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We like remote working but miss the easy collaboration of an office

Stephen Cousins

Remote working is going well for most architects, but communicating and collaborating with colleagues just isn’t as easy or as effective

  • Duncan McLeod of Studio McLeod in his home studio
    Duncan McLeod of Studio McLeod in his home studio Credit: Weaver
  • Duncan McLeod, of Studio McLeod
    Duncan McLeod, of Studio McLeod Credit: Weaver

Architects’ biggest remote working headache in coronavirus lockdown is communication and collaboration, and over a quarter are sending paper designs through the post, according to the findings of a new report.

The Remote Studio Survey, carried out by PropTech start-up Weaverbuild, quizzed 190 practices of various sizes on the positives and negatives of running businesses from home. A questionnaire and follow-up interviews were carried out over several weeks from mid-April.

Some 81% of respondents said they had suffered little to no disruption from the sudden move to remote working, versus 17% who said they were unprepared and have faced challenges.

However, around 40% said communication and collaboration were the biggest ongoing challenges.

Firms that indicated higher levels of preparedness for remote work typically meant they were already using cloud technologies for workflow management, document sharing and synchronous and asynchronous communications. However, the drive towards digital workflows was counterbalanced by 27% of respondents who said they were sending paper-based designs in the post.

Around a fifth of respondents said they had experienced issues with technology, including difficulties sharing large files over residential wifi, the impracticality of having a physical server in the office with limited VPN connections, or not enough space space for a second monitor.

Difficulty finding adequate tools to emulate the process of developing ideas together in the studio was a challenge for many of those interviewed, said Linden Dover, COO and co-founder of Weaverbuild: ‘People miss the opportunity to collaborate quickly – by sketching with their colleagues, for example threshing out a plan or assessing a site using tracing paper and pen, or simply noting changes to a BIM model when looking over a colleague’s shoulder.’

  • The home studio of Studio McLeod's Rusty Murphy
    The home studio of Studio McLeod's Rusty Murphy Credit: Weaver
  • Rusty Murphy, of of Studio McLeod
    Rusty Murphy, of of Studio McLeod Credit: Weaver

The survey revealed strong support for immersive technologies, with 72% of firms saying they use either VR, AR or Mixed Reality in their work. Over half (52%) of respondents said they use Zoom for video conferencing, followed by Microsoft Teams, at 41%, then Skype, at 27%.

The pandemic unfolded so fast there was little time to adapt homes into functioning offices and a fifth of survey respondents said that ‘staying focused in a work-at-home environment’ was the most difficult aspect of their new working life.

Many highlighted the struggle of working while homeschooling children as lines between personal and professional lives blurred.

But the upheaval has also brought about a ‘deeply positive’ shift in attitudes to how colleagues interact, said the report, with video calls providing a window into peoples’ personal lives outside of work.

‘There was sentiment among a lot of architects that the current situation, though unwanted, has brought a lot of their staff closer together, which is one nice silver lining,’ said Dover.

Employers have a duty of care to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of staff, yet over a quarter of respondents said they were doing nothing to maintain a beneficial working environment and culture.

Some 58% said they are using Spotify and shared playlists to keep their teams feeling connected, and 8% of firms are providing teams with subscriptions to meditation apps, like Headspace and Calm, and sleeping aids.

The report notes a consensus among studio owners to use the current situation to take a hard look at where to make business more efficient, as many will aim to continue the remote working experiment when the lockdown ends.

‘What came up a lot was the hope that this proves to business principals and owners that you can trust employees to be sensible and maintain the same level of output when working from home,’ said Dover. Many principals saw it as an opportunity to redefine the office of the future, he added: ‘Some said flexible working could allow them to increase the size of their team, in terms of numbers, without the need to increase the footplate and hire more space. One architect said they could perhaps hire a really inspiring space for team collaboration and brainstorming when people were not working from home. The rulebook has really been chucked in the bin in terms of the typical nine to five,’ he concluded.


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