The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced the signing of a new Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). The agreement recommits the two agencies to continued collaboration on new enhancements to EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool — a free, online energy, water, waste, and emissions measurement and tracking platform for commercial, institutional and multifamily buildings. To date, more than 26,000 Canadian buildings have used the tool to measure and track their energy use — equivalent to one-third of commercial space in Canada.

EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool is the industry standard for measuring and tracking energy performance within commercial buildings, in use by more than 275,000 buildings, which comprise one-quarter of all U.S. commercial building floorspace. The tool provides dozens of energy performance metrics and some buildings can also receive a 1 to 100 ENERGY STAR score, which rates energy performance relative to similar buildings.

The agreement is just one example of an increasing amount of collaboration in the industry, which will further enhance cooperation in commercial building energy efficiency. Engineers are no stranger to collaboration, especially with today’s advanced software and design programs. 

“There’s been a shift to a design-build mentality, where teams are working with a lot of multidisciplinary stakeholders at the same time,” explains Austin Ehlert, technical solutions executive at Autodesk. “This type of integrated project delivery is really a lean methodology — where teams are banking on the ability to quickly iterate, be more responsive, have faster turnarounds — all of which require enhanced collaboration and, equally as important, an up-to-date, single source of truth for documents, plans and the like. The industry is moving from a more formal communication method to something a bit more fluid — where different teams are now able to collaborate on the fly, in real-time, to get their models adjusted. This is something that can only be accomplished through the right technology and implementation across teams.”
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However, these increased industry collaborations can have negative effects, if not careful. Collaboration itself is not bad per se, but the sheer amount of it has definitely increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Before the pandemic, about 85% of most people’s work was spent on the phone, on email or in meetings. Now, that number has gone up about five to eight hours per week, causing employees to jump online earlier in the morning and stay later into the night than ever before, according to a Bloomberg interview with Rob Cross, an associate professor of global leadership at Babson College, a private business school in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and author of “Beyond Collaboration Overload: How to Work Smarter, Get Ahead, and Restore Your Well-Being.”

Those extra hours of work each week and quickly lead to employee overload and burnout. “Burnout” is real, and is actually classified as an occupational phenomenon by the World Health Organization. Employers across the country are sitting up and taking notice.

LinkedIn shut down for a week in April; Mozilla shut down for a company-wide “Wellness Week” leading into the Fourth of July weekend; Fidelity is offering U.S. full- and part-time employees five additional paid “relief days” for unexpected events, as well as elder and child care coordinators to help find and vet caregivers or tutors; and Marriott added three paid “TakeCare Days” off on the Fridays before Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day for non-hotel staffers. Even my local diner shut down for a week in July to offer its employees time off — and this is a time when restaurants are hurting from extended shutdowns during the pandemic.

So what can engineering firms do to avoid employee burnout other than offering more PTO days? Well, don’t be afraid to get creative. Offering flexible work hours would be incredibly valuable to workers with small children at home. Or perhaps a health and wellness plan that allows employees to take advantage of stress-relieving activities such as exercise and yoga. Sometimes even a little encouragement from managers to use vacation days can be beneficial. Every company is still navigating this post-pandemic world, trying to find what works best for the business and its employees. Collaboration is not going away any time soon, so now is the time to figure out the best ways for your firm to avoid employee burnout.