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  • Jason

Architecture in the Time of Coronavirus

It seems like a lifetime ago that we began implementing our work-from-home policy in mid-March 2020. My company, along with nearly all other businesses across the globe had to make some form of adjustment to react to the very apparent Covid-19 situation.

First off, I must acknowledge and thank the Federal Government for their financial assistance. The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), the Temporary Wage Subsidy (TWS) for Employers, and the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) have literally prevented my business from going under. Further, the BDC low-interest loan has also helped my company weather this storm, and I am grateful. Of most importance, on behalf of the JFA team, we would like to thank all the front-line healthcare workers helping the sick combat this pandemic along with the essential businesses who are out there risking their lives so that we can (rather conveniently) still enjoy our meals in the safety of our homes.

Covid-19 was a major gut-punch to some businesses in the way in which they operate, requiring fundamental changes in what they do. For others, the situation required procedural tweaking to simply adjust to our current "new normal".

Our business is more of the latter. We are fortunate that architectural design has transitioned into the digital realm. Our design ideas are drafted in the computer, and many of our physical sketches are either digitally scanned or photographed before being discarded for the next idea.

What was involved for our work-from-home Covid-19 transition was making sure all staff had access to their work computers from home. Essentially, each member logs into their work computers through their personal laptops. I was fortunate enough that every member of the team already had a laptop - and then I provided upgrades to their machines in the form of RAM and replaced their system hard drives to be solid state. Those two upgrades can make nearly any older computer usable once again. It was a marathon four days to get everything installed on the laptops, but well worth the push.

That having been said, the technological aspect of our transition was the easy part.

Design is not about sitting at your desk and working 100% efficiently at all hours of the work day. There is a rhythm to design that ebbs and flows. At times, we have very defined tasks to complete, but at other times we have to take a step back to reflect on what we are doing. And sometimes we don't work at all, spending time to "unplug" from whatever task we are doing. It may sound counter-intuitive, but this is essential for developing great work.

Covid-19 has impacted this rhythm and we are now all isolated in our homes, staring alone at the remote computer terminal so far away. Our social discussions have been reduced to our Zoom meetings and work related emails. At the onset of our work-from-home, it became very apparent that our chat discussions about various projects were not effectively being filed, easily lost in cyberspace. So we began to implement Slack, a web based chat system that channels our discussions under each project - this has greatly helped us organize our discussions to be specifically related to each project. It also provided a chat network where we could organize ideas related to how we can effectively deal with the Covid-19 situation.

This is where my focus is placed at the moment. Many projects have been placed on pause, and one of my goals during this pandemic is to position the company well for a strong bounce back when the world opens up again (but no rush). The design team has been working on various ideas and I have been prioritizing business development over project timelines.

The silver lining is that Covid-19 has done two things. It has forced an evolution of the practice where we are using newer communication tools, but more importantly it has given me time to step back for a moment. For the past 4 years, this company has been a constant push to continually build the business, producing designs, adding new staff, expanding the studio space, whilst landing new projects. There was no time to pause and reflect.

Now, I have plenty of time to reflect and my hope is that this moment of pause will allow us to evolve the practice into something greater.


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