19 JUN 2020


Covid-19 has pushed the construction sector to find alternative ways to communicate, including with consultations. But, Jamie Gordon asks, is there a better way we could be communicating digitally?  

If Covid-19 has taught us one thing, it’s that we can exist, work and even socialise without the need for face-to-face contact. Of course, there are exceptions and as a bald man I haven’t missed going to the hairdressers, but on the whole a significant number of businesses have continued to operate, albeit with a reduced workload.

And the solution has been to operate digitally. Teams, Zoom and Skype have become commonplace and webinars have sprung up everywhere. Indeed, I am due to talk on one for Infrastructure Intelligence on the very topic you are reading about now.

But while we’ve managed to get by using these digital platforms, in their most basic form they do have some serious limitations.  The well regarded 7-38-55 rule states that 7% of meaning is communicated through spoken word, 38% through tone of voice, and 55% through body language. Throw in dodgy PC microphones and the fact you only see people’s faces on a video conference call and you risk missing a lot of what is being communicated.

So, while digital communications will never replace face-to-face contact, there are ways of doing digital communications better, and some major benefits as well. 

For instance, in the modern world of infrastructure consultation you have to illustrate engagement with hard to reach groups and individuals, which was challenging. But now the Silver Surfer is prevalent, websites can be coded with screen readers for the blind, translation is just a click of a button away and many libraries now have computers with free internet access.

Any project website can act as a repository for all public facing documents with a plethora of information available. So, instead of lengthy responses to a technical query, you just need to signpost the individual to the correct area of the website with a link in an email.

And because Covid-19 meant no more public consultation events, digital solutions filled the gap. Here at BECG we developed a platform that allows a person to move around a virtual room online looking at exhibition boards, much the same as they would in reality. They can watch videos, give feedback, even ask an expert a question. It’s worked so well that the National Infrastructure Planning Association endorsed it as a solution for continued working during Covid-19. 

You can even adapt the tool to work for collaborative workshops, a process that is commonplace in the infrastructure world from project inception days to risk workshops. At BECG, we are currently developing a version of our virtual tool that allows people to speak live, thematic subgroups to form and the use of traditional tools like Post-It note boards and flip charts.

So, while there is no doubt the pandemic has restricted us all, it’s also highlighted and fast-tracked a different way of working, which could mean more engagement not less, more collaboration due to a lack of geographic boundaries and even more knowledge sharing. Now that does sound contagious.  

Jamie Gordon is director of infrastructure and energy at specialist communications agency for the built environment, BECG.

The Infrastructure Intelligence “Communications in a new digital landscape” webinar takes place on Friday 26 June 2020 at 11am and is being organised in association with BECG. Click here to book your place.


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