Business aspects of COVID-19 with RTM’s Tony Mirchandani
How does an engineering firm adjust to handle COVID-19? Hear from Tony Mirchandani of RTM Engineering
Consulting-Specifying Engineer checked in with Tony Mirchandani, CEO of RTM Engineering Consultants, for insights on how the firm is handling COVID-19 business challenges.
Do you anticipate your firm’s professional office spaces will change in the next six months? Be redesigned or changed in size?
Tony Mirchandani: Yes, while we don’t know exactly what this will look like yet, we are expecting a combination of things to happen. This includes redesigning our office spaces to allow for the recommended social distancing measures or establishing safety guidelines around in-person meetings, such as limiting the amount of team members meeting face-to-face in enclosed conference rooms or meeting spaces. We will also be promoting good hygiene practices throughout the office.
Additionally, we will be looking into adjusting our team’s in-office work schedules to limit the amount of staff within offices at one time. This will include our team members having a combination of on-site and off-site days, weeks or months based on the position and the need to be within the office. Before COVID-19, we had resources in place to allow for remote working, so we will continue to work effectively and efficiently with a combination of in-office teams and remote teams.
How are engineering or technical aspects of the job being completed remotely?
Mirchandani: From our recent experience, we have seen that everyone within the industry has really stepped up to be creative and flexible with how we are able to minimize face-to-face interactions while also continuing to manage the construction process of our projects. At times, we have conducted site visits with contractors virtually, using video calls to “walk through the building,” and we’ve been able to deliver updated drawings to sites with minimal interaction.
Since we are all experiencing this change together in real time, it’s been impressive to see how everyone is keeping an open mind to how things will need to be tweaked or adjusted from our normal daily activities, while also still getting the job done successfully.
Is your firm conducting any travel to visit clients or projects? If so, what types of projects are you working on?
Mirchandani: While we are trying to keep air travel to a minimum for our team, we are still traveling to projects when necessary, but are making sure that team members have the correct personal protective equipment before walking on-site. Most of the projects we’re traveling for involve health care facilities.
Another strategy we have been looking at is leveraging our different offices locations for on-site needs. If the site or facility is within a certain mile radius of another one of our offices, we can coordinate this with another team member locally to prevent the need to travel by air.
What financial implications do you think COVID-19 will have on the engineering industry in the next three months? Six months? Twelve months?
Mirchandani: We are expecting a tremendous amount of new work to be coming down the pipeline to accommodate new designs of existing buildings, but believe the volume of total work to support the industry will most likely drop. We will definitely see a drop in certain industries that were adversely impacted by COVID-19 or that are closely aligned to other markets which were negatively impacted.
For example, we don’t believe there will be the same amount of dollars spent for projects within the hospitality industry, but we have been seeing an uptick in K-12 and higher education projects. It’s still uncertain whether the expansion in some markets may compensate for markets that will dip.
In down markets, retrofit/renovation and maintenance/repair/operation tend to increase. How is your firm working with clients and building owners to keep this conversation going (and keep the money coming in)?
Mirchandani: Our business development and client-facing engineering team members are in continuous contact with owners and architects to see how we can retrofit existing projects and come up with creative and cost-effective interior changes to accommodate new design guidelines for COVID-19.
For example, commercial office spaces can ensure their building systems are running smoothly and efficiently by having HVAC systems commissioned and/or increasing the ventilation rates of their HVAC to help provide a safer environment; retail spaces can adjust their rooftop unit fan cycles, increase outside air ratios and/or increase standard unit filter efficiencies. Our teams are consistently researching new systems, strategies and filtration methods in order to provide our clients with the most accurate information needed to make their facilities and buildings safe for occupants.