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Working From Home: One Year Later

April 7, 2021

Who can believe that more than a year has passed since we fled the office?

When the pandemic first struck in March 2020, no one could anticipate what would come next.  But we knew that the normal eight-to-five workday, with everyone in the office, was not an option. Within days we were all clearing off our dining room tables, or making use of bedrooms, basements or dens to create a new kind of workspace outside of the office where we could be comfortable and productive.

For a collaborative and creative profession such as architecture, creating appropriate spaces in our busy homes proved to be a design challenge. We’ve learned a lot about working from home over the past year, and not just about the importance of a good office chair. Remote work comes with challenges on multiple fronts, including technology, logistics, and communications. Here are some key lessons that our team has learned:

  1. Tech support is critical. Our team has used a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for years, primarily to collaborate with design partners outside the firm. But we had never tested the technology with more than a couple users at a time.  Within days our in-house IT expert Cam was able to set everyone up with remote workstations that were stable and secure using the latest VPN technology.  We remain thankful for Cam’s support and vigilance every day.
  2. Technology enables creative collaboration. We’ve embraced collaboration tools such as Bluebeam Studio like never before. This great tool allows us to look at an image on-screen together and mark it up in real time.  As visual learners, we’ve found this tool a near perfect stand-in for a design team huddle.
  3. Take advantage of digital rooms. We use GoTo Meeting for our video conferencing, and we have several “rooms” set up on a shared calendar. This way you can quickly see which rooms (i.e. video conference lines) are occupied and avoid that awkward moment of bumping another team out of their session. The seamless calendar integration of the video rooms has been key.
  4. Pick up the phone. While most of our meetings are held remotely, video conferencing for hours straight can be exhausting. Yes, there is a beauty to video conferencing and yes, “face time” with clients is important, but often it can be more efficient (and pleasant!) to just pick up the phone.
  5. Weekly Office Check-ins. Pre-pandemic, we would gather in our conference room every Monday morning to review the week’s priorities and announce company events. We’ve continued this weekly ritual virtually, which provides welcome continuity to our work and connects us with our peers, some of whom we haven’t seen in person in months. It’s fun to have this quick check-in with the whole group and hear what everyone is working on.
  6. Virtual Happy Hours are not that happy. How many hours have you spent in front of a screen over the past year? We haven’t been counting, thankfully. When work, education, and social life are all accessed on a video call, it can feel emotionally draining and overwhelming. We hosted a few virtual happy hours early on but realized quickly that they weren’t sparking joy. Instead, we moved to occasional team gatherings outdoors, and look forward to gathering again safely this summer.
  7. Our office is still open. On any given day, a handful of people still go into the office. Sometimes a masked-up and safe meeting is necessary with colleagues or clients. But going into the office also provides a break from the monotony of working at home and allows for casual conversation among coworkers. We are lucky to have a relatively open office where everyone can space themselves out and feel safe. Before coming in we check in with our officemates to make sure our studios are not overcrowded on any given day.

These are just a few of the adjustments we have made over the past year. We are lucky to have a very dedicated group of employees who can rise to any challenge. Our work standards and output have remained high, despite the many obstacles we have all faced.  So even as life returns to “normal,” we imagine many of these changes will remain in place.

While we haven’t firmed up our plans just jet, we imagine our workplace will be a hybrid model that combines quiet, focused work from home with collaborative, face-to-face time in the office. Our team is busy researching this topic right now—often called “the agile office”—to better understand what will work best for our employees and our clients. Expect an update on this topic soon.

In the interim, we would love to know how your organization has fared over the past year.  What has worked for your team?  What changes do you see in the year ahead?  We’d love to hear from you.

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