In the world of architecture, the traditional image of architects huddled around drafting tables and bustling in office spaces has long been the norm. However, technology continues to reshape work environments across society, and the architecture profession is not immune to this paradigm shift.
The practice of architecture has been utilizing digital tools for decades now. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the boundaries of these digital tools have pushed into the realm of remote work. This article discusses the work-from-home situation in relation to a profession rooted in physical place and space.
Achitects play a pivotal role in shaping the built environment and our understanding of physical space is a necessary skill in order to design new spaces. However, in recent years, the architecture profession has witnessed a remarkable transformation driven by technological advancements. The emergence of sophisticated software and the economic availability of computing technology has made the profession of architecture a digital industry. With the pandemic, this digital age has been pushed further with the widespread accepted practice of working from home.
There are many benefits with a work-from-home policy. It provides lifestyle flexibility, which leads to a better work-life balance. The biggest benefits to working from home is a reduced daily commute to the studio, and a broader access to talent (who may be able to work from a separate City).
However, the shift towards remote work in architecture is not without its challenges. Like all changes in any industry, working-from-home requires adjustment and discipline. Architecture often requires close collaboration with colleagues, clients, and construction teams. Maintaining effective teamwork in a remote setting is a challenge. Team dynamics and communication can become stressed, and if left unchecked, can lead to large disagreement or misunderstandings. Further, there are challenges of data security and quality control when working-from-home, however this is a challenge that all studios face regardless.
In a rapidly changing world, the architecture profession is not immune to the evolution of work environments. While architects have traditionally been associated with office spaces and drafting tables, the digital age is ushering in new possibilities. Remote work, with its benefits and challenges, is reshaping the way architects approach their profession. As the architecture industry continues to adapt, architects must be prepared to embrace new opportunities and navigate the changing landscape of their profession.
Work-From-Home Implementation at JFA
What we have found at JFA is that the most effective work-from-home policy is a balance of both flexibility and structure. We have set days with which the studio expects staff to all come into the studio, and with a few days that it is expected that only half the studio would be present. For flexibility, a request to work from home on a given day can be granted (depending on the project tasks, and the schedule for that day).
Human nature is an interesting thing. In the Toronto Downtown core, traffic is now observed to be the lightest on Mondays and Fridays (as the companies that provide an overly flexible work-from-home policy see zero staff enter the office on those days). Compounded with the staff reasoning that the reduction of the office commute being the biggest benefit from working from home; Mondays and Fridays would be the most effective days to have the staff be in the studio - the commute time is the shortest (as traffic is the lightest), and as an added benefit as a manager, we can start and end the week with the most filled studio space.
In terms of staff working from home - it was important for the JFA studio to have staff in the studio each day. We have implemented Wednesdays and Thursdays to be designated work-from-home days, with a predeteremined half of the staff working-from-home on one day, and the other half working-from-home on the other.
In summary, Mondays, Tuesday and Fridays are meant to be the days when staff are fully back in the studio, with Wednesdays and Thursdays being work-from-home days.
In reality, with all the structure put in place, I have found that not a single day will see a full capacity in-person studio. People get sick, people have appointments, they have life reasons to request for a work-from-home day. This is the challenge before me at this juncture.
The decision for me is whether we embrace this reality and completely downsize our studios (as the space is luxuriously large for being only at half capacity all the time), or to tighten the rules with further limits to working-from-home. Deep down, it feels like we will have to do a bit of both - downsize the space and set limits to the number of work-from-home days a staff member can take in a month.
But what about architectural staff trying to work 100% from home? There must be a case where architects (or any industry) can be fully remote. And here lies the deepest mental challenge I face as the principal architect and business owner. If a staff member wishes to work 100% remotely, what is stopping a business manager like myself from hiring replacement staff from abroad that cost far less and would have the same communications compromise as a staff member in Canada? Of course, outside of the heartlessness of that decision... Some business owners would - and I think about this all the time.
What are your thoughts? I know of some studios that have forced their staff to return to the office 100%, but also know of staff that have very relaxed policies. Which side are you on with the situation?