Ask an expert on Coronavirus: Managing the business of engineering with Mike Walters

Mike Walters provided expert advice to engineers and others involved in the business of engineering

By Mike Walters, PE March 31, 2020

How is COVID-19 affecting professional aspects of engineering? Consulting-Specifying Engineer checked in virtually to ask engineers and building experts about how Coronavirus is affecting the business of engineering. Hear from Mike Walters, PE, Principal, MEP Associates, a Salas O’Brien Company, Verona, Wis.

Question: What business practices has your engineering firm changed?

Walters: As of mid-March, we had not limited our professional practice, but had been responsive to client preference. Most of our projects that exist on college or university campuses, or in large cities, had transitioned to virtual meetings. As of Friday, March 13, 2020, we had made the decision to eliminate all travel and conduct meetings via web conference, and had even eliminated in-person one-on-one meetings in the office. At about the same time, we decided that staff would work from home in many of our office locations. In all areas, we are closely following all current directives/advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Question: How is your firm handling travel to visit clients or projects?

Walters: We have pulled back from all nonessential air travel. In rare instances, we are still conducting some site visits to support active construction projects or commissioning-phase activities, but this is done after a screening of each individual to understand if they have any symptoms or have any specific risk factors. We anticipate for the next six to eight weeks — minimally — that virtually no air travel will be conducted.

Question: What new ways is your team virtually traveling to trade shows, conferences or events? Where are you finding success?

Walters: We have attended some conferences earlier on in the COVID-19 cycle, but have most recently found that conferences and events in the immediate to midterm are being canceled or suspended to the fall.

Question: What supply chain issues are you experiencing? Is your firm dealing with any challenges with materials or products from manufacturers or suppliers?

Walters: We have not encountered any supply chain issues thus far.

Question: What advice do you have for other firms? What best practices would you suggest for working in an unsure environment?

Walters: First off, good safety practices should always be part of any professional practice in this industry. Whether you are on the city subway during the COVID-19 event, negotiating an active construction site or simply returning to your desk from a restroom break — wash your hands! More broadly, we are reaching out to our project partners in the professional service world, and our clients, and offering to help them engage their staff and continue to add value to their services. We are extending a range of web-based learning opportunities to our internal and external staff as a way to build community during this stressful time and continue to make use of the change in daily pace to reflect on how to improve our capabilities.

Author Bio: Mike Walters, PE, Principal, MEP Associates, a Salas O’Brien Company, Verona, Wis.