Jul 17, 2020
Pandemic forced Bestech to transform how it does business, and some changes could be permanent
3 MIN READ
Sudbury engineering firm learning to be nimble, flexible and adopt new communication technologies to keep the team on task
For Sudbury engineering firm Bestech, COVID-19 has changed both nothing and everything about the way it does business.
Specializing in the mining industry, the company still prepares designs and reports, completes studies, and performs basic engineering duties for its clients.
But how all that gets done has been completely transformed.
“When you end up in the virtual world versus face to face, all of a sudden you can no longer sit and look across the table at your client,” Bestech president Patrick Fantin explained during the inaugural Virtual Mining Conference on July 7.
“You have to look at a screen or a cell phone.”
The three-day conference’s theme of “Mining Through a Pandemic” features speakers who are exploring how the industry can respond to disruptions and emerging demands posed by the coronavirus.
Like so many companies, Bestech found itself grappling with how to continue doing business after Queen’s Park shut down the province under a declaration of emergency in mid-March.
The company quickly realized that any plan, going forward, would have to address both human and financial factors, Fantin noted.
“The two of them come hand in hand,” he said. “You don’t get one without the other.”
Taking cues from the provincial government and the local health unit, Bestech sent everyone home to work, sanitized the office, and began a three-month process to restructure its team.
The result, Fantin said, is a nimble, innovative organization that still prioritizes clients and employees in its decision-making, while adapting how it works to the situation.
“Who we are has not changed through the COVID-19 experience,” Fantin said.
Besides adopting new technology and bolstering their IT infrastructure, Fantin said communication and mentorship were integral to transitioning Bestech’s workforce to the virtual office.
Thrice-weekly, 15-minute staff meetings helped everyone stay in touch and on task.
Checking in on employees’ well-being, sharing ideas to address emerging problems, and maintaining the camaraderie amongst employees have all been critical in keeping everyone moving forward.
“We are social animals, and we like to laugh and have fun, and I’ve always believed in that,” Fantin said.
“You need to have a friendly banter, because you’re trying to mimic the way an office works as much as possible.”
As well as many employees have adapted to working from home, Fantin recognized that model isn’t practical for everybody.
Whether they have small children at home, or they simply prefer a separation between their work and personal lives, there are employees who function better in the office environment, he noted.
For that reason, some have been working in Bestech’s offices under strict protocols, including closed meeting rooms, stringent sanitization efforts, and the use of enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE).
Other aspects of the company’s work simply can’t be done through online channels.
For example, site visits, which are a requirement at certain stages of a development project, must be completed in person.
But travel restrictions, combined with physical distancing, put a wrench in those plans.
“You can’t fly anymore to where you need to be, so you either have to find people locally to where you’re doing your work, or you may be in for some long commutes,” Fantin said. “And we’ve done both.”
In one case, he noted, staff drove all the way to Manitoba to complete a site visit.
Now that the province is well into the second stage of reopening, Bestech is preparing for the return to the office.
But Fantin said the lessons learned over the last three months will carry the company into the future as the engineering profession continues to evolve.
Online conferences, virtual training, and new tools could all be a part of the way they do engineering work.
At Bestech, employees who have adapted to working remotely will be able to continue on flexible schedules to suit their needs, Fantin said.
“Hours become irrelevant as long as we focus on the outcome and making sure that our clients are looked after,” he said.
Working remotely may even become a recruitment tool.
As his team has demonstrated, with access to the proper technology, employees can really work from anywhere.
“We were always constrained with this idea that you had to hire people and bring them to Sudbury to work,” Fantin said, speaking from his camp on Manitoulin Island.
“As long as you have that connection to the rest of the world, you can do your job.”