PCSG’s Mark Stodgell was a panellist on a ‘virtual conference’ today which explored the theme of technology in construction.

Held by the Forum for the Built Environment and TechSpark, it was hosted on hopin – one of a number of online events platforms which are experiencing strong demand amidst the current lockdown. 

Here, Mark and his PCSG colleagues, Zoey Ritchie and Lizzie Owen, review the virtual event concept and consider if its popularity will endure even after the lockdown has ended.

Mark Stodgell – Panellist and PCSG Senior Digital Specialist

It was brilliant to see the large attendance. The organisers confirmed that the number of participants was triple the average attendance at their physical events. Many were from outside of the South West and clearly people who might not have attended if they had  had to travel.

Accessibility is a huge plus point of a platform like Hopin in another way too:  As I discovered from my conversations during the networking sessions, individuals from other sectors are more likely to participate. This is great for bringing in learning and experience from other sectors to construction events.

The net of keynote speakers and panellists for these events will certainly widen too if individuals need only click on from their desk to participate.

The discussion areas were familiar – the ongoing barriers to technology in construction, why the construction sector must up the pace of digitalisation, why far more emphasis must be placed on the handover of an asset with detailed and comprehensive digital information about it.

Verdict: A format which has much to offer.


Zoey Ritchie – Senior Consultant

Having had the experience of presenting to an audience that can see you but doesn’t give feedback earlier in the week and found it a bit unnerving, I have to say the speakers did really well. In my opinion it’s definitely easier presenting and talking to an audience face-to-face.

I think the format works well as the session is short so you can focus on what the speakers are saying. Rather than committing to a full day of travel etc you can slot it into your schedule.

With a virtual event, you can easily access and try out material outside of your area of expertise too with no cost. For example, I watched a discussion at the weekend on running injury rehabilitation by some osteopaths specialising in the field – it’s definitely not my area of expertise but I have a running injury at the moment and it was an interesting discussion.

The bit that isn’t as effective is the networking part. There’s not the chance to bump into people that you know, to reconnect and to be introduced to their connections and to have chats about areas of interest. There was some networking functionality – but I think this is more of a fun feature than anything.

Verdict: For the knowledge sharing it’s definitely a great platform and it definitely has its place but for networking not so much.


Lizzie Owen – Communications specialist

This morning I entered the bedroom of a total stranger. While we talked shop about technology in construction, I couldn’t help but assess his choice of furnishings and décor. I also felt more than a little awkward about my abrupt entry into his domestic setting and whether, at my end, the kids’ toys were cleared from behind me. Welcome to networking – virtual conference style.

The platform for today’s event, Hopin, showed what is possible in the virtual world. After joining, participants could “chat” in the sidebar, enter the “main stage” where speakers – including PCSG’s Mark Stodgell – discussed themes and trends around technology in construction.

They could also, as I did, join the ‘networking roulette’ facility where you agree to connect with someone picked at random from the event participants. After a four-minute chat your conversation is automatically terminated and you can move onto someone else. I was paired with a Frenchman, whose camera was set-up at his desk in his bedroom.

It worked seamlessly for me and I can see it holds attractions: No long commutes to reach out-of-the way conference centres, the time devoted to an event can be massively reduced and there is no obligation to stay around once you’ve achieved your aims.

And yet, I’m not wholly convinced. Conferences / events bring with them a buzz, an excitement. Seeing speakers up on a stage dressed for the occasion is somehow more exciting than watching them hold forth from home offices in their hoodies. And it is certainly less awkward to network in a public place than to chat with strangers in their bedrooms. My connection agreed: “It’s not for me – I like to meet people in person.”

Verdict: Fab platform. Fun networking. Can’t replicate all of the ‘real’ thing.