the architecture of constructing a practice

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    well, well, well. look at what's about to blow up the "gig" economy...

    Gregory Walker
    Sep 12, '19 5:37 PM EST

    a mere 5 years on from my last post on contract employment, the recent rumblings out of my native state this past week should have every architecture firm re-examining their h.r. practices pronto. 

    to wit: the new law in california (AB-5 for those who track these things by their bill name) in part codifies a 3 part test first defined by massachusetts to determine if someone is truly an "employee" of a particular company. they are:

    an independent contractor must be free from the control of the hiring entity

    an independent contractor must perform work outside the normal scope of the hiring entity 

    an independent contractor must be an independent established practitioner of the trade performed. 

    the california law carves out exceptions for a host of professions, including architects and engineers. however, these exceptions are not permanent and certainly may not show up in other states' laws (oregon and washington state have already had legislators step forward to announce their intent to introduce similar bills in their respective legislative bodies). 

    what does this mean to the average architecture firm? without the exception, would anyone doing the normal work in an office be able to be classified as an 'independent contractor'? seems very doubtful, at least based on my experience. most would fail the first test - if the firm is telling you how to do the redlines, you aren't free from their control. 

    food for thought on the heels of yet another labor day here in the u.s....


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      Nice! Thanks Greg!

      Sep 12, 19 8:31 pm

      Thanks for reading!

      The governor hasn’t signed the bill yet because he is “negotiating” with special interests. Architecture firms have already been exempted. Uber is claiming that they are exempt. 

      In related news practically the entire leadership of the UAW has been been indicted for corruption yet the UAW continues “negotiating” as autoworkers contracts expire.

      Sep 15, 19 9:58 am

      Contractors in my state cannot hire independent contractors because it essentially amounts to aiding and abetting contracting without a license.  This law makes it very difficult to operate as a contracting business.  Many end up subcontracting work to other licensed firms if one particular job requires extra labor than the firm is staffed with.  Small firms then become less competitive with regards to prices.  Its a very stupid law. 

      Sep 20, 19 4:03 pm

      My first article on this subject laments some of the same issues. What we don't have in the US is a good, solid short term employee set of rules. We're a small firm as well and you'd love to be able to hire people for a couple of months but then you think about benefits and the hit to unemployment insurance (maybe) if you let them go and... we typically try to figure it out without hiring or we hire long term.

      Happy Anarchy

       "gig" economy - an intelligent way to get really smart people to work for less and no benefits.  

      an independent contractor must be free from the control of the hiring entity

      Sep 20, 19 10:51 pm

      Which is tricky, no? In some senses it's really easy to apply looking at a young, relatively inexperienced staff person. But if you were to hire someone with 20-30 years experience and say 'write our specs for this job', that's easy for them to do outside our control. What the phrase doesn't mean is we don't have any say over the content - of course we would. We can tell them to change passages, add a section, whatever. But what we can't do is force them to come into the office to do the work, nor control their hours, etc.

      Happy Anarchy

      yes sir, it's like free grazing chicken for better tasting meat.


      bok bok

      Happy Anarchy

      is that a russian hacker intelligence joke...good one.


      that's the sound of a free grazing chicken, grass-fed

      gig noun 1: a pronged spear for catching fish. 2: an arrangement
      of hooks to be drawn through a school of fish in order to hook their

      Sep 23, 19 1:09 pm

      I wouldn't be in the work force if it weren't for contract employment. Not everyone has time to go sit in an office for a set 40 hours a week not to mention the commute and time getting ready to go in. As a contract employee, I can have 5 jobs and prioritize the best ones, leaving the weak ones by the side of the road, a continuous upgrade. I can get paid two or three times a week instead of once a month. I can get rewarded for working hard and efficiently instead of playing office politics and schmoozing and advancing because I looking like I should (because I don't). It was a gateway to starting my own firm which would have been too big of a leap from an office job. Clients like a young woman architect, they think it's a breath of fresh air. When someone says yeah make these changes and have it to us tomorrow forcing an office worker to perform unpaid overtime, I can say tomorrow isn't going to work, I'll have it next week and not disrupt my schedule and charge properly or negotiate a premium for expedited work. I can work while taking care of other responsibilities like pick kids up and take them to activities instead of being tied to a chair where ass time is required. It isn't the 50's where your mommy irons your shirt for you so you can sit at a desk and look sharp "working".

      Oct 20, 19 9:09 am

      I've introduced the contract work model to several of my female architect friends and all are incredibly satisfied with it and as far as I know, we all run circles around the typical office worker. What gets blown up is the fact that work getting done is the goal, not the appearance of getting work done which is what fuels offices.

      That's great! I'm glad (genuinely) that you've made it work for your situation. I've done contract in this manner myself and it was great. But I recognize that's not what everyone wants and we can agree people are exploiting the law using the 'gig' economy as an excuse. It IS about control and if you can be the one with it, there's no issues on my end.


      I understand people are being misclassified and that's wrong. Education in doing it properly should help with that so those of use doing contracting legitimately can continue to do so.

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      1. i'm glad to see greg walker actively posting again. your writing about practice is informative and interesting.

      2. the spirit of the law - preventing exploitative labor relationships - seems to be crudely implemented. unfortunately poorly considered laws tend to motivate the kind of reactionary resistance that makes progressive policy controversial. as tintt notes, there is (or should be) a legitimate role for independant contract work, which requires a much more nuanced distinction of employment categories than this law allows.

      3. how will this apply for out-of-state persons? if the result of the law is to increase contracting to out-of-state or even overseas 'drafters', that hardly seems to be fitting any of the aims of the law.

      these issues are coming up with other professions too. journalists, it seems, are much disatisfied with the potential impact on freelancers.

      amazingly, it sounds as if no one consulted any relevant professional bodies before drafting this law, and simply wrote in specific expemptions based on lawmakers' own best guess of what should work.

      Oct 25, 19 11:40 pm
      Happy Anarchy

      'sup tinnt.

      me longest female "person who delivers" has been with me for 5 years+...she was employed for a few but now she does 20-35 hours for me a week and has a life.  I asked her if she wanted to go W-2 (salary) vs 1099 (contract) - she said no. I said I could give Health, she said no, her husband has the family covered.

      Me asked my newest female employee (me HR/accountant/wife) and she said "why? you can raise your kids and be with them when you want!"

      so between 6am and 830 am I get the questions, between 930am and 2pm I get the stuff, and then the day wraps up when the "natives" (the kids) ask for food, somewhere around 7:30pm.

      The 'gig' economy is good if you still want to do what you wanted to do while raising your kids....because as I father me knows I ain't going to do the job me wife would raisin' them.  I'd leave the "natives" starving offering Nintendo and Sega as Mac and Cheese solutions.

      Oct 26, 19 1:15 am

      :) mac and cheese fixes everything


      Thanks Gregory Walker for bringing this up because as you mentioned in the original post, I have to look out for the Oregon and Washington state versions of AB-5. These things can be problematic. As long as we are not abusing and misclassifying employees as independent contractors and vice versa. As it stands, independent contractors under the AB-5 wording can effectively make working under an architect as a 1099-MISC illegal because of the stamping requirements of direct supervision and control and what is the professional standard regarding supervision and control in the profession and held by the licensing boards. So such relationships will HAVE to be contract employment or traditional employment but NO 1099-MISC except between licensed professionals. So how do you offer drafting support to an architect under 1099-MISC without the architect risking violating the laws and rules of stamping such drawings as has been the regulatory practice and standards for the past 100 YEARS. 

      It will be interesting to see.

      Oct 26, 19 6:16 pm

      Problem I see is for example, if I wanted to provide drafting and related services to your firm. I'm in no way or form located near your office. I'm likely will have complete control of my hours and have some power of negotiation of pay. I maybe called upon to do a little more than merely drafting but maybe its single family and two-family residences and I would be called upon to provide more design leadership in the process. However, I'm not stamping and sealing and you would be. Sure, I could legally do it entirely myself under the architect law exemption aside from any appropriate engineering services but it would be something I may have more degree of independence over the preparation of but even then.... you would provide responsible control as defined and required for you to stamp the drawings. What that means in Georgia may differ to some degree from other states. 

      As is customary, you would be overseeing the preparation and progress throughout all phases of the project, redlining, and giving feedback and only stamp & sign when you are satisfied of the quality of the work prepared and compliance with regulatory standards. In which case, the AB-5 and similar legislation would cause potential problems. I would traditionally be deemed an independent contractor (1099-MISC) and have a wide degree of independence but in this case, you are my direct client and the project client is your client but indirectly I am serving them under the subcontracted design/drafting consultant but not in privy of contract relationship with the project client. You are directing me the requirements and outcomes to be expected, and key project deadlines but I have to do my job and you are making sure you are properly reviewing and exercising responsible control over the preparation. 

      The AB-5 style language would make it harder to be classified as an independent contractor but merely an employee and in turn complicate this kind of arrangement. It might make getting AXP hours for it a little easier in one way but I wouldn't necessarily have the same degree of independent control and you would have more control over when I begin to work such as my hours which means I may have to be up at 5 or 6AM in my time zone to be working under the same hours as your office in Atlanta, GA. So this can cause all kinds of unforeseen consequences.

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Central to the blog is a long running interest in how we construct practices that enable and promote the kind of work we are all most interested in. From how firms are run, structured, and constructed, the main focus will be on exploring, expanding and demystifying how firms operate. I’ll be interviewing different practices – from startups to nationally recognized firms, bringing to print at least one a month. Our focus will be connecting Archinect readers with the business of practice.

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