Working from Home
March 2020
By Mellis Haward

Article originally published in Architecture Today, March 2020.

Being Businesslike

Adopting appropriate working practices and choosing the right tools are vital in successfully transitioning to home-working, finds Archio director Mellis Haward

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Thursday 19 March 2020
Sitting at my makeshift desk on my first day of “WFH” I have a tear in my eye thinking about the last day of nursery for my two girls with their friends, for who knows how long.

But an office meeting at 9am raises my spirits! Our resilient team are all set-up with rented high-spec laptops, VPN connections, headsets and webcams, and are beaming away across the screen

Our Studio Manager has worked remotely from Bristol for the last two years, and as a result we are already experienced at using Go-to-Meeting for conference calls; Trello for shared to-do lists; Xero and Spotlight for financing and cashflow; as well as CMAP for project planning, timesheets and team resourcing. So mercifully we are in a good position to get started with fully remote working.

For the last few weeks Kyle (fellow Archio director) and I have been talking late into the night about how to set-up the best working practices – not just for getting through this period of uncertainty but to thrive in it. After researching some methods for working from home, we knew that ambiguity in structure and routine is amplified during remote working, which led us to develop a default structure for the day.

9am Team Meeting – taking the time to “recreate the water cooler moment” – basically to have a chat and a catch-up, making sure everyone provides an update on any news and how they are adjusting to the new normal. Also running through the plan for the working day.

12pm Director catch up – Kyle and I are both juggling childcare and the business, so we catch-up at the end of our working morning and agree what we need to complete that evening.

6pm ‘Buddy call’ – everyone in the team has a chat with one other person in the team, just to close they day, and to reduce the feeling of being isolated, despite being apart

That afternoon we receive an amazing call from a community housing group to say that we have been successful in our bid for the project! Beers and virtual high fives all round for the team!

This is brilliant news, especially considering the difficulties of winning work during this period. The challenge for this project will be predominantly about ways to manage ‘remote’ community engagement, particularly considering this is at the heart of the scheme.

Friday 20 March
A new day and time to crack on with project work. Fortunately we are entering a busy period of Stage 0-3 on a number of projects, and so within the immediate short term are pretty unaffected by the shut-down of building sites. We take the time to contact clients and reassure them of our ability to keep working.

Having said that the first day of juggling both work and childcare seems to fly by, and I end up working late to keep on top of things.

Monday 23 March
We have a planning submission deadline this week for a new-build community centre in The Cotswolds and I speak with the client to understand how they will manage holding a virtual planning review with their Trustees.

Helpfully the Charity Commission has stepped up to the current challenges and brought in new powers to enable charities to make decisions virtually, by sharing information via Dropbox. This is actually a great improvement on the existing system, and points to a future that streamlines the way decisions can be made for groups such as this.

Tuesday 24 March
There is a lot to get our head round this week as we shift our working patterns quickly:

·      Our studio manager sets up Zoip for call diverts, as we don’t want to give out private mobile phone numbers.
·      We continue negotiations with our landlord and consider a future where we only have a smaller office space which is more ‘curated’ and used predominantly for coming together to design.
·      We hold our first day of tutorials with our Bartlett students, using Microsoft Teams to draw over their drawings on the ‘whiteboard’. It’s clunky and frustrating, and so we look to improve this for next week.
·      I hold my first virtual pre-app meeting with Lewisham Council, after a practice meeting with the client and planning consultant. It went really well! We talk about how to get around issues of displaying site notices by posting them instead.

Settling into this routine there are challenges of course and right now we are experiencing construction companies essentially shutting shop and furloughing most of their team. We are also wary that some of our consultants might start to do the same, so are ringing around structural engineer and QS contacts to check if they are still available to work with us over the next months.

But I feel cautiously positive, and apart from the regular bike ride, I don’t miss that much about going into the office yet. I think there are some exciting things that could come out of this really difficult period, in terms of home-life balance and finding new ways to work together more effectively.