So our office in Helsinki started working remotely thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic around the week of March 16-19th (week 12). Most of us haven’t done this before and there are some things worth bearing in mind for remote working generally and in particular for Architects and designers. I decided to try to collect some tips for working from home for Architects.
After about twenty years out of Architecture School and never being in an office that was very receptive of remote working, in the space of a week most of us moved over to it. The Pandemic meant that people became increasingly worried about working in our open plan office and it wasn’t clear whether the government would in fact mandate office closures.
Either way by the end of that week we started preparing and were all able to work from home by the middle of the next week.
I have collated some tips and good advice along with my own insights after the first month of working from home.
Basic things to Remember
The main thing I have noticed is that those quick questions to the office expert on x or y are a lot harder to do when remote working. Setting tasks and communicating within a design team is also harder without face to face contact. Take extra time and to communicate when you are all remote make use of written, audio and visual tools, they all have their place. Pay attention that everyone knows where and how to get in contact with you. Double check things so you can keep misunderstandings down to a minimum.
You need to be especially proactive about progress on longer-term goals and deadlines which can get lost now. I now take the time at the end of the day to summarise what I have done and what I need to do and check for the next day and for the next set of goals. This helps me frame the past day and set up the next one well.
Remember also to chat with your team socially, it’s really important to avoid feeling isolated. If you are then you need to be communicating more.
You need time to adjust if this is a new work situation for you. You won’t be as efficient especially at first and you need to remember to take breaks and get some fresh air especially if you are alone. Some days will go better than others especially at the beginning. So go for a walk, go check the mail and get the milk from the corner shop. Remember to exercise and eat well.
If you are working with your mind fresh you will be much more efficient so taking time away from your work desk helps to lower stress and get you working more efficiently when you do return. Make yourself good food and talk to the people around you at home as we’ll as in the office.
You need to be able to focus on work so organise as good a workspace for yourself as possible. Get yourself a good chair, your ergonomic requirement are not going anywhere, and give yourself enough space to work and keep that space relatively clear. Protect your workspace environment during the time you are at work. Close the door to the rest of your house, put on your headphone, do what you need for a little work separation.
Establish a routine for work from home. Get dressed! You don’t have to wear a suit but don’t just hang around in your underwear either. Make sure to establish a work time and home time. It is actually really easy to work more from home as the boundaries between the work and home environments are blurred. Make sure you can pack it away or close the door to your office in the evening. If you establish for yourself a good workday routine at home you will know when to break it also when needed.
Try and develop a good understanding of what you need to get focussed while working at home. I love to listen to music while drawing for instance but anything with words tends to distract me. For others a white noise or background noise app might help you maintain a work focus. Train the members of your family to give you space and treat your work time differently from your home time also. Remember to leave your work behind when you finish the day.
It’s harder to check drawings at home. Probably you don’t have a material library at home. But the internet probably has most if not all of what you need at least to start your research.
Probably you also don’t have the printing facilities at home that you do in the office and printing a drawing and checking it is always better than eyeballing it on the screen but if you have to do that then I always like to sleep on an issue if at all possible so I can look at it with a fresh pair of eyes in the morning, and/or get someone else to look over it before it goes out of the office.
Get feedback on your working situation as it develops. Give constructive feedback to others. There are a few extra stressful things going on for most people during a time of Pandemic like now but when that situation lifts still remember that working form home brings its own challenges.
There is some evidence that remote working is more productive. I am not so sure for an Architectural office if this holds true. I think that it is often easier to focus and not get distracted, but heavy CAD and BIM programs operating over a shared network have in my experience been slower and less reliable, I don’t think that will change anytime soon.
Having said that I think also some design tasks lend themselves naturally to a little self isolation away from the background noise of the office and from distracting phone calls and colleagues. There have definitely been some tasks at which you can be more productive away from the office.
My connection of 100mbps is about right, I am often not achieving a fraction of that as everyone else is working from home at the moment too but in practise this is a good minimum connection speed all other things being equal. I have found Revit to work better than AutoCAD over a remote network connection surprisingly.
For Communication Slack or Microsoft Teams are the usual, we are all using teams. I think these are good tools but don’t overuse them. If you want to reference back to a conversation or image in chat for example it may be hard to find in the noise. A good project management tool is a must, from something as simple as writing yourself good notes to a software solution like basecamp or notion.
Working form home or when you are forced to shelter in place can be a big change, but it can have advantages too. Sometimes a change is good and it can provoke the office culture and a little self reflection on understanding what things make you work more productively and more happily.
I can see this working out well for Architectural offices in the future. The office culture hopefully will be more platform neutral and more flexible when individuals or whole teams are separated. I can see people choosing to take days at home to work on that one big task they really need to knuckle down on whether that’s a design competition or a door schedule.
We hopefully should all come out of this being able to work more flexibly and also to maybe live with a better work/life balance.