As concerns mount over the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19, design professionals should be giving consideration on how to provide contract administration services virtually.
While many firms are working remotely, most construction sites are active, and you should be prepared to conduct site observations and payment certification duties virtually. This virtual practice is already in existence with job-site cameras and drones. However, this “new” virtual site observation is going to push the industry in a new direction.
When you look at the responsibilities of a design professional during the contract administration phase, it generally requires the design professional to be on-site, certifying pay apps, etc. If you are unable to be on-site how can you fulfill the contractual duties?
Given these unusual circumstances, the best course of action is to openly communicate with other project participants (owner, contractor, subcontractors, etc.) about the situation, identify the challenges presented, establish your client’s expectations with the use of technology to be used and work toward a mutually acceptable resolution. As long as all parties agree and know their roles and responsibilities, there can be some efficiencies gained. However, there are risks that should be addressed.
Many firms are wondering if they can effectively perform virtual site observations by using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc. but unsure how to do so. If you are going to proceed with virtual site observations, you should have the contractor or owner show you the specific areas that need to be observed. If possible, this should be done in “real time” with live video and not by receiving videos or pictures from the site. By scheduling the observation in “real time,” it allows you the opportunity to look at particulars of the project, i.e., request a closer look, pan to a different angle, etc.
However, a virtual observation still has restrictions and might prevent you from observing aspects of the construction you would have seen had you been physically present. Your reports should contain a disclaimer stating your visits were conducted virtually and that you cannot verify conditions that you might otherwise had observed in person.
If you have not addressed the issue in your agreement for services, you must do so for all projects going forward. If COVID-19 prevents you from going on-site when you originally agreed by contract, you must amend your agreement to reflect the new reality. If you cannot amend your agreement, you must document to your client in writing why you are unable to be onsite and the potential issues that may arise.
Furthermore, consider a wavier or indemnity for any errors or omissions that might occur out of this change. Note that your scope has changed, and observations were limited to those areas you directed the contractor or owner to show you and be sure to exclude any other areas inadvertently included on the video.
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