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20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

  • 1.  20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 04-15-2020 05:48 PM
     How is your firm ensuring efficiency in a remote working environment?

    Scott Knudson AIA
    PMKC Leadership Group

  • 2.  RE: 20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 04-16-2020 05:27 PM
    Edited by Greg Francis Assoc. AIA 04-16-2020 05:28 PM
    We're a 45 person firm with a single office that had only done limited remote work prior to the pandemic. I think all-in-all, we've transitioned fairly well with 95% of our staff working remotely with some infrequent visits to the office. It does impact the dynamics of the design process but overall people are getting through it. I suspect that as restrictions are eased, we'll actually reevaluate some of our policies to allow some be a little more flexible on working remotely.

    Greg Francis Assoc. AIA
    Director of Operations
    ALSC Architects
    Spokane WA

  • 3.  RE: 20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 04-16-2020 06:16 PM
    Most employees have gained back time in their day from savings in commuting and/or other daily routines, and also office distractions.  The current child care situation has posed the biggest challenges.  

    But, hire good people that you trust, and you shouldn't have to worry too much about efficiency.  

    Eric Hand Assoc. AIA
    Department Manager, Forensic Sciences
    Pie Consulting & Engineering
    Denver CO

  • 4.  RE: 20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 04-17-2020 10:07 AM
    This week on CNBC, JP Morgan exec was interviewed.
    He mentioned that if someone had suggested they could do  100% of their work with over 90% of the employees working from home, he would have laughed.
    Now, he said, he knows it can be done.

    Betty Trent AIA
    Architecture Plus
    Austin TX

  • 5.  RE: 20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 04-20-2020 06:31 PM
    Except, for an architect working with numerous PDF drawings, go to meetings, etc., the VPN connection freezes up constantly. It is much slower going with significantly less synergy.
    Gail Goldstead, Chicago

    Gail Ann Goldstead AIA
    Senior Technical Architect + Specifications Writer
    Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture
    Wheaton IL

  • 6.  RE: 20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 04-21-2020 06:35 PM
    I know a lot of discussions about the possibilities of WFH have been circulating since this all started but it is my belief that architecture is a collaborative effort, and although some things can be done remotely, most larger projects require a team of the same discipline working along side of each other. As a business owner I worry about the efficiency of WFH and the financial effects it could have on a project. I can honestly say that I am at 60% productive at best when I am at home. The distraction are greater for me. I know this vary from person to person.

    Robert Lopez AIA
    Lopez Salas Architects, Inc
    San Antonio TX

  • 7.  RE: 20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 04-21-2020 07:12 PM
    I agree there is too much gained via working together in a collaborative shared environment. Also, no matter how diligent we are working in a remote context, I find the missing elements such as tone, body language, and inference very real and eventually likely a detriment to our overall productivity and design outcomes. Our firm of 17 people has transitioned very quickly to the WFH arrangement (over 70% are remote), and for the most part we have managed to remain relatively productive. However we are losing some level of productivity. I refer to our working situation as a "bifurcated working and communication arrangement" as inevitably some pieces of information are not fully understood or accurately communicated. Since we cannot look across a table or over a shoulder to confirm, these small glitches can be missed. We find it very important to issue regular progress sets of work completed, and a summary of the review of same at the next work day zoom meeting. We work to provide regular feedback if we sense we are losing some productivity. Ultimately everyone on the team wants to be productive and execute their work well, we just have to calibrate expectations to meet this new reality and manage accordingly.

    Kevin Wilcox AIA
    Comstock Johnson Architects, Inc.
    Mather CA

  • 8.  RE: 20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 04-22-2020 09:14 AM
    As the owner of a 7 person Architectural Firm, working remotely has its challenges.  Not nearly as efficient.  Two of my drafts-persons need assistance often, which working from home is very inefficient.  Nothing can replace face to face team interaction.  In my state of Pennsylvania, I did apply and receive a waiver to work in the office since we have two critical Hospital projects.  I opted not to bring the staff back because of the complications of social distancing and such.
    I do have a Project Architect working in the office full time - we are still not open to the public.  He helps control operations from home base.  We at least now can come and go when necessary and will, on occasion, have a meeting with one other staff person.

    The other complication is the loss of two projects since the beginning of April - One is mid-sized with the other a big one for us.  One is on hold for probably a year and the other may be DOA.  My concern is surviving the next 3 to 6 months and then find no work to continue.

    Anthony Visco Jr AIA
    Anthony H. Visco Jr. Architects
    Williamsport PA

  • 9.  RE: 20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 08-06-2020 06:53 PM
    We have similar situations.  We hired 2 interns in January of a 5 person firm.  We are all working remotely.  The interns in particular need a lot of guidance.  Are you using any sort of Project Management software?  I am looking into it now in order to keep the priority of tasks lined up for everyone.

    Shaun Luttrell AIA
    Luttrell Architecture, LLC
    Tampa FL

  • 10.  RE: 20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 08-07-2020 06:59 PM
    Hi Shaun,

    I'm collaborating on some projects with another architect and we are concerned about less experienced or younger architecture school grads and productivity. They usually require lots of attention and guidance and at the same time learning a lot. We would be interested to know what methods are helping interns prioritize tasks, keep connected to senior staff, stay motivated and take initiatives and make them feel part of the team. 
    It's tough to not be in an office while in your first years in the profession. I remember how beneficial it was to hear the background project conversations in the office. 


    Daniel Guich
    (415) 683-9600

  • 11.  RE: 20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 08-10-2020 02:23 PM
    I'm using a weekly Tasks This Week email to all four designers/architects in our firm to keep everyone on task, plus two Zoom meetings.  It's still not ideal--hard to get people to coordinate, and everyone seems to need more time to complete a task.
    My designers actually prefer the Zoom meetings though because half of them have long commutes to the office.
    Also difficult to "close" on new work with limited chance to meet in person, and mask wearing which makes it hard to read expressions.



  • 12.  RE: 20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 04-22-2020 06:41 PM

    Scott: Our firm of 28 went from no one working from home to nearly everyone working from home in just one day. We had planned to do the transition in a more considered fashion but one employee, nearly incapacitated by fear of the virus, in mid March spent one morning on Skype, convincing our three offices everyone was about to die. By the time management got wind of it, about 10:00 a.m., our only move was to tell folks they could break down their work stations and take everything from their monitors to their keyboards home. Every employee was freaked out enough by the one to take this option.

    In this situation there is absolutely no way to have an office as productive as it was before, if for no other reason anyone with kids, especially school age kids with no school or daycare, has two masters they are serving. Overlay that with the fact offices did not have time to embrace, codify and teach best practices for working from home and you have the wild west of employment.

    Though I have spoken with a professional friend who extols working from home and claiming DESPITE employees (both spouses working) having kids at home, billable hours are up; I would say reported billable hours may be up but actual cannot possibly be.  Architecture is collaborative and though we had three offices so folks were use to Skype and remoteness we are already seeing problems with lack of coordination, assumptions being made over actual discussions and contact etc.

    That is our negative. Our positive is that we have a great and close group, a third of whom survived the recession with us, and they understand that we need to hit deadlines, need to keep clients happy, need to strive for the same quality work if we are all to keep our jobs. I think folks are working at about 65 to 75% but if you take out chitchat, coffee breaks, social media and needless travel for meetings, maybe 75% is not so bad. My partner is my husband and his schedule use to be very meeting heavy often spending a good part of the day in his car going from one meeting to another on the other side of the city. He has been pleasantly surprised by how much time he has picked up having virtual over in person meetings.  Our CA guys have a remarkable amount of extra time not having to fly to jobsites.

    We have two all firm virtual calls a week, one a coffee and one a Friday happy hour. From the feedback I am getting, most of our employees, especially those with young kids, are eager to get back to the office which surprised the cynical boss in me since I thought they would embrace the unsupervised time at home with the kids. Not so, the lack of being able to fully focus is driving them nuts. Most employees miss the collaboration and contact. Interestingly we have two single employees who seem to really enjoy "working" from home and if the reports from their PMs are accurate, they are working at more of  40% productivity despite several discussion with leadership. This cycle might be harsh for them. Happily, at the moment, our workload has not reduced, we are still getting new project inquiries although a few existing projects in SD have gone on hold. We have not had to let anyone go or reduce salaries.

    All in all with this unexpected experiment, if we have to stay this way for a year, we can. However, once we can go back to the office, it appears nearly all employees want to return to a studio over the isolation of home.

    [ Nea May] [Poole] AIA
    [Poole & Poole Architecture, LLC]
    [Midlothian, ] [Virginia]

  • 13.  RE: 20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 08-07-2020 12:52 PM
    Edited by Nea M. Poole AIA 08-07-2020 12:55 PM

    Follow up observations to my April comments. As general background our firm of about 30 is having its busiest year ever and, since our lease is up in October, is in the process of purchasing a building (longer story). We have hired two people since March, both are happy to work in the office. We now have about 5 of 27 folks working in the main office, 5 of 5 working in our Nashville office.

    1. I have yet to talk to an employee in ANY industry who does not believe they are way MORE efficient from home. In fact to try to suggest otherwise elicits a pretty strong response. As an employer, I am not seeing this as the case. While we are still hitting deadlines, collaboration and coordination is lacking. Sets are requiring a level of redlining that we previously had not had to do. Moreover, it is has occurred several times that I called an employee to task them out but got no answer, a situation that clearly does not happen in the office. Interestingly two of those times I was calling a junior employee to offer them a design opportunity working with me. Due to the no answer I moved on to someone who did answer. (I suspect the employees did not have my number in their cell so they just chose not to answer an unknown number).

    Which brings me to my next observation.

    2. This is seriously detrimental the the professional growth of junior employees. They are just not exposed to as much, there is not as much mentoring or those wonderful random moments of education that occur in an office. We have started our Friday continuing ed through Zoom but it is easy to tell that several employees are not paying attention, instead are clearly watching a second screen.

    3. There are a number of employees who, I am certain, due to covid  will not be comfortable in an office setting until there is a vaccine, herd immunity and the CDC, the WHO and Dr, Fauci unanimously declare all clear. Additionally there are employees who are enjoying working from home and will probably never want to work in an office full time again.

    Interestingly, with two exceptions, both groups happen to be made up of our youngest employees. I am deeply concerned about their professional growth which, currently, is not a problem they see. We are struggling with how do you grow your junior staff if they only want to be in the office one day a week? A year ago I would have said no way to them working from home but now, even if it is against their best interest, post covid I need to let them continue to work from home if I want to retain the staff.

    4. The most unexpected, and disturbing, result of the months of remote working is a changing mindset of our management. Our firm prides itself on being a cohesive team, being a large family. Folks genuinely like each other, went out together, helped each other move. The firm financially supported an employee three years through cancer treatment, sponsored kid's schools , sports teams, employee races and endeavors.  Generously gave time off for bereavement, family issues even sabbaticals. I know all my employees spouses, their kids, heck I even know their pets! 

    However, the remoteness, the lack of daily contact and small human connections that occur naturally in an office or at the office baseball game or bbq is changing this. I had thought this was just me but have spoken with a few of my most trusted employees and they told me the same thing. They are beginning to see other employees as a means to an end, cogs in a machine that is getting the work done. One told me last night he finally understands how some firms simply hire up or fire down as needed. He realized those firms just view staff as interchangeable means to an end and was disturbed to realize he was beginning to think that way.

    Since the current situation is clearly not changing anytime soon, I would be very interested on how others are weathering all of these changes. How is this effecting your practice, your staff, your personal perceptions? How are you maintaining normalcy?

    [ Nea May] [Poole] AIA
    [Poole & Poole Architecture, LLC]
    [Midlothian, ] [Virginia]

  • 14.  RE: 20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 08-10-2020 05:39 PM
    While I work for a government agency versus a private sector firm, I will relay my experience so far"
    1.  My boss was talking about going virtual almost a year ago, basically forcing a legacy workforce to start using the available networking tools already at our disposal. When the numbers started going up in the Mid-Atlantic area, we took our division totally online, with minimal visits to the physical office.
    2. We have daily meetings of managers first thing in the morning to update on events and initiatives, then each of us has a daily meeting with our staffs to keep in touch. While we eventually look forward to returning to the office, we are practicing safety first in line with our commanding general's direction.  A positive note - while our boss is leaving for another job in 2 weeks, she asked if when we return to the office would we stop the meetings.  She was surprised to hear that us supervisors believe we should continue meeting daily - it helps to synchronize our work and keep each other situationally aware, especially with a 35,000 person agency with world-wide responsibilities.
    3.  We do not have junior staff in our division to spin up, so I would yield to our District offices for answers.  Anecdotal information is that our younger employees share the same values of stepping up to the task at hand.  They are also sharing their expertise in technology to spin up us "more experienced employees".
    I hope you get more responses from other firms as to their experiences with working from home.

    Edmond Gauvreau, FAIA
    Washington, DC

  • 15.  RE: 20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 08-11-2020 07:21 PM
    We're a ~35 person firm across four offices and have had individual staff members doing remote work since 2017 or so. We also have project teams that span offices, so the remote collaboration has been part of our firm long before the pandemic. The firm has had weekly staffing meetings for over a decade, and that easily transitioned to a virtual meeting when we opened the satellite offices and had remote teammates.

    About 18 months ago we started using Slack firm-wide, which has helped quite a bit in keeping our staff connected across offices and within studios. Soon after the stay-at-home order started at our main office in Chicago, we started using Microsoft Teams firm-wide for hosting meetings and general project management. This has been great for tracking/assigning tasks and hosting virtual meetings, and has made it possible to collaborate remotely more effectively. It's easy to jump into an impromptu screen share with teammates to check on a detail or review a field condition together. I've used the meeting function to stream live video from a site visit to let a remote teammate virtually walk the site with me, too.

    We're also making use of Bluebeam Studio for shared redlines and markups, which makes it much easier to track who is capturing what redlines - we've been using Bluebeam Studio for this purpose for three years or so now.

    I wouldn't say these tools replace sitting around a table together, but they go a long way to stay connected and keep on top of the work, and gives us a lot of flexibility, too.

    Rachel Oleinick AIA
    Chicago IL

  • 16.  RE: 20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 08-13-2020 09:18 AM
    Hi Rachel - would you be willing to share more specifically how your company has been structuring/working with Teams for general project management, as you indicate?  We're a small design arm of a design-build GC, but working through the same questions of how to use Teams effectively for design project management.

    Michael Tulp AIA
    Story Construction
    Ames IA

  • 17.  RE: 20/20 Is remote working proving to be efficient?

    Posted 08-13-2020 11:41 AM
    Sure thing, Michael.

    There are a couple of tools in Teams that we're using extensively right now. One is the Planner add-in (which is free, and also a Microsoft product). This functions a lot like Trello and similar products with "cards" for tasks that can get organized into groups or "buckets", assigned to users, set up notifications, populate a calendar with deadlines, link to related documents, and can also be collated into easy-to-read charts and graphs to show progress. We're also using the OneNote add-in (also free and Microsoft) to link a shared notebook that anyone within the Team can access and edit - good for meeting notes, sketches, brainstorming, that kind of thing.

    One of our offices has been using the Planner function to break down the local project list by assigning a card to each project, and grouping them by phase. Each of these cards then gets staff assigned to it, and a short checklist on the card itself for immediate tasks. As tasks are checked off they get marked as complete and new ones can be added at any time. As the project advances in phase, it's easy to drag and drop into the next bucket. Since Teams can populate charts and graphs for you based on these tasks, it's a great tool to see how many projects are in any given phase, how many projects are on any one person's plate, and see a calendar for competing deadlines.

    As a project manager I've been using Planner for a specific project, and breaking down tasks for that project in a more granular way - tasks for the next issuance, things that come up in the field like RFIs, coordination items, and so on. I also linked a OneNote notebook I had started prior to using Teams - it was pretty painless to get them to talk to each other, and I didn't need to adjust anything on my local machine where I was using OneNote as a stand-alone.

    Since my firm started using Slack before we started using Teams, we still use Slack for most day-to-day casual communication instead of the chat function in Teams. One Teams add-in I'd like to explore more is Microsoft Stream, which lets you record videos (such as a virtual meeting, or a tutorial) and store and share them within the Team. We have a lot of institutional knowledge in our firm, but it's not always easy to find or access. Being able to build a library of internal training videos would go a long way to help onboard new staff, and help teach less experienced staff. It would also be great to show "lessons from the field" and the like.

    Hope this helps! I'd love to hear from others using Teams in different ways.


    Rachel Oleinick AIA
    Chicago IL