Day-to-Day Working

How homeworking has transformed everyday studio operations

For any business, moving a whole workforce to a non-office based model would have been challenging with a few week’s notice. The COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 unfolded so quickly, that there was little to no time for studios to prepare.

We sat down for a Monday morning meeting feeling that we needed to “get ahead of COVID-19” so we created a 4 phase plan - Prep, Phase I, Phase II and Phase III - to roll out across the next few weeks'. That morning we went from Prep to Phase III in a matter of hours… it was a very steep learning curve.

Duncan McLeod,
Studio McLeod

In our survey we asked the 188 architects who participated to describe their company's readiness to operate remotely prior to the government’s directive that everyone work from home.

20% indicated that they had been totally prepared and hadn’t seen any disruption to their businesses.

Promisingly, 60% of architects felt that they were somewhat prepared to transition to remote working, with most things going to plan. Of those remaining, 18% admitted that they were unprepared and have faced challenges, with two respondents asking us to send help!

We were totally unprepared. This thing hit us like a bomb. Send help!

Two unfortunate survey respondents

How ready was your practice to operate remotely prior to the government directive?

60% were somewhat prepared

20% indicated that they had been totally prepared

17% admitted that they were unprepared

As we consider the day-to-day implications, it’s important to realise that where we’ve ended up is not normal remote working. In the past, this term described working from any environment outside the traditional office. What architects across the country are doing now is very specifically homeworking, which comes with many more challenges than sitting in a co-working space, in a comfortable chair with a friendly barista providing a steady flow of coffee.

For many, working from home has meant working from bedrooms and kitchen tables without the mod cons of the office, surrounded by all the distractions of home life.

The line between personal and professional lives has blurred with many highlighting the very real struggle of working whilst homeschooling children.

My wife and I are both working whilst looking after toddlers. The key that we’ve found is a four hour work cycle. Our working day starts at 8:30, allowing us to have some family time in the morning. Depending on who has got the biggest workload that day, we do between an hour and a half or two hours with the kids each. We’re treating it very much like a regimented 8:30-5:30 schedule. It’s important for us not to keep it fluffy - “you have them for an hour and I’ll have them for an hour” etc, because you’re slipping between work mode and home mode constantly. It’s keeping us relatively efficient and everyone, including the kids, know and stick to the routine.

Stefan Shaw,
Stefan Shaw Studio

The clear consensus was that setting up and enforcing routines was step one in separating home life from work life.

I’ve personally found it really hard to stick to normal working hours. Start times can range from 7am to 10am and the same goes for when you finish. The flexibility can really play against you. Because you’re not around other people it’s so much harder to stick to a routine.

Survey respondent

Unsurprisingly, “Staying focused in a work-at-home environment” was the single challenge most felt by respondents with a fifth of all architects selecting this as the most difficult aspect of their new working life.

Some, however, were finding the opposite to be true.

I was one of those people that jumps around the office checking in with people. Now that I can’t do that I’m actually finding that I’m getting a lot more work done, which is good. So productivity for me has gone up. Probably one of the most amazing things is not having to commute. All those extra hours in the morning and evening are a godsend.

Dayrl Fitzgerald,
Michaelis Boyd

19% of respondents faced issues with technology hiccups, which is understandable. Many discovered the pain of sharing large files at residential wifi speeds, or not having space for a second monitor.

19% of respondents faced issues with technology hiccups, which is understandable. Many discovered the pain of sharing large files at residential wifi speeds, the impracticality of having a physical server in the office with limited VPN connections, or simply, the limitations of working without having space for a second monitor.

A fundamental challenge lies in the fact that, for most of us, our homes have not been designed to replace our offices. Some firms were better equipped to deal with the change than others.

We didn’t have anything setup for remote working before the lockdown. None of our team have work laptops so we were completely reliant on our computers in the office.

Survey respondent

A combined 40% of architects indicated that the biggest challenges facing their new remote studios are around communication and collaboration.

The stage of digital transformation in terms of using cloud-based tech and messaging/project management tools prior to March 16th is definitely where we’ve seen the biggest split between those businesses that have adapted quickly and those that have found it more difficult.

Firms already using cloud technologies for workflow management, document sharing and both synchronous and asynchronous communications were invariably those that indicated higher levels of preparedness.

Our founders’ philosophy when they set up Eight Inc was to have smaller studios across different markets that are highly connected - there are always opportunities to collaborate. Due to this we're already set up and proficient for interactivity between studios. Slack was adopted company wide and Zoom very much in place.

Markus Nonn,
Eight Inc

Missing out on the serendipity of the random office chat and watercooler moments was a primary concern for studio owners looking at ways to encourage these types of situations virtually.

Mini-Challenges and competitions are a great way to keep your staff engaged and connected: An example of this is asking everyone to submit a quality image of something they have produced that might be instagrammable: Has to be a high quality image or drawing that is interesting / informative. This not only helps people hone a skill like sketching but also allows the team to replace those in-office moments where you can see the output by being in the room. There is an osmosis and “there’s the detail I’ve been looking for" moment when you're all together in an office.

Richard Gill,
Paul Archer Design

The level of thinking going into ensuring team members remain connected to the business, and each other, demonstrates the importance of enforcing ground rules and having shared experiences to maintain studio culture and a sense of normalcy.

At 9:30 in the morning I generally ping the group chat to see how everyone is doing. Every other day we’ll have a video conference with the team - this is important to us from a social and emotional point of view. When the lockdown first happened, I sent an email round to all of my staff urging them to keep in touch with each other. This is because I know that there are team members who will sit at their desks and not take the breaks that they need to. In the office there is always some kind of conversation to keep them distracted and that’s what I wanted to ensure kept happening.

Dipesh Shah,
Principal and Senior Architect DS Squared Architects

On our day to day working, we host a Zoom meeting every morning. We’ve found a virtual tea break in the afternoon to be a really good way of bringing the team together. Some of us have even done online yoga - we’re just trying to keep things as normal as possible for everyone.

Jon Ackroyd,
Ackroyd Lowrie

We do a 9am check-in with the team on Google Hangouts and then a 5:30pm one at the end of the day. We also have a Monday full team meeting and usually another meeting at the end of the week.

Irkus Altuna,
Project Architect at Urbanist Architecture

A theme that came up time and again was how this situation changes things in the long term. Will the world move to 100% remote working as businesses realise the benefits of reduced overheads? Has team productivity improved to the point that going back to an office-based studio doesn’t make sense?

As a business we’ve been having conversations about how this lockdown will change the way that we operate in the future. We’re quite a small team, so currently if we were to expand we would have to relocate to a larger office. Now other options are presenting themselves, such as having some members of the team hot-desking and finding other places outside an office, such as galleries, where the team can come together and bond. We’d definitely be up for testing it to see if it works!

Taylan Tahir,
Director of Mata Architects

"Really understanding how to support staff during a pandemic means you have a window into peoples homes and how they live. Everyone feels more supported and definitely bonds the team more."

Tom Gresford,
Gresford Architects

“Working from home as architects is do-able!”
Survey respondent

Being given such an in-depth insight into the day to day working practices of so many architects has been a privilege. Almost everyone we spoke with has found benefits and silver linings in the adaptation to this radically altered way of working.

Some were those you’d expect, such as less commuting providing more time for work and accelerated technology adoption by colleagues and clients. But others were less obvious.

There was definitely a collective realisation that interacting with colleagues and clients from the home environment has brought a degree of humanity into our professional relationships that doesn’t exist in offices.

Meeting etiquette has definitely changed. I often have my son wandering into shot or occasionally on my knee and I think this has a really positive impact. A lot more human side is shown from clients. It helps when you are designing mainly private residential to be seen within your own domestic setting.

Richard GIll,
Paul Archer

We believe that this is representative of an overall shift in attitude to how we work with others that’s deeply positive.

Video calls provide windows into our private environments where we’re truly ourselves. It’s giving those we work with daily access to who we are as people with lives outside of work, rather than just our professional personas.

One thing that is absolutely clear is how dependent we now are on the technologies that are allowing us to work in this way. Had this situation happened before widespread adoption of cloud computing and reliable (most of the time) residential wifi, then things would have played out very differently.

Fortunately, architects have been able to access a vast choice of online tools to help them accomplish what they need to get done.

Next: Tools and Technology →