AASHTO re:source Q & A Podcast

Returning to On-Site Assessments

May 31, 2022 Maria Knake, Laboratory Assessment Program Manager at AASHTO resource Season 3 Episode 4
AASHTO re:source Q & A Podcast
Returning to On-Site Assessments
Show Notes Transcript

After performing assessments remotely for almost 2 years, learn more about the Laboratory Assessment Program's return to on-site assessments. 

 

AASHTO re:source Q&A Podcast Transcript 
 Season 3, Episode 4: Returning to On-Site Assessments
 
 Recorded: May 12, 2022
 Released: May 31, 2022

Hosts: Brian Johnson, AASHTO Accreditation Program Manager and Kim Swanson, Communications Manager at AASHTO re:source

Guest: Maria Knake, Laboratory Assessment Program Manager at AASHTO re:source and Rhonda Peterson, Laboratory Assessor at AASHTO re:source.

 Note: Please reference AASHTO re:source and AASHTO Accreditation Program policies and procedures online for official guidance on this, and other topics.

Transcribed by Kim Swanson and Descript.

 [Theme music fades in.] 

[00:00:00] Announcer: Welcome to AASHTO re:source Q & A. We're taking time to discuss construction materials, testing, and inspection with people in the know. From exploring testing problems and solutions to laboratory best practices and quality management. We're covering topics important to you. Now, here's our host Brian Johnson. 

[00:00:21] Brian: Welcome to AASHTO re:source Q & A, I'm Brian Johnson.

[00:00:24] Kim: And I'm Kim Swanson. 

[00:00:25] Brian: This is season three. One of our first topics is something that people have been talking to us about a lot, over the last few years. We are going to be talking about remote assessments and the return to in-person assessments.

[00:00:38] Brian: And who better to talk about it with then Maria Knake, the Manager of the Laboratory Assessment Program. And we have a surprise guest. One of the Laboratory Assessors is going to join us also, that is Rhonda Peterson. So the way we're going to construct this, we're going to talk to Maria awhile, and then we're going to find out what's really going on in the field with Rhonda.

[00:01:03] Kim: Exactly.

[00:01:03] Brian: So, so welcome both of you.

[00:01:06] Maria: Thank you. 

[00:01:07] Brian: All right, Maria, let's get in our way back machine and think about, what happened back in 2020. Everything was fine, we were going along our merry way, performing in-person laboratory assessments, which were just, assessments, at the time.

[00:01:22] Brian: And then all of a sudden, things changed. We went and tried to figure out what was going to be the future of remote assessments. So can you tell me a little bit about what that was like? How did we figure out that it was time to get off the road? 

[00:01:38] Maria: Well, one of the things that I do as the manager of the program, as people are traveling, is I watch really closely what's going on in the world, especially in the United States where people might be traveling.

[00:01:49] Maria: A lot of times I'm looking for things like, okay, there's a hurricane coming to this area. Do we have anybody there? Do we need to get them out? You know, fires or anything like that. If there's an event where our staff could be, I'm usually looking for those sorts of things. So I've been paying pretty close attention to the pandemic as we started to hear news about it spread. Especially as it came to the United States, some of the first areas where in Washington and New York, and, we had people that were traveling to both of those areas at the time. And so we started kind of talking about things internally, what would we do if it got to that point? And then, I mean, it must've been a day later, things were moving so quickly at that point that we made the decision.

[00:02:33] Maria: It's time to pull everybody off the road. First time we had ever had to do anything like this, it was on a Friday. I'll never forget. We had a video meeting with everybody, anyone, who was on the road at the time, anyone who wasn't. We all met together, and explained that everyone had to cancel the rest of their trips and find a way to get home.

[00:02:54] Maria: The first couple of weeks, it was a lot of just regrouping. Like everybody else we thought, oh, flatten the curve. This is going to take a couple of weeks and then we'll get back out on the road. We tried to use our time wisely and we had some, some projects that had kind of stalled a little bit that we said, boy, we're just gonna go full force ahead on these projects and work on them.

[00:03:14] Maria: We've got lots of staff here that aren't doing assessments and we're going to tackle those. Few weeks, went by and we started to realize like a lot of us did that. Well, pandemic is probably not a, there's not a quick fix to this, right? So it could take some time. We had several meetings, Sonya Puterbaugh, who's one of the Associate Managers of the Laboratory Assessment Program, led us through several meetings where we talked about the idea of we're doing remote assessments. She led us through a risk analysis, where we thought about all of the things that could possibly go wrong if we did a remote assessment and tried to implement ways that we could mitigate those.

[00:03:52] Maria: And that's how we started to build our plan for what a remote assessment would look like and what the policies and procedures would be. Based on that risk analysis. We then included Kim Swanson, our Communications Manager, and worked on a communications plan to communicate all of this to our customers.

[00:04:08] Maria: And we're able to roll it out. We started with our first remote assessment as a pilot in May, and then we're able to roll it out to all of our customers and continue our full assessment tour by July, 2020. And boy, I really didn't think things would last as long as they did. And I think even at that time, we thought this will get us through the next few months until we are able to get back out on the road. Over two years later, here we are still doing a lot of remote assessments. 

[00:04:36] Brian: Yeah, we were pretty optimistic back then. It's funny, I hadn't heard anybody say flatten the curve in like a year and a half. I forgot about that phrase. That was like that main phrase of optimism that we had floating around for awhile.

[00:04:50] Brian: But yeah, a lot has happened since then. Right. As much as we'd love to use the term post-pandemic world, that is not a reality right now. So, with all of the things that have been going on, how did we decide to go back out there? Knowing that we're just going to be dealing with this. What was the decision?

[00:05:06] Brian: Do you remember that? Probably not as vividly as going off the road. I imagine. Cause there wasn't like a big event, but what made us decide it was time to go back out in the field. 

[00:05:16] Maria: Be honest, we had a couple of false starts. We had announced to customers that we'd be going back out on the road and September, 2021.

[00:05:24] Maria: And then quickly realized as we were reviewing the data and watching the news, just like everybody else that it really wasn't the right time to do that. We then announced January, 2022 and then realized that date wasn't really the right date either. And then took a step back and said, okay, we're going to need to take a different approach here.

[00:05:44] Maria: We need to realize that this may not be an all at once thing. It may be something where we're able to do it, and we have to pull back. We need to kind of really adjust our plans here and think about how we're going to do this. So that's where we developed the approach of a staggered plan to return on-site assessments. Where we would just kind of continue to review the data and once it seemed like there was an area of the country in which the case count there, and the burden, the community burden on hospitals was low enough that we could travel again. We could announce to those customers and just those customers that we would return to travel in that area. Dip our toes in. We also realized that the wonderful world of travel was not the same world that we left a couple of years ago.

[00:06:29] Maria: And that things have really changed. Airlines have changed. The situation with rental cars has changed. We really wanted to learn some lessons and get used to it and adjust to this new norm before just going full force out there. So we developed a plan in which the senior leadership for the Laboratory Assessment Program, AASHTO re:source's leadership, and in some cases, AASHTO's top leadership would join us as well.

[00:06:54] Maria: Every Monday morning, we would look at the latest numbers from CDC. We would look at other data sources as well, from Mayo Clinic, a lot of local information for areas that we knew assessments were coming up. And we came up with the plan of all right, we're going to continue to review this data regularly, looking at places that assessments are coming up in.

[00:07:13] Maria: And if there's any place that we're able to return to on-site assessments, we're going to announce that to those customers, eight weeks in advance, and we're going to let them know that - Hey at any time, if the situation changes, we may need to pull back and revert back to remote assessments. So we have been for many, many months now meeting every Monday, we do a very thorough review of not just COVID cases. But really one of the things we're looking at is hospitalization rates and the overall community burden. When you're traveling in a place that you're not familiar with, you are away from friends, family, and hospitals that you know, and trust. And we really want to make sure that if something were, heaven forbid, to happen to anybody, when they're out on the road, that they're able to get the medical treatment that they need and the support they need while they're away from friends, family, coworkers, et cetera.

[00:08:07] Maria: So that's something that we've considered really closely in our approach and has been a big part of the data that we've looked at. 

[00:08:15] Brian: Clearly, a lot of analysis has gone on to making this decision, so it wasn't taken lightly, but we've returned to the field. We're doing our pilot phase right now. Right. And where are we in the tour?

[00:08:26] Maria: Right now our, most of our laboratories are in California. We do have some regional assessments going on across the country as well. Those are all still remote. Because most of our work is in California right now, we decided that would be the best place for us to start. So for about the past four weeks now, we have been doing on-site assessments in California.

[00:08:49] Maria: So it was announced. I guess 12 weeks ago that we would be doing that. And so it's, it's been our first taste. Last week was a really big week for us. It was the first week that we had the most people out at once. We had six assessments going on in person at any given time last week. So it was a, that was a big step for us.

[00:09:08] Maria: We started out with just three and then kind of built up over the past few weeks to do more and more. 

[00:09:13] Brian: Yeah. And how's it been going? So we have a couple of weeks under our belt. I mean, I'm sure we've gotten feedback from laboratories and from our staff. What are you hearing?

[00:09:21] Maria: A lot of our customers and our staff and our assessors are very excited to be back in person. The remote assessments were much more effective than I ever could have imagined. I'm so proud of everything that we did to get that going, but there are some things that are just so much easier to do when you're in person, in terms of communications, seeing the things you need to see.

[00:09:42] Maria: People are been very excited about that change. It hasn't been without a few hiccups. Of course. There's some lessons learned. I'm sure we'll get into that with Rhonda as well. We've had a couple of things where, you know, we had one laboratory where they had an outbreak in their laboratory. And we made the decision to postpone that assessment.

[00:10:01] Maria: We had another case where there were some potential cases in the laboratory. Everyone felt fine, but there was potential for exposure. We actually reverted that to a remote assessment. The day before the assessment was supposed to take place, the assessors were in a hotel, very close to where the laboratory was located and just proceeded with the assessments remotely.

[00:10:22] Maria: We were able to do a dry run with them really quickly. As we do for a motor assessments, just to make sure that, you know, all the technology's working, that we can see the, you know, the internet connection is stable. The lab was great and worked with us, and we were able to proceed with that on really short notice.

[00:10:38] Maria: And you know, that's probably going to happen again. We're under no misconceptions that the pandemic is over. We're trying to proceed with a new normal, but we realized that we're just going to have to roll with the punches. 

[00:10:50] Brian: Flexibility is key and your team has done an outstanding job, figuring out these contingencies. So that when there is a hiccup, you just know right away, boom, we're going to this, this is, this is how we're going to get it done.

[00:11:03] Brian: And there's less disruption to the laboratory, less disruption to the process. I think that's really great. Now let's talk about what goes well and what doesn't go as well with the remote assessments. So, knowing what the ideal situation is for an assessment, what were we able to duplicate or represent in thoes remote assessments as well as what we could do in person? 

[00:11:26] Maria: I don't think that anything is ever going to be quite the same as actually being there. I think that the dry run was a huge part of ensuring the success of the remote assessment to make sure that you really can see the things that you need to see as an assessor. You know, trying to zoom in on serial numbers.

[00:11:43] Maria: Are you able to see the detail that you need going around to different parts of the laboratory ahead of time and making sure that everywhere testing is going to take place, that that signal is strong enough and the communication's going to work. And giving the laboratory tools ahead of time to make sure they've got the best setup possible with the technology in order to get through it. So those sorts of things, I think really helped ensure that it, it almost feels like you're in the lab. 

[00:12:08] Maria: Another thing that we did was we carry equipment with us when we're in the field for our on-site assessments and you just can't do that remotely. So we had to come up with an alternative to us checking laboratories equipment.

[00:12:22] Maria: And the alternative that we came up with was we would have the Laboratory Technicians, typically the ones that do those checks and create the records for the laboratory, actually do the demonstrations for us of how they check equipment. And we focused on which equipment would be the most important for us to do that with because of it's time consuming.

[00:12:41] Maria: And then those observations have gone really well and have been some lessons learned for us. We have not continued that as we've returned back to on-site assessments. However, we do see a lot of value in it. In terms of change management, we didn't want to change so much at once with us returning back to the field.

[00:13:00] Maria: It would have been difficult for us to implement that new process into our on-site assessments during that time. But it is something that we're looking at incorporating back into on-site assessments, and we'll certainly continue with remote assessments moving forward. 

[00:13:13] Brian: Yeah, I'm glad to hear that. Cause that's one of the improvements that I was really excited about what the remote assessments, because all this time we've been looking at records that were produced by technicians checking equipment and there was always some level of doubt as to how authentic these records are and how proficient these technicians are at actually checking the equipment since it's not there everyday task. 

[00:13:37] Brian: So I love the addition to this, and I'm excited about that continuing, at some point.

[00:13:41] Maria: I feel the same way. I think one of the things that we see laboratories, even really good laboratories who are trying to do everything the right way, they kind of miss that aspect of training.

[00:13:53] Maria: And you have to train these technicians to do the sort of thing, and they need to know the importance of it, how to record it correctly. And that gets missed a lot. So we found a lot of really good educational opportunities and improvement opportunities through the remote assessment process and having the labs check their equipment.

[00:14:10] Brian: Now let's talk about some of the shortcomings with the remote versus the in-person. What did you find? What stood out to you? The most that we were missing out on, when we're performing these remote assessments?

[00:14:20] Maria: For me, one of the biggest things that I think we are missing out on is those value-added educational moments that we like to add to our assessments.

[00:14:29] Maria: You're able to do some of that remotely. But the conversation's just a little more awkward and you're not able to physically show the laboratory and the technicians things. Or different ways of doing things the way you always can during an on-site assessment. I also think that the quality system review is just a little bit more difficult.

[00:14:47] Maria: I think that an audit of a quality management system should be an interactive process with the Quality Manager whoever's in charge of those records, really involved in seeing the same things you are as you're going through that review. When the laboratory just sends you documents through email or through our website, you're not having that kind of conversation with them and it becomes a little more stilted and, and probably some, some opportunities are missed in that way. 

[00:15:13] Brian: Yeah. I can imagine that. Kim, do you have any questions? 

[00:15:17] Kim: Yeah, Maria, what are some of the other benefits of this staggered approach as we returned to on-site assessments?

[00:15:23] Maria: So one of the big concerns for us is that we actually hired and trained several staff during the pandemic, which means that they were trained fully remotely. They spent a lot of time in our laboratory and we put them through the same training process, but you'd put somebody through if they had joined us normally. But they really didn't have that on-site experience. So while they're technically competent and very good assessors, we didn't just want to kind of throw them to the wolves with the travel aspect of it and say, Hey, you've never been, you know, west of the Mississippi before. Why don't you go to California for a couple of weeks on your own?

[00:16:03] Maria: You know, there is an aspect of the job of learning to travel for business and interacting with the laboratory in-person as well. And, all the time management challenges, checking the equipment, working with the laboratory one-on-one through the quality management system. We really needed to take time to retrain those individuals.

[00:16:23] Maria: If we decided to train all of them at once, it would kind of bring our services to a halt. So we needed to kind of stagger that as well. It's another reason that we decided to go with a staggered approach. So we do have some individuals that are still doing remote assessments in other parts of the country while we are beginning our return into California.

[00:16:43] Brian: Yeah. Now let's talk about that. So we've been talking to Maria Knake here, the Laboratory Assessment Program Manager. And now, we are going to bring in Rhonda Peterson is one of the assessors he's been patiently waiting for some questions here. So Rhonda you're, you're one of these assessors that Maria was just talking about.

[00:17:01] Brian: You've been dealing with remote assessments, performing your job remotely for quite some time now. Can you just tell us about the experience of being an assessor? 

[00:17:10] Rhonda: Starting with the remote assessment process? Since we didn't have any feel for what it was like onsite, there wasn't a difference of sensing that we were missing something. Like I'm missing going into the laboratory because we didn't have that experience. But you really didn't have a feel for what was going on in the lab, because you were seeing just a very small picture, you know, the camera focused on one technician.

[00:17:37] Rhonda: So after having been in the lab, now, we didn't see what was going on around these technicians, all of the other work that's still going on. The field techs, the customers coming in, dropping samples off, the engineers coming in and out, as they're focusing on just demonstrating a test for us. So there was a lot going on around them and they were able to focus on one small area and do a test for us.

[00:18:03] Rhonda: So kudos to them for just being able to focus and stay focused on what they needed to demonstrate for us and not get sidetracked with everything that was going on around. But it was very nice to get that experience and see how they're an integral part of everything in their company, that we missed. 

[00:18:22] Brian: I bet. Now you started, when we were doing remote assessments, right? 

[00:18:28] Rhonda: Yeah, I was trained remote. 

[00:18:30] Brian: So what training did you have to go through to prepare yourself for the field? 

[00:18:34] Rhonda: So in the field, the big difference is of course our tablets just using those. Since we started the remote assessments, we've been able to sit at a desk. Our tablets with our worksheets are in front of us. Many of us have two, three screens set up so we can have the lab's inventory up on one screen. Their calibration records on another screen, the standards on another screen, and then our worksheets in front of us. So we have everything at our fingertips. 

[00:19:05] Rhonda: Going into the laboratory. We have one tablet now, so we have the worksheets. So being able to, you know, quickly jump and say, oh, let me check the standard. That's not as easy. Or let me see if that piece of equipment's on their inventory really quickly. So it's created a challenge in that. So you're having to write a lot more things down. And then that's another one because we used to have a piece of paper sitting on the desk too and you can scribble yourself notes. But when you're holding the tablet in one hand, your stylists in the other, you don't have a hand for a piece of paper and being able to take notes either. And then of course, just holding the tablet all day, your wrist really starts to ache. That was a big one I hadn't planned on.

[00:19:47] Brian: Have you found clean places to put it down even, in the laboratory? I always found that to be a challenge when I was at assessor. It's like you look around and look around, where can I put this thing? It's like, there's samples everywhere. I mean, even in a clean lab, just they're busy places. So it's just hard to find. Have you been running into that, as an issue?

[00:20:08] Rhonda: Spaces at a premium. There's very little free counter space. It's like even the batteries will die, you know, two to three hours into the assessment, your batteries on low, and you're trying to find a plug where you can stand and plug it in, but still be able to see where they're at. And they've got most of their plugs use too.

[00:20:27] Rhonda: So you're asking, Hey, where can I plug this in? So that one's also a challenge that we're having to deal with. 

[00:20:34] Brian: How has checking equipment changed your assessment process? 

[00:20:38] Rhonda: That's something that I have to remind myself to do just because it's not ingrained at this point.

[00:20:42] Rhonda: I'm not used to doing it. So we'll be a couple hours in and I'll be, oh, I should really put a thermometer in the oven. Checking the equipment is not really a difficult task, but it does take extra time just to make sure that the thermometer is in the oven and we can get those temperatures. And then of course, remembering to go get it so that you don't leave the thermometer in the oven for three hours cause you tend to forget it. 

[00:21:05] Rhonda: And then just, really double checking all your measurements. Cause not having done them before you want to make sure before you're talking to a lab about this mold appears to be out. You want to double-check and make sure the measurements really are accurate.

[00:21:21] Rhonda: So we bring two calipers with us. If for some reason a mold is out, we pulled the other calipers out of our equipment and check it with that second set of calipers. And then it's nice to be able to have a conversation with the technician, right then. Having the mold in front of you and saying, look, I'm getting this measurement and this mold appears to be out.

[00:21:42] Rhonda: Let me show you what I'm getting, how I'm measuring it. And then they'll be like, oh, you know, we were measuring it in a different place. Is that where we're supposed to measure it? And there's a nice conversation that can go on. And the technicians have really said how much they value that because they learned something every time we're in the lab is the general response we get.

[00:22:01] Brian: I want to talk about communication a little bit more with virtual work, any kind of virtual work, you know, conversations are always really pointed, you know, I made an appointment with you to talk about this. We're going to talk about this and then I'm going to hang up on you. So there's a lot of those kinds of conversations, but when you're in the lab, I mean, you're just around everybody all day.

[00:22:21] Brian: How has that helped or made things harder? Like what, what's the, what's been the, your takeaway in the change to the way you're communicating with the customers? 

[00:22:31] Rhonda: I really liked being in person for the communication. I think you get a much better feel for the technicians. Being able to put them at ease, just letting them know we're not here to judge you.

[00:22:42] Rhonda: We're not here to find fault. We're just making sure the labs all interpret the standards in the same way, so the results have meaning. And just being able to explain that to them in person puts them at ease. You can joke with them, you know, you see the guy that has his 128 ounces, giant container of coffee that you might not see otherwise.

[00:23:01] Rhonda: And you, you know, you can joke with them about things or the technician that goes and has lunch with his mom every Wednesday. So you're like, oh yeah, we'll definitely make time for you to leave and go have lunch with your mom. It's just a much more personal experience. And if you forget to mention something, you know, on a zoom call, if you forgot to mention something, you're like, oh, I've got to email them. I got to try to call. You know, to ask them about that and you're right there and you can talk to them about anything that you might've forgotten to mention earlier.

[00:23:33] Rhonda: Going from the virtual to the in-person, we always did the dry runs and I'm carrying that on. I just changed the name of it. I call it my pre-assessment zoom call now. It's still nice to talk to them on Zoom. Get a picture of what they look like. Just tell them, you know, here's what to expect. Do you have any questions? So I think that was a really nice aspect that can just carry on. 

[00:24:00] Brian: Yeah, that's good. One other thing I wanted to ask you about though, was the closeout meetings.

[00:24:06] Brian: So when you have the closeout meetings now, are you seeing a difference in the type of conversations you're having with the customers and the amount of people involved?

[00:24:19] Rhonda: Definitely with remotely, the closeout meeting was generally, maybe one, two people every once in a while, there'd be a lab that would bring three, four or five people in, or some higher-ups would join in. But there really wasn't a lot of back and forth.

[00:24:33] Rhonda: You would talk about the findings and discuss, you know, this isn't equipment finding, or this is a procedural finding, but there wasn't a lot of conversation around it. And just being back, I think there's been a lot more conversation around it where they can discuss, you know, here's what we had. Here's what you saw and then, oh, is this what you meant?

[00:24:53] Rhonda: So there's a lot more questions that they can ask and I think we can give a lot more feedback that is helpful to them. And I think it's a lot more useful for them. It's taking a lot longer. The closing meetings, I think remotely we're taking on average, maybe about 15 minutes. They were very, very quick. Over the past couple of weeks on site, one of the closing meetings took an hour and a half.

[00:25:18] Rhonda: The lab was a good lab. It wasn't a bad lab with a lot of findings necessarily, but they did just have a lot of questions and there was a lot of conversation that took place. So I think that was a really, really good part of being back on site. 

[00:25:31] Brian: Yeah, that's great. Kim, do you have any questions?

[00:25:34] Kim: More of just an observation from what Rhonda has been saying. It sounds like there was a sense of formality around the remote assessments that I honestly hadn't heard this before. You know, haven't had these conversations and I'm a little surprised, but not like outrageously surprised, but that being back on site, it is more informal and more personal. 

[00:25:55] Kim: Has that feeling of just being more comfortable around people in person. And I guess I just wasn't really expecting that kind of feedback and not that it's good or bad. I just hadn't really thought of it that way before. So I think that's an interesting thing. Is that a good kind of summary of that? Or is my takeaway not what you're saying at all, Rhonda?

[00:26:13] Rhonda: No, I think that is a good summary. I think many of the technicians felt really awkward in front of the camera. They felt like, you know, something was going to be recorded forever and it's like, we're not recording. But just being on camera, I've made them feel a little uncomfortable.

[00:26:28] Rhonda: So I think back in person, they definitely definitely feel more at ease. 

[00:26:32] Brian: Yeah. Hey, Maria, I want to ask you, do you have questions? You look like you have some things rolling around that you're thinking about as Ronda's talking, do you have any questions for Rhonda? 

[00:26:40] Maria: You know, it's really interesting. Other than a staff meeting that we had a couple of days ago, Rhonda and I really haven't had a chance to talk about this.

[00:26:47] Maria: So I'm hearing some of this and some of her feedback for the first time as well, which I'm so glad we're capturing it this way, because I think it is really organic and I'm really enjoying hearing it. So I think a lot of what you're seeing is just me kind of taking it all in. Just really good observations and things that I hadn't thought of.

[00:27:06] Maria: I was able to take part in one assessment, but it was a smaller laboratory that just had two individuals at the whole facility that worked there. So it, I think one of the things that surprised me the most in what Rhonda said was that there's less people involved with the closing meeting for a remote assessment.

[00:27:26] Maria: I would have expected the opposite because if you have a laboratory that has several branches and it's part of a corporate entity, you would think that you would have big wigs who could call in from anywhere in the world and be part of that Zoom meeting. Whereas with onsite, you know, you're probably a little more limited just to, in terms of geography. So that was a bit of a surprise to me. 

[00:27:46] Brian: Well, I want to throw something out there to anybody who wants to jump on this, including you Kim, but I'm seeing such a strength in the culture of quality, what I'm hearing from Rhonda, how do we keep that going? How do we make sure that, that doesn't fade away as people get back out on the road more? 

[00:28:01] Maria: Yeah, I think that's an interesting question. That culture existed before we did remote assessments. And I think a lot of it is the training. When you're doing training in the field, you are with that person for a couple of weeks. You know, you see them at lunch, you see them at dinner, not just during work hours that you're together.

[00:28:24] Maria: And I think so that cultural transfer may even happen even faster. So I guess I'm not concerned with people going out on the road and not learning our culture, because I do think that that is part of it. I do agree. There were some benefits to having everyone remote at the same time. We could message each other on Microsoft Teams with questions really easily.

[00:28:45] Maria: It was very easy for somebody else to join an assessment, just send them the link and all of a sudden, they're there and they're seeing the same thing you're seeing. So, there were some great aspects of it too. I don't know. I think we're going to have to see how it, how it unfolds. 

[00:28:57] Brian: And I know it starts with hiring, right? Like Rhonda was a quality-conscious person before she started working at AASHTO re:source, but it's not like it's all of a sudden, you know, this was just like something that happened. Rhonda, what do you think? 

[00:29:11] Rhonda: I think the upper management has really put in a lot of thought and effort to trying to keep that culture going. Trying to keep everybody connected just with calls and being open and discussing everything. So I think a great job was done there. It was not easy for anybody, but I think it's just something that's so ingrained in AASHTO re:source, that this is our job. We want to do a good job. We're trying to help others improve.

[00:29:38] Rhonda: And in order to do that, we need to be on our top game and we need to be improving all the time. And I think that's reinforced. All the time. I like that management is always open to suggestions. You know, they ask us what we see and if we have ideas that can improve that quality, they want to look at it and they want to discuss it and they want to think about it.

[00:30:00] Rhonda: And if it has valued, they're always willing to bring it in and make it part of what we're doing. I like the fact that, you know, as we're going from remote now, it's back to in-person that the labs are submitting quality documents in advance. Maria mentioned, you know, she likes to go through those with the lab onsite, but it's really nice to have a chance to look through them before you get there.

[00:30:26] Rhonda: And then be able to say, you know, I read through this and I wasn't able to find a procedure for, you know, how you train your technician. And you don't be able to discuss that with them. And they might just say, oh, you know, that, that didn't get scanned, that page stack or something, but it's nice if there's anything missing to be able to look at in advance and you'd have a list written down that you can discuss with them. Versus virtually, you know, you were sending them an email, like, Hey, I'm missing this, this, this, this, and this.

[00:30:55] Rhonda: And there wasn't that chance for a really good conversation about it. But, you know, I think there's a lot of great conversations that can be had in person. And it, it just feels like the labs want to do a good job. Sometimes they just have questions about how to do that. 

[00:31:12] Brian: Yeah, that's true. Kim, any other last questions on the assessment?

[00:31:17] Kim: I don't think so. I think you guys covered all of my questions. I had a couple of things written down, but Brian either asked them or Rhonda and Maria organically answered them. So I don't really have anything. I know Brian, you want me to ask though, what has surprised you about, about this process?

[00:31:35] Brian: Maria already answered that one and I took note of that when I heard her say that I was like, okay, that's Kim's question. We can move on.

[00:31:45] Kim: I do want to ask Rhonda though, like, what has surprised you the most about going back to on-site assessments this process? 

[00:31:52] Rhonda: I think how crowded the airports and the planes are. There's not a single empty seat on any flight that I have been on. It's like every seat is taken. A lot of people are really getting back out there and traveling. 

[00:32:07] Kim: That is a good point. And I had not thought about that actually, but yeah. So thank you. Thank you for sharing that. 

[00:32:13] Brian: That's always a great question. I mean, what, like we always get something we didn't know we were going to get, so continues to be one of my favorite questions. So thanks for continuing to ask that. Now, Maria, my question for you, obviously the pandemic caused a delay in the assessments as we transition from, in-person to remote. So we had a little gap there, and we've been trying to make up time along the way. At this time, for those specifiers out there who are listening to this, what kind of delays are we looking at in the overall tour length, from what we normally experienced by now? You know, after doing this for a few years. 

[00:32:50] Maria: Typically we, what our goal is to hit every laboratory around 26 months. We're at around 32 months on average right now for the interval between assessments.

[00:33:02] Maria: And we're going to keep trying to narrow that down. A lot of that for us, it's just resources. So we are recruiting. If anyone's interested. Go to AASHTOresource.org/careers. And we're looking for assessors, but yeah, it's just building up our resources essentially, but we are looking also with just the best way to use our resources. 

[00:33:24] Maria: While I think that an onsite assessment is the most effective way to do an assessment, remote assessments were much more effective than I anticipated, and we will be looking in the future at how we can utilize those, to supplement some of the things that we do onsite. So that we are using our resources effectively, that we're keeping costs low for the customer as well. So we'll keep, keep trying to do our best there, but yeah, the pandemic has put us behind.

[00:33:50] Brian: Yeah. And really it's not too bad. I mean, if you consider all this stuff that's gone on a couple months off is really, an accomplished. Rather than a problem is what I would say, but, and I'm glad you mentioned that we're hiring now. We are in need of other quality-minded individuals who are interested in laboratory assessments.

[00:34:08] Brian: We know you're out there, give us a ring. Maria is a great manager and, there's so many awesome training resources. And just being part of this, work environment is a, is a good thing. Um, so. Check it out if you're thinking about it, do it. 

[00:34:27] Kim: And just before we go, I wanted to mention for the laboratories that may be curious about when we're going to be in their area with on-site assessments or remote assessments or any of that information, most of it can be found on our website, in the Laboratory Assessment Program page, under their schedule. And that's AASHTOresouroce.org/lap/schedule. And there's a handy-dandy map and a lot of other information and resources that show where we are and what to do next.

[00:34:57] Kim: And all of the next steps for the laboratories. So I just wanted to make sure that we share that information and that resource for people, uh, before we ended this episode today. 

[00:35:06] Brian: So, thank you so much to Maria Knake and Rhonda Peterson. I appreciate your time. And as always, Kim Swanson, with her dynamite questions. Thanks again. And we hope to see you on the next podcast. 

[Theme music fades in.] 

[00:35:20] Announcer: Thanks for listening to AASHTO re:source Q & A. If you'd like to be a guest or just submit a question, send us an email at podcast@aashtoresource.org or call Brian at 240-436-4820. For other news and related content, check out AASHTO re:source's, Twitter feed, or go to AASHTOresource.org.