Seismic change necessitates innovation. This pandemic has been a forcing function for architects and the American workforce overall. Fortunately, most in the design profession have been able to continue work in some capacity. The questions now are, “How have we as architects and our firms changed and adapted?” And, “Is the new paradigm here to stay?”
Several architects shared their personal and firm experiences during the recent webinar hosted by AIA Colorado, “Remote Work: Here to Stay?” Hosted by the Business of Architecture Knowledge Community, Chair Amanda Christianson, AIA, moderated a panel of four architects: 1) Mary Morissette, FAIA, 2) Mike Piche, AIA, 3) Brenna Costello, AIA and 4) Liz Hallas, AIA.
If you missed the webinar, you can view it on YouTube or read on for highlights from the event.
Mentorship, onboarding new employees, and work/home balance were mentioned by the panel members as the most difficult aspects during this pandemic. Here is this event’s participant poll question breakdown for what is missed most from not working in the office: 44 percent collaboration and learning, 38 percent social interactions, 13 percent mentorship, and 2 percent regularly scheduled days.
Mentorship is at its best when in-person and conducted in an interactive, team environment with drawings or walking the job site. While video calls can connect statewide, it simply falls short to provide a meaningful conduit for mentorship. Mary Morissette, FAIA said, “The lack of mentoring, learning management principles, or technology applications is missing in our profession now. We need to gain back what was lost during COVID.”
When it comes to onboarding, a handshake and guided tour are not necessarily options for new employees. Liz Hallas, AIA, said, “We hired four new people in the last year, and it is has been challenging for them to get to know the team remotely.” Even during video calls, introverts and extroverts may communicate differently, which could make it difficult for people to connect. Yes, technology connects. However, technology may disconnect, as well.
Finally, empathy is the keyword of the work/home balancing act. Working parents have become homeschool parents or perhaps provided around-the-clock toddler care. And even still, medical safety for ourselves and others becomes a critical factor in decisions. Should one go? Should one stay? Of the webinar attendees, 64 percent enjoyed the work/life flexibility. Brenna Costello, AIA, said, “We have a ‘no judgment’ policy on working from either home or the office. No questions asked.” But even so, kids, dogs, and doorbell deliveries are now noticeable in our work meetings. Embrace empathy for others.
The conference room and meeting space have suddenly expanded—by a lot. Technology can actually connect those individuals who typically don’t have a seat at the traditional table. Mike Piché, AIA said, “I have talked with some clients I never met before, because they are not the lead person in a project.”
While virtual meetings can be draining, the upside for statewide, regional, or national offices is substantial. The carbon footprint and non-travel benefits reinforce our industry’s pursuit of enriching our environment, and 11 percent of polled respondents liked the lack of a commute. Surely, lessons can be carried forward with this approach.
Regardless of the pros and cons, architects are in the middle of a new reality from a working and designing viewpoint. Three-quarters of participants polled believed a hybrid work model would be continued in six months, with 16 citing in-studio, and 8 percent remote. AIA Colorado CEO Mike Waldinger, Hon. AIA, reminded participants that either way, we should maintain a healthy life balance.