How I Vibe: Jonathan Wong, P.Eng, PMP, Project Manager
Jonathan Wong, a planner/project manager for Smith Bros. & Wilson, Ltd., had a new type of project on his hands at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Normally, Wong would assist in planning any number of construction projects for the Construction Management company based out of Vancouver, British Columbia. But since he works at the head office and project teams work on remote sites, he had a new task: find a collaborative solution the entire team could easily adopt to continuously improve daily operations utilizing emerging technologies.
Adding to the challenge was that many of Wong’s co-workers still preferred using pen and paper for much of their work. And, as with any team, the range of technological know-how was incredibly varied. While younger members of the team could navigate new software with relative ease, the pen-and-paper type questioned how valuable a more tech-based solution would be.
Read on to see how Jonathan Wong and the rest of the construction team made the Vibe Board part of their new daily routine.
The search for a solution: Without the ability to work together or look at a co-worker’s computer screen in-person, adopting new practices was necessary. SBW wanted to incorporate digital whiteboards into their workflow prior to the onset of COVID-19, but the pandemic hastened their search, as did the company’s move to a new office.
“We were rolling out on Microsoft Teams and trying to get everybody up to date, and really, working remotely made the situation similar for everyone,” Wong said. “The gap between trying to convince people to use collaborative tools was really no longer there.”
The search began with SMART Board, a type of interactive board found in many classrooms. But while these are popular in the education sector, the team had a realization. According to Wong, “We said, ‘Well, classrooms had those 10 years ago,’ and we didn’t want to go back and look at 10-year old technology. We wanted to look at something that’s a little more in our time.”
Wong also looked into Samsung and the Microsoft Surface Hub, but the Surface Hub in particular was more expensive than what the team wanted. With further research, Wong discovered that the Vibe board not only had the best value and made the most economical sense (the company could purchase three Vibe boards for the price of one Surface Hub), but it was also the lowest risk option for the company’s needs. Another selling point: the ease of getting right to work.
“We didn’t have to assemble anything,” Wong said. “[And] the touchscreen capability is more seamless than someone clicking a mouse and keyboard. It’s good that you have those options; it’s just when you’re in the thick of things, moving around on the page or on the screen, [the touchscreen] is easier instead of scrolling or adjusting your window so you can zoom in or zoom out.”
Getting the team on board through onboarding: A well-defined onboarding process makes it easier to embrace new methods. Wong explained, “Part of my job is to convince people of the technology, what its use is, and what it can do above and beyond our standard practices.”
For example, the company does a lot of work using Bluebeam, a popular brand of construction pdf software. While they’ll continue to use the software for constructability and drawing reviews for their projects, the Vibe board offers more opportunity for freeflow brainstorming on their way to review or mark-up construction documents such as construction blueprints. As Wong noted, “Sometimes it’s nice to just scratch something on a piece of paper, and now it’s on a whiteboard. It’s fluid and more flexible.”
To make the transition to collaboration tools easier, employees attended a tutorial session to learn what Vibe could do and ask questions about the board’s functionality. Then, Wong tasked the company’s summer intern with creating a playbook. Or rather, two playbooks: one for beginners who only needed the Vibe board for simple tasks, and an advanced version for the team’s more tech-savvy users.
“The basic version is for people that just need to use a whiteboard, send it to an email, and then the session gets wiped out. The basic version went through all the drawing tools and what the Vibe board could and could not do, so it’s really simple,” Wong said. “And then, if they’re interested, we did an advanced version which showed creating an account, signing into Vibe, and saving your whiteboards to the Vibe cloud.”
How they’re using Vibe: One of the ways in which the SBW team uses the Vibe board is for navigating construction site logistics. The annotation feature combined with the infinite canvas lets them quickly map the potential layout for a new project, such as where to park the equipment, where to station the flagger, and the location of access points in and out of the site.
“It’s kind of like making basketball plays,” Wong said. “Where are the players, where are we moving; and everybody just puts their notes on the board. Sometimes that’s just the conversation piece that you need with some illustration…it’s a productivity tool, which is what I try to illustrate it as.”
Productivity often comes up with client meetings, and Wong found that being able to prepare on the Vibe board beforehand not only helps him but his clients, too. He can clip notes, take screenshots, and add drawings, then annotate directly on the board throughout the meeting. Afterward, he can send a full account of what they discussed from the board, which he says clients always appreciate.
“The whole point, from my understanding, is [the board] would be more of a conversation piece to make sure everyone’s on the same page,” Wong said. “Then you do that brainstorming, send the PDF off…and then maybe a note-taker will clean it up and say this is the plan now.”
He added, “We can do everything on the computer, but I think the digital whiteboard is almost acting like a presentation board, versus everyone just staying on their computer and saying “This is what we’re doing.” It just has a better—it’s more like an environmental feeling of, “This is me sharing it with you,’ instead of sitting at a computer.”
The team uses Microsoft Teams, Procore, and Bluebeam regularly in their communication and planning. The screen mirroring ability of the Vibe board makes sharing their work a seamless event, especially with the splitscreen feature.
“We use Procore BIM for 3D modeling, so we can cast the model on our tablet to the Vibe board,” Wong said. “As a group, you can see it all together and annotate before moving on. It just flows. There’s no, ‘Hold on, let me take a picture,’ or ‘Let me save the picture and annotate it.’ It’s very fluid.
“And the good thing is a lot of people can view it, or I can share it across multiple screens, so people in a larger office and still see what’s happening while I’m on the back end of the room, drawing on the Vibe Board.”
Building on ideas: While Wong and his team are still discovering everything Vibe can do, he said that so far, “The one thing that I find the best is that you don’t need to really lose any of your ideas, even though you may not know what to do with them right away. You just kinda put it on the smartboard and can be like, “Let me go take a look.’ Maybe there’s something here and you can expand on it, versus, ‘I don’t remember where I put that piece of paper.’”
His co-workers are now using the board in the same way—that is, if they can get to the office before him.
“The first thing I’ll do in the morning is start loading up drawings and notes… I use it like my whiteboard as a selfish thing right now,” Wong said with a laugh. “But people can grab it whenever they want.”
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