COVID-19 is having a major impact on all of our lives. Every day, we are inundated with an overwhelm of news about the virus and its far-reaching effects. Certainly, the long-term economic outlook is dire.
And yet, there are some apparent silver linings for architectural practices in this crisis. Here are five side-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that will have lasting, positive results.
1. Remote Working
Prior to COVID-19, only a few practices offered remote working in earnest, either due to a lack of technical infrastructure or underlying concerns that this could truly succeed in the architectural profession. The sudden onset of COVID-19 and introduction of social distancing measures have forced practices to transform into remotely-operated businesses within a few days. Subsequently, Instagram has been overwhelmed with #WFH pictures and positive messages that it’s business as usual for every practice, despite the change in circumstances.
Of course, teething problems remain behind the scenes. Parents who struggle to balance their ‘work from home’ routines with their ‘stay at home’ children. Offices that are still sussing out the best technical setups for remote team communication and work processes. Despite this, it is already clear that once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, those opportunities for remote working will be here to stay. The positive knock-on benefits for companies are numerous:
- Offering greater flexibility and work/life balance;
- Money and time-efficient due to reduced travel costs and travel time;
- Enabling young practices to scale up their team without having to commit to larger premises while they are still in the start-up phase;
- Retaining talent and expertise when a change in a team member’s personal circumstances prevents them from attending the office site any longer;
- Allowing small practices to join forces as a virtual team to work on larger projects;
- Having access to a greater pool of talent and skills that is not restricted by geography.
2. Virtual Meetings
Necessity is the greatest motivator. This has never been more evident than in the sharp increase in virtual meetings as a result of travel restrictions and social distancing, with even the most tech-averse embracing a variety of video call software in order to carry on meetings as normal.
The positive feedback has been universal. Who would have thought that it would be possible to have an effective design team meeting entirely online? The advanced software available and multiple file sharing facilities have allayed the fears of even the greatest sceptics, appeasing concerns for architects, clients, and contractors alike. There’s no going back now. Virtual meetings are here to stay and the advantages are numerous:
- Cost saving due to reduced travel costs and travel time;
- Keeping carbon footprints down;
- Allowing greater flexibility to set up ad-hoc design team or coordination meetings;
- Enabling remote working for practice team members as required.
3. Leadership Skills Workout
A few weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown, most practices have now set up their virtual offices and worked through initial teething problems related to remote working. The next challenge will see many practice and team leaders navigating the unfamiliar position of being a remote leader and overseeing a dispersed team of remote workers.
While some architects are “natural-born leaders” many find themselves in a leadership role by default as practice owners or having been promoted to leadership roles like project architect and team leader – often without any additional training.
The COVID-19 challenges for practice and team leaders now go beyond day-to-day team management. They require them to step up and transform from accidental leaders into intentional leaders. This crisis with all its remote working challenges offers a unique opportunity for practicing and honing leadership skills. Call it the COVID-19 leadership gym, where you can build your leadership muscles and approach common challenges from a different angle. Opportunities for a special workout are plenty and could focus on:
- Time management;
- Planning and delivery;
- Strategic thinking;
- People management;
- Relationship building.
Maintaining team morale and engagement, tracking work and productivity, establishing effective communication among the team – these are particularly challenging in the context of remote working, but are equally important for onsite teams. Take this opportunity to make your leadership an intentional practice that will allow you to return to your physical offices as stronger leaders with stronger teams.
4. Team Bonding
The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique challenge that practice leaders and their teams must overcome together. Much will depend on leadership. If handled in the correct way, it will bond team members and transform the practice into a stronger unit. Working through a crisis in this way can tie individuals to each other and to the practice far more deeply than any values statement.
Leaders who now keenly look after their teams will foster a strong sense of loyalty and undoubtedly reap the long-term benefits.
5. Time to Work on your Business
Less travel, sites closing down temporarily, fewer meetings ... after the first few weeks of settling into your new routines of home/office life, it will most likely transpire that you have more time available to focus on the one thing that usually falls by the wayside: working on your business.
Now might be the time to explore in detail what your work stands for and create an inspiring long-term vision. Develop that five-year plan. Spend time reviewing your practice structure. Devise detailed working processes and procedures. Improve your marketing and business development strategy, maybe thinking about measures you can put in place now to lessen the impact of the pending economic downturn later.
Set yourself a timeframe: one month, two months, whatever feels comfortable. Decide what you would like to have created and achieved in that period with regards to your career and business development. If you intentionally use this time now, you will have created a strong foundation for your business, so that when the COVID-19 crisis is over, you can return to the common way of working well prepared and stronger than ever.
About the Author:
Britta Siggelkow is an accredited career and leadership coach, and an experienced architect in the built environment, whose career has taken her around the world including Australia, Germany and the UK. She is also the founder of THINK:BUILD, a coaching and consulting practice created to give architects and designers the time and space to see their practice holistically. Britta’s expertise is in the areas of leadership, business vision, strategy and organisational structure.