity for companies to utilise down time to revisit company training procedures and resources and if possible begin building up a database of resources that staff can access via a shared company portal, this would be of use time and time again for both Trainees and experienced staff, creating an opportunity to self-learn remotely.


  • A big negative has been the pause of work experience, trainees and general staff training.  Its going to take time to establish these once again when companies are back up and running and that’s a big negative especially the training of the next generation of staff entering the industry when the sector already has skill shortages and limited time to fill the skills gap.


  • A big take away from this should be a call for companies to spend time investing in creating more virtual learning for trainees and encourage more video around sites to provide better first hand visual insights to onsite conditions.


To conclude there are lots of ways Design Managers and the construction industry as a whole has adapted to remote working and although there are still challenges of working remotely, thanks to the use of technology a way forward has been found that will hopefully not only benefit the industry during lockdown but also be of value when work and society returns to normal, including reduced travel to meetings (financial, time and environmental savings) as well as providing more ways to communicate and lead your team not only to achieve work objectives but also to promote team building / company culture and more mental health support.


On a final note I will leave you with a quote that was referred to when speaking to an experienced Design Manager on the topic of remote working and the self-discipline it requires:


Do the right thing....... even when nobody is looking”. 


Whilst we was unsure on who originally came up with this great quote, but all the same it is very relevant that people take this on board if remote working is to be successful and continue to be embraced by employers in the future.

*I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all those that helped contribute to this blog, many thanks!*


We hope this blog was of use and would be delighted to hear your thoughts and any further tips you can add with regards to remote working that may benefit others.

So please feel free to leave your comments and like / share our post.


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