In the Face of COVID-19: Keep Calm and Survey On

This entry is part 77 of 80 in the series Pangaea

Coping with COVID-19 requires flexibility and planning.

Don’t worry, this is not yet another article on how to wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick, and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow. I’m assuming you’re aware of the basics. Instead I focus on ideas for coping with COVID-19 should your geospatial business become impacted.

As they’ve been saying, don’t panic, but do prepare. For a look at the virus distribution and data, check out this Johns Hopkins map. It’s important to keep an eye on local developments so you can plan accordingly.

A key concept in the prevention of disease transmission is “social distancing”—keeping apart from other individuals, at least three to six feet. Let’s look at how that could play out in a typical land surveying firm.

Field Crews

With the advent of GNSS and robotic total stations, one-person crews are pretty common, so that is a plus. For two or more crewed projects, one idea might be to have crew members commute to and from the job site individually rather than traveling together in the close confines of a work vehicle. While on the job site the team should maintain social distancing, perhaps using radios to communicate even more than normal.

At the start of the day, the field crew could download the project data, maps, etc. from the firm’s cloud storage solution rather than going to the office. At the end of the day, the crew can upload data files to the office to the cloud solution rather than physically dropping off the points at the office. Many if not most surveyor firms are already doing this to maximize workflow efficiency.

Office Staff

One of the strategies the CDC recommends is remote working/telecommuting. For team members in accounting, administration, and human resources, for example, working from home is a good way to achieve social distancing. Staff in the aforementioned areas may need special access to any proprietary software required, so start looking at this. With commercial off-the-shelf software, for example for accounting and administration, you may need to upgrade your software plan (add licenses) to accommodate remote working.

What about CAD technicians? It may not be a given that they have a home-based PC with the necessary hardware and software to work at home. Assuming the team member’s home PC meets the basic requirements, it may be as simple as subscribing to an additional CAD software license on a monthly basis. Another option would be lending the requisite equipment to the CAD techs to take home. The drawback is obvious: if a team member than becomes ill, retrieving equipment becomes problematic.

The folks at ZDNet have put together a pretty good feature: “Coronavirus: Effective strategies and tools for remote work during a pandemic” that goes into much greater detail.

Staggered Shifts

This could be another solution when remote working doesn’t cover all the bases. If the field crew needs to physically be present at the office, for example in the morning to pick up project information and/or discuss same, then the CAD tech(s) and support team members could be scheduled for after the field crew leaves for the day. Keeping in mind the social distancing concept, keep team members’ workstations as far apart as possible, three feet at a minimum—six or more would be better.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best time to make friends is before you need them.” Likewise, the best time to prepare for workplace disruption is before it happens. So I’m ending this article with resources so you can start these discussions at your organization. Stay safe, my friends.


  • For the basics on COVID-19, here’s the CDC’s web page. Also try your state and local health departments for info on your area.
  • Here’s the CDC’s recommendations for businesses and employers.
  • In support of remote working efforts, Google and Microsoft are making their enterprise conferencing tools free for a limited time.
  • Another free collaboration productivity suite is Zoho, which interestingly was created 100% with remote teams.
  • Slack, the instant messaging and file-sharing platform, is free for small teams and only $6.67 per month for teams up to 15.
  • Keeping your workspace cleaned and disinfected is covered by the CDC as well.
  • has a section on preparedness for your business.

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This article appeared in xyHt‘s e-newsletter, Pangaea. We email it once a month, and it covers a variety of unusual geospatial topics in a conversational tone. You’re welcome to subscribe to the e-newsletter here. (You’ll also receive the once-monthly Field Notes newsletter with your subscription.)

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