The future of work: looking on the bright side

Positive outcomes and opportunities

“When the wind of change blows, some build walls, while others build windmills.” — Chinese Proverb

When crises hit, humans generally react in one of two ways: they either bury their heads in the sand and hope their world exists when things ‘go back to normal’, or they realise that the old normal is gone, they focus on adaptation and understand the opportunities that exist for growth in the new normal.

Throughout this most unusual month of April 2020, as we’ve been creating this report, there’s been a steady flow of bad news in the industry press about the finances and mental health of architects.

A really interesting insight about the importance to the industry at large of remaining positive at an individual level came from Jo Cowen:

"The key thing is really being positive. There is too much panic and doom mongering around and what we need to do is to instill, in our clients, consultants and people around us, a positive approach that this is just a change to normal working practice and a temporary period of uncertainty. We should not perpetuate a doom and gloom sentiment within the industry as we feed off each other and this can only hamper proactivity and the mind set to minimise the impacts in the long term. And what we want to do is really drive ideas and solutions during this time – At JCA it’s about using it as an opportunity. "

Jo Cowen,
Jo Cowen Architects

The architects we spoke with have almost all been positive about the future whilst acknowledging that there will be challenging times ahead.

What’s unique about this crisis, compared to ‘normal’ economic crises, is that it’s affecting everyone, everywhere. All aspects of society are going to have to adapt to the new normal including policy making. One area that has been unexpectedly quick to respond has been planning departments.

Really good news for all architects on the 31st March was that the planning departments have the legal power to hold committee meetings remotely. That was a big stopping point for projects because people thought there was no point moving forward.

Duncan McLeod,
Owner at Studio McLeod

The business of architecture will continue, of course. However, it will undeniably come through this fundamentally changed.

"I think Covid-19 will have one of the most significant social impacts in the way that we live and work in a generation… The big thing is how we aproach design and the impact on design for the future. If you look at the way we design homes, apartments, multi-unit, offices... I think all of that will change because we need to be thinking in a much more holistic way about people living, working, playing, sleeping, eating together. Especially in London where space is constrained. I think there will be a massive demand for flexible office spaces that are more suburban. I think there will be some withdrawal of offices from the City and we will see a lot of the bigger companies moving to East, West, North and South London as well as the regions. There will be a desire for smaller businesses to root themelves closer to neighbourhoods where people live affordably and where density is reduced."

Jo Cowen,
Jo Cowen Architects

In a digitally-transformed world, the architects proficient in using VR/AR/MR tech are well placed to design the spaces and environments of the virtual world.

We’ve found that some new clients and partnerships have actually come out of this crisis. For example we’ve joined up with a lighting company to help them create a virtual gallery for their products.

Jon Ackroyd,
Ackroyd Lowrie

A new depth to the client relationship was seen as a benefit by a number of respondents.

Since the lockdown, we’ve had to change the way we work with our clients – but we’ve used the tools we have got to make a positive change. Because we are no longer physically standing up and presenting something to them, the interaction has become much more conversational and collaborative. The act of discussing, rather than presenting, has had a massive effect on the engagement of our clients.

Irkus Altuna,
Project Architect at Urbanist Architecture

Some studio owners are predicting that in the shorter term, as everyone adapts to the new normal which involves spending a lot more time at home, people will be thinking about upgrading their living spaces.

Spending more time indoors may give people an accelerated understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their homes. We hope there will be a spike in work coming in once the restrictions are released because people will be saying “right this home definitely doesn’t work, we definitely need to change this, or we definitely need to move because this house is never going to give us what we need” so there will be a spike in work at that point.

Duncan McLeod,
Owner at Studio McLeod

Whilst there are many uncertainties as to the nature of a post-lockdown world, economically and culturally, what we know for certain is that everyone involved in building projects will be more digitally enabled.

As clients become more proficient with new toolkits in their own lives, it will mean they have higher expectations of digital literacy in those they work with. The architects that come through this successfully will be those that have accepted this reality and use it to shape their future.

Whether it’s through increasing the territory they can work across, realising the significant time gains of taking a more flexible approach to work, or the delegation of tedious admin tasks to technologies like Weaver, those who have used this time as a catalyst to become leaner, more agile digital-first businesses will emerge more efficient, more profitable... and more resilient to change than anyone thought possible.

" What I hope happens, is that these restrictions will allow us to expand where we can work - someone might say we want London architects to build new build houses in Cornwall, Devon and the Outer Hebrides - whereas previously a client would have worked with local architects because there’s a sense that we need to be closeby. What I’m hoping is that these accelerated forced moves forward mean that we have the technology to be able to interact with that client and be able to work in a wider field "

Duncan McLeod,
Owner at Studio McLeod