Work From Home Tips For Architects During COVID-19

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A crisis as unprecedented as the COVID-19 pandemic has altered workplaces in a number of ways. One of them is the adoption of remote working.

Work-from-home has become integral to nearly every industry, including architecture. For many, this is uncharted territory. Especially in comparison with the vibrant culture of the architectural industry, remote working has proved to be a challenge for its employees.

However, this time is greatly conducive to one’s growth as an architect, individually as well as a team player. With digitization allowing for effective co-working, the industry has responded with optimism and resilience, relentless in its pursuit of the perfect design.

Below are some tips to keep that spirit up!

Work From Home Tips For Architects

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  1. Follow official guidelines

In trying times, it helps to follow a few essential rules. This ensures that all other tasks are taken care of at a fundamental level and, thus, done with increased efficiency. The pandemic, in particular, calls for strict adherence to official guidelines. The CDC and the WHO are two primary organizations, along with local health authorities, that track the global response to COVID-19.

  1. Limit your consumption of news

However counterintuitive this sounds, at this point, limiting one’s consumption of news is probably a healthy practice. The sheer volume of cases, coupled with fraudulent information from illegitimate sources, has been seen taking a toll on one’s mental health, thus lowering immunity as well as productivity. While at work, it hardly pays to be anxious, and the news brings little else.

  1. Follow a schedule

Maintaining a realistic schedule is a time-tested method of staying on top of one’s workload. And it is required now more than ever before. When the world outside has turned all definitions of ‘normal’ on its head, your schedule will help you retain some semblance of regularity.

  1. Stay connected

Social distancing is non-negotiable. But so is staying in touch with our near and dear ones! The pandemic has brought along immense uncertainty and unrest, and human connection can go a long way in fostering healthy workplace habits. The reason is simple enough. Friends and family are our safe spaces, and a calming phone-call with your loved one can help you work feeling energized and focused.

Ensuring a steady workflow. Software and Technology

Technology has revolutionized every aspect of our lives. In the wake of a global pandemic, its benefits have been unmatched and uncountable. In the following paragraphs are outlined some ways in which you can use various software and applications to maximize your remote work experience.

  1. Utilize cloud storage

Cloud-based services such as Autodesk BIM 360 and Graphisoft BIMcloud are incorporated in a number of design systems. Transferring your projects to such storage spaces allows for effective collaboration and simplifies communication within a firm. Alternatively, with a mirroring application like Splashtop, workplace computer screens can be shared with the home computer screen, further streamlining the process.

As for creative tasks, cloud-based applications are found in abundance! They are programmed to recreate sketchbooks and sketch rolls that are integral to the process of designing in a physical studio. Among them, Morpholio has garnered a significant fan following, with apps such as Trace and Board allowing creators to design from the comfort of their homes. Alongside this, they facilitate seamless communication between peers and clients, with the option to present proposals as well!

When it comes to convenient and free storage, Google Drive and Dropbox present the obvious options. Both applications work in tandem with your computer’s explorer or finder window panels, and are optimized for the secure exchange of information. Moving your files and folders to either application is a prudent step towards maintaining the workflow.

Lastly, numerous architecture applications enable designers to work from home as if on-site. Available for both Android and iOS, apps such as Planimeter, Construction Master Pro, and MagicPlan are useful in systemizing your work processes.

  1. Work together as a team

Communication is key while working from home, and technology is your best friend in this! Slack systems are preferred by a number of firms as they integrate Google calendars, Trello boards, and even birthday lists into one systematic tool. Structuring its interface is necessary, though, to avoid confusion. The idea is to streamline and disseminate information keeping in mind the common vision. Additionally, Slack allows users to indicate their ‘status’ to signal availability.

When more concerns are at hand, your organization may find it necessary to get together for a discussion. Voila, virtual meetings! Usually conducted via Google Meet or Zoom, such conferences imbibe the team with a sense of belonging, and chances of miscommunication are greatly reduced.

On a regular basis, however, content management systems come in handy. A prime example is Trello, a similar application for delegating tasks and mapping out projects and ideas. It also allows members to check the status of each project. In the same vein, architecture firms make use of Deltek and Newforma which provide extensive options for organizing project information on a single platform.

Having so many systems and applications at our disposal can, however, be counterproductive. Information overload and miscommunication are some of the problems multiple avenues give rise to. In order to prevent this, make use of a minimum number of systems.  For instance, you may stick to one video conferencing app, one text-based app, and one file-sharing app. In a virtual environment, it’s best to limit exchanges to the essentials as streamlining is essential to productivity.

Maintaining work-life balance

In the absence of fixed office timings, personal working hours may stretch throughout the day and well into the night. It’s difficult to draw the line once you’re energized, motivated, and in the flow of things. However, it is crucial not only to take regular breaks, but to also ensure that your life doesn’t become an extension of your work. Ideally, it should be the other way round!

Redesign your work habits

An overhaul of habits begins with space. Dedicating a part of your house to work is the first step to enhancing productivity as well as knowing when to switch off. Casually referred to as a ‘home office’, this space becomes the center of your attention for a fixed number of hours and, therefore, must be free of distractions. Also, make sure to optimize it for your tasks and keep it well-equipped and prepped!

Ergonomics are crucial to a well-planned workstation. Pick a comfortable chair with ample back support; you’ll spend a major chunk of the day in it. Other important aspects to consider are ventilation and light. Natural light is not only easy on the eyes, but also has a soothing effect on us as a species. So, let the sunlight stream in and work unhindered.

The other aspect that demands reevaluation is work hours. With long commutes and lunch breaks being things of the past, you may find yourself completing tasks within a much smaller time-window.

Even if you allot 8 hours of the day to work to maintain a routine, utilize those extra hours in ways that are beneficial to you as an architect. Complete an online course, learn a software, or simply plan the upcoming week; it’s free play!

Lastly, switch off. While working from home, temporal boundaries often get blurred in the flurry of working at one’s own pace. However, self-discipline is of utmost importance and here, you’re doubly responsible, for your output as well as your own health. Whether you choose to read, work out, or binge-watch The Crown for the 9th time, time-off has a direct and beneficial impact on productivity levels.

Focus

We design our homes with the utmost love and care; in essence, they’re our space of relaxation. With our favorite things under the same roof as our workstation, it can be difficult to focus.

A dearly loved book, an old photo album, the smell of burritos from a neighbor’s kitchen, all make for pleasant distractions that can get in the way of work. Listed below, therefore, are a few tips that may ensure you pick up that TV remote only after completing the task at hand!

  1. Eliminate distractions

Time management is an essential life-skill and especially relevant in the context of working remotely. For the reasons mentioned above, it is easy to lose track of time while working as well as during breaks. This is where some techniques may prove helpful. One such example is Pomodoro, popular across the world with entrepreneurs, designers, writers, and even students.

Simple enough to follow, it divides up your schedule into work-blocks of 25 minutes each, with a 5-minute break at the end of every block. A number of apps dedicated to the Pomodoro technique are available and they are especially helpful if you find yourself constantly distracted by social media and irrelevant Internet browsing.

  1. Stay active and calm

The pandemic has snatched away one of the best pleasures in life, breaking a sweat in the sun. But if you’ve always wanted to be that person who actually uses their yoga mat, this is the perfect time to do so.

We’re not talking pilates here. Start with some simple stretching; a few weeks of discipline can make a world of difference. However, if your local authorities allow it, don’t miss the chance to go for a walk!

Along with physical fitness, mental health is of primary importance especially at a time like the present. The transition from the public sphere to a home office is a difficult one and presents challenges to the body and mind alike. In the midst of this, yoga and light exercise can go a long way in alleviating stress.

Enhance your skills

The pandemic, in an ironic plot-twist, has handed us back our time. As we gradually realize that things take far shorter to finish, the number of hours in hand increases. But while it’s only too easy to cozy up in bed with Dorritos and Netflix, we must ensure that we put those hours to good use. And what better way to spend them than learning something new!

  1. Learning new software

The internet is littered with excellent software, some of which are also free to use. Most have an attractive free trial period. Proficiency in certain software doesn’t merely look good on your CV; more importantly, it makes you a more competent architect and a valuable addition to any team!

  1. Take a virtual museum tour

It is slightly unfortunate that a pandemic is what it has taken for many of us to try and get a glimpse into the world’s most stunning museums. Or rather, to have found the time to do so. However, better late than never, and a museum tour makes for a thoroughly engaging afternoon. 

While museums across the world remain closed to the public, they have opened up their galleries with the help of the World Wide Web. The Guggenheim and Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History are among them, in addition to Google Art and Culture’s virtual tours of numerous museums. This offers a novel approach to the works of art, one that teaches as well as enriches.

  1. Finish an online course

While working from home, you can also go back to your student days. Learning is for everybody, and with the arsenal of online courses at hand, it’d be a waste of resources to not explore our options! Some of the world’s best universities are offering online courses in architecture, many of which are specialized in their approach. The best example would be Harvard’s The Architectural Imagination.

  1. Focus on construction material

This may sound niche, however, in architecture, it pays to be a master rather than a jack-of-all-trades. An important area that is often overshadowed by the more dynamic aspects of planning and design, is construction and material. There are plenty of excellent courses that delve deep into the subject and will be adequate to strengthen one’s hold over the fundamentals.

  1. Improve your sketching skills

Once you’ve chosen the life of an architect, your sketchbook will seldom leave you. So why not use this time to get better at it? Again, apart from Youtube tutorials, there are a number of online courses that are specifically geared towards architectural sketching and cover most bases adequately. Some software and applications also offer similar tutorials and are easy enough to navigate.

  1. Watch interviews of the best architects

It is never a bad idea to simply sit down and listen to the best minds speak. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is an institution that takes note of the fact. With an impressive archive of architectural interviews, now open to the public via their channel, it offers an unparalleled resource that is both useful and accessible.

  1. Make time for TED Talks

TED Talks are the most convenient option to learn new things while finishing up simple chores. A lot of episodes feature prominent architects and other experts in the field who cover a broad range of topics related to architecture, including one by the founder of TED itself! Especially interesting to us are episodes that explore how architecture can bring about a tangible change in society today.

  1. Get better at remote working itself

As a radical shift in lifestyle, working from home has morphed into a lesson of sorts. And for lessons, one must prepare. To this end, we’d suggest looking at courses, talks, and articles that discuss the concept in detail keeping in mind the findings of global research on the same.

These resources break down a seemingly overwhelming process into simpler, more accessible chunks, and also offer tips on how to utilize your time more fruitfully. Adjusting to the new environment, communication tools, and working as a team from home are a few areas that are covered. Thoughtful and well-researched, they offer some of the best guidance out there!

Responses from the Industry

As a dynamic and accommodating industry, the architectural sector’s response to remote work has been promising and gracious. The common goal is to remain proactive and imbibe team members across hierarchies with a strong sense of community. Needless to say, technology has been the biggest ally.

There have been inconveniences, however. It is only expected and natural given how drastic a shift this has been especially for an industry with coworking and collaboration at the heart of its ventures. Nevertheless, firm owners, employees, and clients remain upbeat and hopeful. Summarized below are the responses from a number of reputed firms and architects on the experience of working from home.

GBBN Architects, Ohio, United States of America

For GBBN, the transition was easier than expected. With their Beijing offices integrated into WeChat, spontaneous meetings, screen sharing, file transfers, and phone calls were frequent which minimized disruptions in communication.

Zoom was the go-to option for meetings with clients, a considerably new practice within the firm. In rare cases when people did have to be on office premises, a schedule was followed, one that allowed only one individual at a time in order to eliminate the chances of exposure.

MAD Architects, Beijing and California

This highly reputable firm bustles with energy on regular workdays. It’s no surprise then when COVID-19 struck, they had a good number of ongoing projects that presented a challenge to work on from home. 

Firstly, ensuring that all employers had Internet access was an example of consideration and inclusivity which allowed for equitable engagement with office files. Meetings were replaced by Zoom, but reportedly, colleagues simply missed each other! A brilliant move on their part, one that was noticed also by the Wall Street Journal, was the online happy hour where 70 employees paid tribute to health workers on Zoom.

Carlo Ratti Associate, Turin and New York

If there’s any architecture firm that has been making the most of the global pandemic, it has to be Carlo Ratti Associate. Known for their emphasis on positive social change, they have been moving towards a reworking of priorities within the firm with a single-minded focus on utilizing the collective skillset to contribute to alleviating the effects of the pandemic on society.

Their efforts have culminated in an open-source project called CURA, which is also interdisciplinary in nature, comprising doctors, engineers, NGOs, and military experts.

Mizzi Studio, London and Valletta

A unique and quirky design studio, Mizzi has been a source of abundant positivity and clear-thinking in the architecture industry. The people at Mizzi are relentless in honing their skills and ideating various strategies keeping in the mind the current climate. Innovative in thought, the studio also has also been greatly focussed on coming up with novel concepts in design for a more sustainable future.

SOM, Chicago, United States of America

With a legacy unparalleled in repute, this legendary architecture firm’s advice is to stay educated and proactive. They emphasize the fundamentals of what makes a great organization such as flexibility, communication, and preparedness. Positive leadership is also a crucial tenet of SOM in such trying times.

Their approach to remote working has been deliberate and holistic. To that end, feedback is taken seriously and teams are regularly checked in on. SOM cares about maintaining trust and transparency with all its workers, collaborators, and clients. Hence, the primary aspect of concern has been communication. Alongside this, and just as importantly, here they truly believe in the power of a hearty laugh!

S3DA Design, California, United States of America

While this Californian architecture firm would not prioritize remote working under normal circumstances, it does recognize the perks that come with working from home. In eliminating on-site visits, it has acted as a cost-efficient method of functioning. Ecologically conscious, its members, first and foremost, appreciate the reduction in carbon emissions that is a direct result of remote work.

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Final Words

Whether we like it or not, remote working has become the word of the day and for good reason. In this climate of uncertainty and anxiety, the architecture industry has taken the move in its stride and remained buoyant. Most importantly, the focus has been on the right things – communication, streamlined collaboration, and mental health.

Our article here is a summary of tips to stay connected, healthy, and productive. We have compiled them after careful research and by engaging with experts in the relevant fields, especially architecture.

Times are tough, and tasks demand creative problem-solving. In an industry that runs on innovation and practice, remote working might just be the silver lining we’re in dire need of.

Till next time, stay safe!

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