Geoffrey Compeau, Ph.D., Fellow Society of American Military Engineers (SAME), is Weston’s Senior VP and Federal West Regional Client Operations Director leading multiple projects and programs that contribute to a $400M annual enterprise. He has worked with Weston’s leadership team and employee-owners to adapt our business model to the “new normal” and to successfully navigate these challenging times. In November 2021 at the SAME Small Business Conference, Dr. Compeau presented on Weston’s adaptive management strategies for safe, effective staff engagement and project delivery.
Dr. Compeau has over 30 years of program and operations management experience in the federal and commercial sectors. His experience spans some of the largest, most impactful environmental, infrastructure, and asset management programs in the U.S., including disaster response and recovery in the aftermath of major hurricanes; complex remediation at large-scale Department of Defense (DoD) installations; and infrastructure services in secure environments.
How did Weston rapidly and successfully move into a new business model during the pandemic?
With the pandemic came a revolution in the form of remote working models with lasting impacts to company cultures. Weston, as a veteran response contractor to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the DoD, has the well-honed capability and ready protocols to sustain operations in rapidly changing environments. For the past three decades, Weston has been integrally involved in relief and recovery efforts for nearly every U.S. disaster, ranging from major releases of hazardous substances to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and wildfires. During these efforts, we maintain a steady focus, clear communication between staff and clients, and high-tempo operations across organizational levels—all transferable, essential skills to adjust office and worksite conditions accordingly to the pandemic’s impacts.
How has our service delivery changed since the onset of the pandemic?
Weston continues to grow all core business lines by adapting our approach in three key areas: modes of communication, information management, and office space utilization. Existing advances in internet and video technology helped us offset the rapid rise of, and near-dependence on, digital communication. We combined new and existing geospatial tools to create long-term digital workflows for task automation. Additionally, we accelerated a shift from hard drives and office-specific servers to cloud storage. Along with communication and information management, the pandemic prompted a major and ongoing change to the traditional workplace. Flexible schedules and reduced commuting and business travel drove our focus on operational efficiency. We de-emphasized the importance of personal office spaces and physical record management to place more emphasis on the use of space for planning, group meetings and activities, and training sessions.
Today, employee onboarding and integration present a challenge without face-to-face interaction as the default mode of communication. However, Weston meets this challenge by embracing a company culture that highly values digital connectedness. We balance where work is performed with how it is performed. We actively work with our employee-owners to accommodate their workplace needs at the office or at home, in the field, and during travel, and we reinforce a new work infrastructure with the three pillars mentioned above. By establishing a secure connection and offering a wide range of collaborative tools, we have been able to depart from traditional means of production, no longer tethered to a single location.
How has Weston been an industry leader of the digital workplace (r)evolution?
Even before the pandemic, we witnessed gradual changes across the environmental remediation and infrastructure sector in workplace optimization and in best practices for data collection and storage. The pandemic largely accelerated these operational changes. What began as simply substituting face-to-face interaction with video conferencing has now transformed into so much more, impacting all aspects of work.
Better, richer online applications have greatly enhanced our operational efficiency. We have generated, stored, and transmitted information in the cloud to accelerate operations. Moreover, we have concurrently deployed more efficient digital tools for field data collection, storage, analysis, visualization, and reporting to create a more effective use of our clients’ data assets. Digitization and cloud storage have improved accessibility for our clients and reduced a substantial amount of both generation and storage of paper project documents. Of course, data on the cloud has brought a rising risk of cyberthreats, requiring increased awareness and training to maintain secure resources. With these improvements, we are revolutionizing how work is planned and executed and reframing our physical offices as meeting points for project groups in addition to quiet spaces for individual contribution.
What is our ultimate goal for infrastructure modernization?
Our ultimate goal is to improve the quality of our project execution on behalf and to the benefit of our clients and projects and improve the work-life balance of our employees. These quality improvements include increasing the accessibility of our clients’ data assets, the effectiveness of their asset management, and the availability of near-real-time, visualized data while also lowering the overall costs of data collection. This revolution in client access to project information includes enhanced remote data acquisition with examples such as sensor-equipped drones, self-reporting “smart” infrastructure for DoD-owned assets related to large-scale fuel storage systems, and laboratory analytical routines performed through data validation and entered into the cloud for our stormwater monitoring programs.
How has Weston forged new relationships that are essential for small business partnering and client program growth?
Because the early stages of the pandemic curtailed establishing relationships with new contractors and clients, Weston strengthened our decades-long, trusting partnerships to overcome business disruption and sustain project momentum, one of the biggest challenges. Even still, Weston’s Small Business Program team increased our number of pre-qualified small businesses by over 30%. Reduced travel and face-to-face meetings did not deter our small business outreach as most events went virtual. We had an exceptional response and referral network to continue building our small business and teaming partnerships, whether through clients, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Small Business Deputies, or social media and website outreach.
Fast forward to today, and we are continuing to expand our digital network to forge new relationships via online meetings, technical publications, client-focused web content, and a stronger social media presence. Essentially, we are using every opportunity to introduce our services to prospective subcontractors, team members, and clients. As businesses continue to reintroduce face-to-face meetings in their operations, Weston has increased our digital networking efforts. In addition, our client account leaders and technical staff are actively presenting at virtual and in-person conferences and staying connected to industry groups vital to all practice areas.
How have client expectations evolved, and how have we addressed those expectations?
Because the majority of Weston’s projects are considered mission-critical, spanning emergency responses, complex remediation at bulk fuel storage facilities, and secure infrastructure improvements, our clients expect project efforts to continue without disruption. Operational vulnerabilities exposed by the pandemic further reinforced client expectations to sustain these missions. Weston has collaborated with our clients for COVID-19 testing, travel restrictions, site access, and reporting. For example, during urgent California wildfire responses, we worked with EPA to establish testing and work protocols to keep all responders as safe as possible. More than 115 personnel were deployed over an 80-day period with only three reported COVID-19 cases, a testament to our strict adherence to these protocols. Weston also overcame pandemic disruption to meet client expectations by developing data dashboards to enable remote work for our Incident Management Team. This innovative approach will continue to be implemented going forward.
Recognizing the need to transform operations, our clients have quickly adapted to virtual, flexible work conditions and locations in line with the industry trend. Equally adaptive, Weston has and will continue to exercise best practices for project planning and base coordination, minimal travel, and clear positioning of Weston and subcontracted personnel to not disrupt ongoing base activities. We have become accustomed to attending virtual client meetings and conferences, using video streaming and drone surveys to show worksites, and developing geospatial tools to align with an increasingly virtual work environment.
Which key focus areas will drive business continuity and growth for our industry in the years ahead?
The past two years have been an exercise for all businesses in “disruption-proofing.” Communication and information technology will remain the central framework for ensuring businesses move smoothly through environmental or other disruptions. Across engineering, environmental, and infrastructure industries, information technology is being deployed at an accelerated rate for areas including building information management (BIM), “digital twins” of physical infrastructure (e.g., computer models simulating real-life infrastructure assets), and data visualization. Data visualization has involved near-universal use of geospatial data collection and reporting and object-oriented programming.
The growing development and implementation of intelligent infrastructure (embedded with sensors and telemetry) and other self-reporting systems in environmental monitoring will keep enhancing data collection and automation of information. These tools enable us to collect more information at reduced costs and more frequent intervals as well as focus our efforts on data interpretation and system improvements. More dependable self-reporting systems will require less maintenance, less travel to collect data, and less requirements for access logistics at remote sites or for approval-sensitive facilities.
Communication, information, and workspace advances will continue to be put to the test over the next several years as national investments in infrastructure will require agility, focus, and innovation to meet the unprecedented demand in our industry.