Kear Porttris, Gwaii Engineering

Kear Porttris is the Relationship Manager at Gwaii Engineering, an Indigenous civil and environmental engineering firm based in Victoria. They support Indigenous communities through building and design, providing innovative solutions for each project, as well as creating capacity building opportunities by offering job shadowing or by dedicating specific roles for community members.

How is Gwaii Engineering coping through the pandemic?

We have been doing well considering the rapid changes between mid-March and now. As the situation with the pandemic worsened, we encouraged our employees to work from home almost immediately and, soon, we were all working remotely. We are a relatively small office and are used to being in close proximity to one another and we needed to implement more effective ways of communicating between our teams and projects than we were used to (i.e. face-to-face, white boards, notes, etc.). We switched to an internet-based messaging system and started using our project software more effectively to track even small tasks. This has led to greater communication between our teams and more effective approaches to work considering our teams are now spread out.

How has the crisis affected your business, and how do you anticipate it will continue to affect it?

Some of our projects were drastically impacted while other projects remained on track. We found that some large government projects have been impacted by limited availability of some government departments in response to the pandemic. Much of our work can be done from the office, so many of our staff switched gears and have been able to focus more of their time completing proposals and on computer-based tasks. Because many of our meetings changed to internet call-ins some of our team feel busier, having meetings literally all day with very few breaks between each call. I anticipate these types of meetings will continue to being an option, where some colleagues/clients may prefer webcam meetings to in-person meetings going forward (e.g. one the committees I sit on has decided to use web call-ins as our primary means of meeting).

What advice are you giving yourself and your team for riding this out?

Try to find balance. Many of us are feeling busier or experiencing longer days, as our home-life and work-life blend together. Make time to get some air, go for a walk or bike ride or catch some rays.

What is the opportunity in the challenge for you and your business? 

Even though some of our work has slowed down we have been able to focus more energy on proposal writing, creating more opportunity in the coming weeks and months.

What advice have you applied or are you applying from previous experiences coping through crises?

Find the tools that will help you connect with your team better working remotely.

What are your resources right now? Do you have a mentor supporting you, peer group, books you read?

Personally, it’s my family. I have both my parents living with me and they’ve been a great help in supporting me working from home. They help me with childcare and just regular housework and considering that we moved in mid-March, they’ve been able to take on much of my home duties and allow me to focus on work.

What advice do you have for others experiencing this alongside you?

Use this as a time to evaluate the way you do things. There may be something that you’ve been meaning to change or do; take this time to help you achieve what you’ve been putting off.