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The COVID-19 pandemic required businesses around the world to quickly shift from a physical to remote work environment. In a collaborative design environment, this presented a number of unknowns and challenges. Would teams be able to collaborate as effectively online? Would design schedules be impacted if team members could no longer hold ad-hoc meetings? For our Project Managers, this required adapting quickly and adopting new strategies to maintain the close collaboration and ongoing knowledge-sharing that make our projects successful.


Consistent communication is critical to successfully managing a project remotely. With spontaneous in-person interactions off the table, Project Managers have had to be more intentional about checking in and keeping the entire team up to date on the most current progress of the project. As a multi-disciplinary firm, this is especially important to coordinate the architectural and engineering components of the project throughout. On some of our most complex projects, including a multi-million-dollar new facility for a post-secondary client, our internal team held short meetings daily to ensure team members were designing and moving in a coordinated direction. This strategy helped streamline our design by offering more opportunities for communication and input, fostering a strong team environment despite having no in-person interactions. 


“We’ve worked hard to resist the urge to email or instant message, instead focusing on video calls,” says Melissa Fishman, a Team Lead in our Mechanical and Electrical Engineering team. “By talking things through face to face and sharing screens, we’ve been able to keep collaboration going within our design teams and with clients. This has helped us keep our projects moving without waiting on emails to proceed.”


While this shift in collaboration methodology was challenging, one unexpected benefit was that team members became more readily available as site visits and physical meetings were reduced or eliminated entirely. Even though team members were no longer able to stop by one another’s desks for spontaneous discussions, these interactions were replaced by quick, responsive communication over phone, email, or instant messaging platforms.


“We’re finding new ways to work together,” says Architect and Project Manager, Elena Wiersma. “It’s been an interesting shift because everyone needs to be more intentional about their input. You can no longer just sketch on a drawing around a table with the entire team – you need to coordinate sessions to review progress, request control of an electronic drawing, and provide your input clearly and verbally. While transitioning to this way of working had its challenges, we’ve seen just how possible it is to do long-term and on complex projects.”


While ongoing communication is helpful to maintaining coordination in a remote project team, it has also allowed us to continuing building the strong rapport between team members that leads to a cohesive and healthy team.


 “Making time to connect about more than just work is really important,” says Civil Engineer and Project Manager, Josh Zehr. “I use group chats and video calls to talk about projects, but I also try to reach out periodically to individual designers just to check in and reconnect about what’s going on outside of work. Continuing the strong relationships I have with my team members helps everyone feel connected even though we’re not working in the same space.”


“It has really helped us keep up our office culture,” agrees Melissa. “It’s nice to have the opportunity to check in with each other on the same personal level we would in the office.”


Technology has helped facilitate collaboration beyond online meetings. Our team members often share drawings and work together on mark-ups and updates. This level of collaboration needed to be recreated in an online setting to accommodate both new projects that are digital and existing projects with historical hard-copy components. This meant working together to reach a state where all projects could be executed online, combining current electronic design files with scanned and newly rendered documents to ensure all team members had access to the foundational information of each project.


One particular success was the speed with which our team learned and adopted new technology tools to create underlays, hand sketches, and electronic models concurrently, combining the skills and expertise of our various project team members across all design disciplines in an online setting.


“The greatest success was how everyone worked together,” says Elena. “It really took effort on everyone’s part to get to the point where online collaboration was seamless with all members of the team. Each team member stepped up to the plate, which is what allowed us to continue our work smoothly and with minimal interruption even in a challenging time.”


The willingness of each team member to immerse themself in technology-driven collaboration remains one of the most impactful elements in successfully delivering a project remotely. An efficient transition to remote work demands everyone’s equal commitment to adapting. As the work environment may be impacted well into the future, we are consistently looking for new tools that will allow us to deliver projects effectively from anywhere.


“I’ve found our team has worked diligently to get themselves set up in their new work environment,” says Elena. “We’ve had to learn together but we’ve been able to turn working from home into a helpful and productive experience. We’ve been able to maintain an efficient design schedule with lots of opportunities for innovation, collaboration, and refinement. Being able to do that really comes down to the team you’re working with. When everyone puts in the work to move the team forward, we all win!”

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World Architecture Day recognizes our collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat and the role architects play in developing the built environment. This requires thoughtful and pragmatic design to reflect each unique community and to integrate each space into the context of its surroundings. To explore some of the considerations that go into each design to ensure it meets these goals, we asked some members of our architectural team to share their thoughts on what makes good design:


"A good design is one that focuses on how people experience and use the space you are designing. Architects have the ability to see the world with a different set of eyes and then translate that worldview into the built environment. Most importantly, we are able to design spaces that give people a sense of community and place. If we can give people a sense of belonging by creating functional, durable, and aesthetically pleasing spaces, we have successfully attained a good design."

– Maria Melo, Architect


"Good design is the outcome of teamwork and collaboration in response to a client's need. When we work together, we discover new and innovative design solutions."

– Michael Winters, Architect, Project Manager


"A good design is one that reflects the environment around it."

– Jamie Van Dyk, Architect, Project Manager, Partner


"Memorable designs make impressions that dwell by successfully and uniquely answering the questions posed by a situation. The designer must be driven and open to understand what those questions are, and they must ensure they place themselves within their responses."

– Wade Brown, Intern Architect


"Good architectural design creates a physical space for people that reinforces their physical and emotional wellbeing, strengthens communities and cultures, and embodies their values. Good design should also be sustainable and harmonious with its surrounding environment, but in the process, design shouldn't take itself too seriously. The best design should include a hint of something whimsical and unexpected to inspire imagination."

– Ben Gregory, Architect, Team Lead

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WalterFedy is thrilled to announce that our team has been awarded the QEII New Generation project in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as part of a design-build team led by Lindsay Construction.


WalterFedy will be providing architectural services for the new parking garage being built across from the QEII Health Sciences Centre. The largest healthcare infrastructure project in the province's history, this $29 million structure will contain 500 parking spaces to accommodate visitors to the hospital and adjacent Museum of Natural History.


“We’re excited to be supporting Halifax’s growth with this important project,” says Project Manager, Jamie Van Dyk. “We look forward to working with Lindsay Construction and the project stakeholders to design a facility that will meet the community’s needs well into the future.”

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There’s always a story behind how people choose their careers. For Brian Verspagen, Water Resources Engineer, it was a love of cars. A motorhead at heart, his enthusiasm for vehicles originally steered him toward mechanical engineering. After further research, his eyes were opened to the many options in engineering and he found himself gravitating to the water resources specialty at the University of Waterloo.


What was it that drew him in? “The water resources principles really clicked for me,” he explains. “The fluid hydraulics, hydrology, and the calculus behind it were all things I understood, and I thought I would enjoy the practice.”


After graduation, he furthered his education with a Master of Applied Science in Environmental Engineering from the University of Guelph. His studies, including his thesis on thermal enrichment of stormwater runoff from pavement surfaces, only furthered his passion for the field.


With his Masters in hand, Brian’s career path took him down south to Florida and Texas to try his hand at work in a warmer climate. As much as the warm weather was great for cruising, Brian was drawn back to the Waterloo Region in 2000 and in 2009 he joined WalterFedy to establish the Water Resources Team. He is now a Senior Project Manager and Team Leader for the group, in addition to being a Partner with the firm.


In the last 10 years, the Water Resources Team has grown to five professionals dedicated to designing water resource solutions for a variety of project types. Brian and his team have worked on several projects using Low Impact Development (LID) measures to enhance groundwater recharge, including monitoring the sites to prove that the implemented measures have a positive impact.


“Early in my career, I saw more projects focused on designing to the minimum standard for development than I do now,” says Brian. “The shift to doing more projects using LID measures is more environmentally responsible and allows us to do design work that really enhances the natural environment. It represents client demand for development in our growing communities without sacrificing the environment.”


Brian has seen the importance of water resources grow exponentially in the last decade. “Every project needs water resources in some capacity,” says Brian. “It’s not possible to construct a new road, develop a site, or build a subdivision without having an aspect of water resources involved. This means we have to have a good understanding of every sector’s needs and challenges to design the best solution for each client.”


It is that client-centred approach that makes all the difference for our team. Every new project is an opportunity to be creative when designing the perfect solution. “We look at each client’s goal and develop the best approach to fulfil it,” says Brian. “We have a team dynamic that allows us to look at a problem from a number of different angles to ensure we are choosing the solution that best balances client needs with an optimal approach.”


What’s in store for the future of water resources? A lot according to Brian. “The potential that our rivers, streams, and creeks offer as spaces for people to reconnect with nature will continue to gain importance, along with the need to preserve and enhance the quality of these natural systems as functioning ecosystems,” he says. “The role of water resources engineering will evolve to ensure these natural systems continue to function and are seamlessly incorporated into our landscape.”


If you’re looking for a new place to explore your passion for water resources, WalterFedy is expanding our team to include another Water Resources Engineer and a Junior Water Resources Engineer and we’d love to hear from you! You can also visit to see all the available opportunities to join our team.



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