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The Young Architects Forum (YAF), a program of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the College of Fellows (COF), is organized to address issues of particular importance to recently licensed architects.

YAF Leadership on COVID-19

By John J. Clark AIA posted 04-29-2020 12:51


YAF Leadership on COVID-19

Beginning with a monthly leadership call on March 19, the efforts of the Young Architects Forum Advisory Committee and Young Architect Regional Directors quickly pivoted to address concerns of emerging professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic while continuing our work on practice innovation, equity and inclusion, and climate impact. Along with the NAC and AIAS leadership, YAF leadership is in communication with the AIA College of Fellows, Strategic Council, EQFA Committee, Large Firm Roundtable, and AIA-AGC Joint Committee, among others, to ensure that the voices and concerns of emerging professionals are heard. 

Without trying to duplicate or distract from the many helpful articles, discussions, and compiled resources on the practice of architecture during these times, YAF leadership hopes to provide insight into our current efforts and view of concerns and opportunities. We also invite you to share your experiences with the full committee by reaching out on our Knowledge Net discussion board, following us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, or sending a note to

Learn from 2008 and work to avoid a talent and leadership gap.

The YAF is advocating for the continued support of emerging professionals to avoid a workforce pipeline gap due to the current economic climate, similar to the workforce and leadership gap created by the 2008 financial crisis. The YAF encourages our members, especially those in AIA and firm leadership roles, to convey to firms the importance of the continued support of EPs and their professional development. This includes maintaining intern development programs and the hiring of new grads and/or summer interns. 

We appreciate the work of the AIA EQFA Committee, Large Firm Roundtable, and AIAS for their work on this matter and look forward to additional discussions with these groups.

Accelerate practice innovation.

Many parts of our slow to change profession were forced to adapt in two weeks' time due to work from home mandates that affected the entire AEC industry and our clients. We are operating within an experiment, much like a startup, with the opportunity to measure and learn from this experience to create lasting change in how we practice. What practices, policies, and technologies are we learning that will leave our professions, our firms, and each of us in a stronger position for success? 

Young architects, especially those already in leadership positions, have the ability to set the future trajectory of the profession by advocating for agile, flexible, and innovative practice models. Former YAF chair Evelyn Lee’s spoke with Archinect on business continuity challenges and how firms can continue to be agile after the pandemic. 

Young architects are now in a better position to strongly advocate for more equitable work-life solutions. All levels of practice now have lived experience that can challenge earlier concerns about remote work involving productivity, meeting client expectations, and maintaining an office culture. We can identify best practices that are currently working while gaining an awareness of practices that need to be unlearned. This will help to define what work-life balance could look like moving forward, including thoughtful, realistic, and mutually agreeable work from home and family leave policies for those caring for children and elderly family.

Another reason to advocate for innovative practice models is that they better align with the AIA’s climate actions goals. Several outlets are reporting that the pandemic and its lockdown responses are temporarily reducing fossil fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and energy use. Is working from home a more carbon neutral alternative to commuting to a large, multi-tenant office building? Are virtual conferencing and site visits the greener alternative in the future when in-person meetings might resume?

Gain business knowledge to build a resilient workforce.

Architects are quick to champion resiliency in the built environment as response to a rapidly changing climate. Knowing that this will not be the last setback we will face in the business climate, this can be an opportunity for young architects to gain business knowledge on the specifics of this situation and assess the profession’s vulnerabilities. By being prepared for future economic challenges, we can design a more resilient workforce and profession. While many business resources are available on the AIA website, this can also be an opportunity to reach out to a principal or firm leadership to gain unique and specific insight. The YAF encourages our members to take the time to research and ask questions regarding: 

  • PPP and SBA loans;
  • How decisions about furloughs and layoffs are made;
  • Practicing transparency and communication in difficult situations;
  • Making projections related to a specific industry or project type during this time; and
  • Creative marketing strategies.

Additionally, by increasing the time dedicated to professional development you can find new ways to support your firm during these challenging economic times. For example:

  • Can you use overhead time for marketing or other projects?
  • Can you generate a business development initiative or get business development training?
  • Can you virtually reconnect with your business contacts to help prepare your firm for its next project?

Use newly found free time for personal and professional development.

Work from home and telecommuting policies have signaled a welcomed reset to our work-life patterns. Family goals, fitness goals, physical and mental health can all be improved during this time.  And while there certainly might be more time to explore a new hobby, the YAF also encourages members to increase time dedicated to professional development during these weeks of uncertainty. Make an effort to update your professional goals. Build new skills and gain new certifications that might help you reach your goals faster. 

Additionally, find a moment to update your resume and portfolio in anticipation of a potential change in employment, an award application, a leadership or volunteer position, or a future RFP response. Save photos, diagrams, and sketches of projects that you were personally responsible for. Add your specific professional and project experience, and volunteer and leadership roles that might not be up to date. When this is completed, the AIA Career Center is offering expert resume review for free. (On your account overview page, scroll to the TopResume section at the bottom to submit.)

Make an effort to build community.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognize and understand the emotions of yourself and others, while using this understanding to guide actions and decisions. During this time, young architects can learn to our best EQ to support our friends, colleagues, clients and networks. What do I say to people who are being negatively affected? How and when do I say it? How can we break the ice and maintain positivity in the face of these challenges? Justin Bariso’s 2018 book, EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, is now free to download as a PDF to help frame answers to the questions posed above and the many others that we are faced with in our daily interactions.

Local emerging professional groups continue to build community within the AIA and local design communities through virtual networking opportunities including virtual trivia nights, virtual bingo, and virtual happy hours. These happy hours can also be dedicated to keeping colleagues accountable to stated personal or professional goals. 

Mentorship can definitely still occur virtually as evidenced by the transitions of AIA Columbus’s ARCHway Mentorship program and AIA Connecticut’s WIA Committee 4x10 Initiative to virtual platforms. As Katie Rossier notes in her article on virtual mentoring, this pandemic opens up the opportunity to expand your network beyond your local contacts, taking advantage of this time when people of all levels are more available.

Over the past few weeks, YAF leaders have noted how seeing someone else’s face can be encouraging during this time of isolation and how building a virtual community in your office is a crucial step to help firms emerge stronger from this crisis. Everyone can play a role in maintaining its own office culture in creative ways. The virtual coffee pot is a unique example of connecting shared by College of Fellows Secretary and liason to the YAF, Frances Halsband. Each day a standing virtual meeting is set up for casual conversation, simulating a coffee pot or water cooler. You can share how your office culture has adapted in our discussion board.

Finally, find a moment to build community by giving back. From emerging professionals that have been affected by a change in employment status to local students looking for internships, you can take some time to offer support.

Young Architects Forum Advisory Committee

Ryan McEnroe, AIA | Chair

Abi Brown, AIA | Vice-Chair

Lora Teagarden, AIA | Past Chair

Katelyn Chapin, AIA | Community Director

John Clark, AIA | Communications Director

Jessica O’Donnell, AIA | Knowledge Director

Matt Toddy, AIA | Strategic Vision Director

Jennie West, AIA | Advocacy Director