In April, 48 members of the Kansas City Bluebeam User Group (BUG) attended its usual gathering. Chatter filled the room leading up to the meeting’s formal presentation, as members caught up with one another on matters both personal and professional.
Hoefer Wysocki’s Tina Haskins quieted the crowd as she began her presentation on sets, spaces and hyperlinks in Bluebeam Revu. As usual, members listened intently during the presentation, occasionally offering questions and comments.
At the end of the meeting, announcements were made and members quietly went on their way. They would likely see one another again at the next KCBUG meeting.
Except, this time, instead of embarking on an evening commute home after a long workday, these KCBUG members actually went back to work.
It was, after all, just past 1 p.m. local time. The members were already in their offices, which for the past month or so had also served as their homes. Many of them had a post-lunch round of homeschooling, pet and family care also on tap.
The BUG meeting was entirely virtual, during lunch, over video conferencing.
Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, BUG meetings have gone virtual.
The KCBUG meeting came after other virtual meetings in New York City and Austin in March and April. Additional meetings in Denver, San Diego and Portland later in April followed. Many upcoming BUG meetings around the world will also be virtual.
Virtual BUG meetings are the “new normal”—at least until the virus wanes to the point where it’s safe again for in-person gatherings.
Although virtual BUGs may be far from ideal for those who appreciate live interaction and building in-person relationships, many of the virtual BUG meetings that have taken place so far have been equally—if not more—productive and engaging.
BUG participation has more than doubled in the most recent virtual meetings, according to the Bluebeam Communities team, which oversees BUGs globally. What’s more, requests to join the government BUG (GOVBUG), which has always been virtual, have spiked 25% in recent weeks. The UK’s recent LondonBUG meeting featured its biggest turnout ever.
“Bluebeam users are being forced to transition to working from home before they’re ready because of COVID-19, and they are looking for help and guidance from their peers,” said Bluebeam’s Sr. Community Development Manager Kellie Ward. “Users are in some ways feeling even more uninhibited to ask questions and share, because now their local and immediate resources are more limited.”
So far, BUG members are embracing the shift—though many are eager to return to in-person meetings.
“What I was surprised by with the virtual meeting was how the conversation happened just like an in-person BUG,” wrote Jason Hascall, chief engineer – federal services at construction firm Black & Veatch, in an email after the meeting. “KC for one has NEVER had a problem with questions, comments, suggestions, etc. A 15-minute presentation can turn into a lively discussion that easily fills the hour. In Tina [Haskin]’s example, the presentation was heartier than 15 minutes, but we had no shortage of discussion or questions. I was really happy to see/hear that.”
While Haskins prefers in-person BUG meetings, she said she enjoyed presenting and connecting with the group virtually. The virtual events have even allowed her to drop in on other BUG meetings in other cities she normally wouldn’t be able to attend.
“I have watched other BUG groups online and learned even more about how others use the program,” she said, referring to Revu.
Like many industries, construction has become heavily reliant on digital collaboration. Teams of architects, engineers and administrators are constantly communicating with workers on jobsites as complex projects take shape.
But as the COVID-19 outbreak hit, many construction workers have noticed an even bigger push for collaboration, according to a recent report in Construction Dive. Competing general contractors are sharing more information with one another, particularly about strategies to improve worker safety during the pandemic, the report said.
This need to promote construction industry collaboration is largely what led Bluebeam’s BUG Champ leaders, with support from Bluebeam’s Communities team, to respond to the pandemic by shifting the meetings to virtual environments. “The transition to virtual BUG initially came out of a continued desire to share knowledge in an alternate setting from the typical physical meeting because of COVID,” Ward said, reflecting on the sentiment she received from talking to BUG Champ leaders during the transition.
By March 18, as states began issuing stay-at-home orders and companies started instructing their employees to work from home, Bluebeam’s BUG Champ leaders started working up alternate plans to ensure the BUG calendar could continue. They communicated with members about the plan to transition to virtual meetings, and within a few weeks the first batch of meetings were ready to go.
“These professionals need answers and solutions to questions that they’re used to receiving from colleagues in an office environment,” said Bluebeam Sr. Community Engagement Specialist Angela Aff. “Participating in BUGs are a great way for them to still get those answers.”
Perhaps the most memorable—and meaningful—moment thus far to come out of the virtual BUG meetings came from the group in New York City.
With the city’s status as the United States’ epicenter of the pandemic, the New York City BUG group was looking for something to lift its spirits when it met virtually in March.
The group found such uplift over a game of “Bluebeam Trivia.” As the game went along, the chat room suddenly burst with instances of digital laughter and enthusiasm—emotions not uncommon among this BUG community during in-person meetings.
Still, the moment seemed to serve as a much-needed reprieve from the city’s ongoing hardship.
“We needed this!” wrote David Eppinger of Meadows Office Interiors.
“You guys, this is the best day of my life!” added Lisa Neal of Skanska.