Collaboration

Power tools and Slack: How BMarko Structures builds portable patient rooms

The modular construction company works in Slack to convert shipping containers into intensive-care units for overburdened hospitals

Author: Lauren JohnsonMay 20th, 2020Illustration by Robert Samuel Hanson

This story is part of an ongoing series exploring how organizations are supporting remote work during the Covid-19 crisis. We hope these stories provide actionable tips and inspiration that organizations can use to make this transition a little bit smoother.

How do you build two hospitals from scratch in four weeks using one-trip shipping containers? If you ask the team at BMarko Structures, an Atlanta-based modular construction company, they’ll tell you all about Liberty Boxes: portable intensive-care units and patient rooms quickly being built for overburdened hospitals.

“When we saw how coronavirus cases were overwhelming hospitals, we knew we had an opportunity to help,” says Tyler Wise, the marketing manager at BMarko Structures. “So we created Liberty Boxes, named after the Liberty Ships rapidly assembled during World War II.”

BMarko Structures relies on Slack, the channel-based messaging platform, to help teams build and distribute dozens of Liberty Boxes to Georgia hospitals and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. Here’s a peek inside the company’s plant workrooms and Slack workspace.

“When you work in modular construction, everything has to move fast. You can’t wait for people to maybe get to that hundredth email when you have deadlines. I don’t know how our company would run without Slack.”

Tyler WiseMarketing manager, BMarko Structures

Assembling building projects in Slack

BMarko Structures specializes in modular construction and modification of shipping containers. The company converts these sturdy steel cargo units into sleek and modern kitchens, rooftop bars, concession stands, data centers and even apartments.

Before the pandemic, teams at BMarko Structures were already communicating in Slack channels, digital spaces for people to share messages and files. A daily stream of sales inquiries, engineering and logistical discussions, as well as conversations with general contractors, are all shared in channels. During a typical workday:

  • Building project inquiries and requests get funneled into #leads
  • Timelines between sales and engineering teams are negotiated in #ops-sales-engineering, setting clear expectations with clients before work begins
  • The scope and costs of projects are discussed in #quote-pipeline, a home base for drafting, finalizing and sharing proposals and signed contracts

“When you work in modular construction, everything has to move fast,” Wise says. “You can’t wait for people to maybe get to that hundredth email when you have deadlines. I don’t know how our company would run without Slack.”

Using Slack channels to build Liberty Boxes for hospitals

Each medical pod cluster is made up of three separate 40 foot shipping containers, with two patient rooms per container. Like a standard hospital room, it includes a private bathroom, a guest seating area, a wall-mounted cable TV, and a designated clinical workstation. Liberty Boxes are produced at a rate of four patient rooms a day.

While BMarko Structures manufacturing facilities buzz with the sounds of power tools and welding torches, the #floor channel hums with communication as construction workers put pods together. Team members can easily share photos for quick clarification, ask questions, and get instructions in real time.

“Typical messages in #floor might say something like, ‘Hey, there’s this door hinge that needs to be fixed,’ ” Wise says. “Or ‘How long should we leave this beam—how much should we cut?’ ”

The #purchasing channel is another tool crew members keep in their back pockets. This channel comes in handy when supplies are running low.

“Everyone is distributed in different places. The floor teams are separated from the office staff,” says Wise. “But in Slack, everyone coordinates with each other.”

Engineering shipping and delivery logistics with Slack integrations

Once all the components of a Liberty Box are built and wrapped, the shrink wrapped containers are spray-painted with the BMarko Structures logo and text that reads “This box saves lives.” The containers are shipped from the plant separately and assembled at the delivery site.

Deliveries are then scheduled in #logistics-dream-team. In this channel, workers arrange for transportation to haul the containers to their destinations. They also coordinate preparations for wrapping and lining the containers to avoid damage on the road.

BMarko Structures relies heavily on Slack integrations, which seamlessly connect third-party apps to the Slack workspace, for orchestrating each phase of the building and shipping process. The construction company uses:

  • Google Calendar, for scheduling appointments and letting teammates know when they’re in a meeting
  • CallRail, to help the sales team follow up on potential leads
  • HubSpot, for managing relationships with clients

Onboarding teammates swiftly in Slack

In order to complete the Liberty Boxes project for the pandemic, BMarko Structures hired and onboarded 80 workers, growing its roster from 20 to 100 team members in just three days.

According to Wise, the company was able to onboard new teammates quickly because its processes were well documented in #onboarding channels. New employees also joined #bmarko-university to supplement orientation training and watch educational videos on modular construction while adapting to working in Slack.

“A lot of the people we work with are skilled-trades professionals, and some of them say they really don’t like technology,” Wise says. “But once we introduced them to Slack and taught them how to use it, they immediately saw the benefits.”

Communicating in Slack channels is crucial to the building process at BMarko Structures, and Wise foresees Slack becoming more common across the construction industry.

“We brought on about 50 different people who had never used Slack before, and now they’re all using it every day,” he says. “I think a lot of people will continue to use Slack for future projects. I think it’s been a big joy for people to use it to share their work.”

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