Work Unleashed: The CA Department of General Services Division of the State Architect gets schools built no matter what

Box

Welcome to our Work Unleashed series: a collection of posts from Box executives and conversations with Box customers on navigating the "new normal" of work today. Here, you'll find insights and resources that enable your teams to do their best work, anywhere, anytime.

The California Department of General Services is essentially a business manager for the State of California, with a diverse set of services and teams. One of those teams, the Division of the State Architect (DSA), provides design and construction oversight for the state's educational system. Ultimately, the DSA pushes plans through to get schools built, from K-12 to community college.

Up until early 2020, the status quo workday at the DSA was an in-person endeavor. Clients would come by one of four offices statewide to drop off plans or talk with an architect, structural engineer, or accessibility engineer. So when the DSA abruptly took most of its work online during the COVID-19 pandemic, they relied on cloud-based tools to keep projects moving forward. In a recent exchange, Beth Sanchez, Associate Governmental Program Analyst/Certification Outreach & Metrics of the DSA, talked to us about how that went.

Collaboration with or without office rapport

Getting schools built requires the input and approval of a lot of different stakeholders. Collaboration lies at the heart of the work the DSA does, so in a time when people can't get together in person, there has to be a plan B to move construction projects forward.

Fortunately, prior to COVID-19, the DSA had already converted from a paper plan-review process to an electronic one known as an EPR, which makes plan review more efficient and saves everyone time. As Sanchez explained, "Previously, clients had to come to a regional office for reviewing plans and "back check" [final review] — some from as far as a five hours away." Now, with Box as a central content platform, staff and clients have a place to share and collaborate on documents virtually and can push approvals through electronically.

How to communicate across lines of business and favored apps

But actual paperwork is only one aspect of the workflow for the DSA. There's also all the everyday communication and collaboration that happens around any project. Even after the EPR was instituted, stakeholders were still regularly getting together to resolve issues and work out details. That sort of real-time communication is critical, as is the ability to communicate in an asynchronous way, like with email. So when the pandemic hit, the DSA leaned into a whole suite of cloud-based tools to provide flexible communication and project-management options: VMware Horizon Virtual Desktop, Office 365, Bluebeam, SharePoint, Skype, Zoom, and MADCAD.com, among others.

Some of these tools — like Skype and Zoom — are redundant. But an organization like the DSA that works with so many outside clients and partners must be able to meet people using the tools they're comfortable with. This is particularly important during an emergency, when change occurs rapidly and the need for good communication is essential. Putting in place multiple options for external collaboration, with Box as a content layer, while connecting internally with Microsoft Teams, makes for a more agile and adaptable organization. Sanchez says, "We can still do the same kind of things without all the traveling. It's saving us time, and it's saving our clients time. In the long run, that saves our school districts money."

The success metrics of mass telework

During the transition to full-time telework, Sanchez's team also created a remote intranet to give all staff access to news updates, instructions, and technology training. The DSA also kept up regular team meetings virtually and made an extra effort to recognize achievements. "As a result of all of these combined communication actions," says Sanchez, "many staff feel communications have actually improved since the mass telework began. In fact, within one DGS office, 43% of the staff reported communication is better than before the full-time telework began, and 54% said it was about the same."

For technology leaders bracing themselves for the next wave of the pandemic, or any other unknowns, Sanchez gives this advice: "Plan ahead now to reduce work stoppage. Review your business model and keep an open mind about innovative solutions that could allow your business to become more electronic, automated, and efficient." The earlier you begin to put the pieces in place, the more your business can grow with technology advancement, and the more likely you'll be to smoothly weather the next perfect storm.

To learn more about how Box enables your dispersed teams, check out our remote work resource hub.