How can environmental consultancies cope with the challenges that coronavirus presents?

The Government have asked us to reduce our travel and to work from home where possible. Environmental consultants tend to be able to work remotely, many now using laptops or iPads. However, a significant part of our role can involve visiting sites for planning or environmental compliance purposes.

How is it possible to carry on working as normal from home? I have worked for a number of different environmental consultancies and from experience, I have listed below some key problems we come across from working at home and some tips on how to overcome these.

 

The use of two screens- Usually we are lucky enough to have two screens. I use one screen for my maps and data, and the other for writing my reports. Working at home, means I only work on a small laptop screen. This can be difficult to see all my tabs open for different websites when searching for maps, environmental data, google earth and then writing my report. Trying to juggle all of these different tabs and writing my report can make the whole process slower. Using VPN for GIS platform- A lot of consultancies use a GIS platform which has the majority of their data on it, however VPN connection can be slow and it is not possible to have GIS on my laptop as it takes a long time to set up and load all the data layers. Again, this is not helpful when you have a deadline or only a number of set hours to write the reports in your timesheet.

Ordering historical maps- A consultancy I once worked for used to order paper copies of historical maps and have them posted to the office. Several issues with this; one, that there may not be anyone in the office to print them at this time Usually this isn’t too much of an issue, however given that staff numbers may be down at the Post Office, delivery times could potentially be longer.

Council office visits- In order to do a contaminated land desk study, we might take up the opportunity to go to the council offices to review property information records. Most offices are now closed, and this is something we can’t do. For authorities that have contingency plans in place it may still be possible to access information online or through Council Officers who are working remotely.

Restricted site visits- Part of our role is going onto sites to carry out a walkover. Some will be operational with staff, whilst others could be small fields. At this time, we have been advised not to travel, so how can we do this part of our role, which makes up most of our report findings.

Cancelling client meetings/conference calls- Microsoft Teams is a great tool to use for conference calls, but if this is not available, then using Zoom is a great alternative. It allows you to have face to face video calls. Yes…this will mean you have to change out of your pyjamas!

Envirocheck Analysis is a useful tool which can help overcome some of these typical issues we have with working from home. It enables you to have all environmental, property, geological and historical information all in one place and on an interactive viewer. It works online, so no need to wait for a GIS platform to load. You can easily overlay maps onto one another to see how sites have changed over time. With all the data in one place, it also means that I don’t waste time scrolling through different websites for data which can slow my computer down. Whilst it’s nicer to have two screens (and some of us have taken a spare monitor from work or using an additional one at home) with Envirocheck Analysis, it’s much easier to split your screen and write the report on one side.

Site visits are more difficult to overcome due to travel restrictions, however we can ask for site owners/vendors or other stakeholders such as surveyors to take or provide up to date photos or videos of the site. This is of course if it is safe for the client to do this; we can also have video or teleconference interviews to talk about environmental management of a particular site.

In addition, we can also use google street level imagery to identify potential features or areas of concern as this is regularly updated for areas of the UK. There may also be photos from previous reports we could look at.

Furthermore, take this opportunity whilst work is quieter for development. Why not evaluate what skills you need to develop yourself in your specific area or areas the company could develop into. It could be a tool you aren’t currently used to using such as CAD, GIS, Microsoft Excel or LinkedIn.

Something annoying you in that Phase 1 template you use every day? This is a great time to update or develop new templates for your services. Most of these updates and development time is usually out of the question during usual day to day activities, but this is the time to do it. Make it more efficient. Consider what areas take a long time to write or how the reports could help local authorities understand them better.

Another task we never have time for is creating a record of all the projects we have done since operating. Sound like a hard task? It doesn’t have to be as Landmark can provide locations of previously order reports which can be upload into QGIS (or similar).

I hope this has given you some ideas on how to cope during this challenging time. The Envirocheck Team are here to help with any questions you have regarding using Envirocheck products and are providing additional training. Please see the Environment and Mapping Landmark Academy on LinkedIn.