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Firm Reopening and Remote Work Survey

4arch

The following is a survey intended to get a better sense of how architecture firms in various parts of the US/world are handling reopening and how well the remote work experience worked for employers and employees. The survey is intended for people who worked in a traditional office environment pre-pandemic and whose offices were forced or chose to transition to remote work (or to close entirely) in response to the crisis. This is mainly to satisfy my own curiosity, but with enough results could become a useful resource for comparing notes as we navigate working life over the next several months. Please respond with answers to as many of the following as you feel comfortable: 

  1. Your Role: (Intern, architect, principal/owner, etc.)
  2. Firm Location:
  3. Firm Size: (S M L XL)
  4. Has your firm begun reopening physical office space? (Y/N)
    - If yes, what is the policy for having workers return? (phased, full return to office, continued option to WFH, precautions/social distancing policies for the office, etc?)
    - If no, is there an expectation for workers to return in the foreseeable future (before the end of 2020)?
  5. What aspects of remote work have and have not worked well for you?
  6. Has your firm announced any plans or signaled any receptiveness to continuing to allow full or partial remote work post-pandemic?
    - From firm owners I’d like to hear more about why or why not?
    - From employees I’d like to hear if this is a benefit that would be welcomed?
  7. Other thoughts?
 
Jun 30, 20 8:38 am
molten

1. Project Architect

2. Large City, Mid-Atlantic Region

3. M (60-ish)

4. No. Expected to re-open in mid/late July. Voluntary only, max 50% occupancy. Arrows on floors, every other work stations, plexi-glass partitions, etc.

5. Separation between work-personal space = gone.

6. Not discussed yet. We're still a long way's out from a post-pandemic world...I prefer working at the office, but would like to be able to WFH once or twice a month after everything goes back to "normal".

7. Just happy I still have a job. Our firm had to lay off some staff (I suspect we'll have more next month...retail and hospitality projects have dried up) but I've fortunately been very busy. Residential construction is humming along in the city.

Jun 30, 20 9:49 am  · 
1  · 
Non Sequitur
  1. Project Architect
  2. Canadian Capital
  3. 20-25 people (Arch, Int Des, Tech)
  4. Yes.  Policy is whatever works for staff will be supported by ownership.  Those that want to stay WFH can while those who want to come back can do so.  In office: No outside guests in office (vendors, consultants, clients, families, etc), masks if in meetings with greater than 3 people, no shared coffee/kitchen spaces. Some desk tetrissing required to spread folks apart.  Elevator is also locked but it's a 3 storey building so no big deal.
  5. My home office is my hobby space, not my work space.  I prefer a clean break between where I make a living and where I spend my free time.
  6. As mentioned in point 4, the current position is to accommodate everyone.  Not all can keep a 40hr work week while WFH due to childcare and whatnot, but all salaries are covered 100% for the foreseeable future even if you only work a few hours per day.  My wife is in education and cannot WFH (minus the odd meeting) so childcare is less of an issue for me so I've kept a steady 40hr WFH week since early march but I've requested a 4day week until at least september. (3 days in office, two 1/2 days WFH)
  7. I know what our office's burn rate is and from what I can tell (and the already payed out yearly dividends), we've braced the storm well.  
Jun 30, 20 10:07 am  · 
 · 
joseffischer
  1. Your Role: PM
  2. Firm Location: ATL
  3. Firm Size: M
  4. Has your firm begun reopening physical office space? Yes, we won't fire you if you have good reason... but come in to work please, also please bring a mask, you don't have to wear it, but have it just in case for appearances.   
  5. What aspects of remote work have and have not worked well for you?  same as every parent
  6. Has your firm announced any plans or signaled any receptiveness to continuing to allow full or partial remote work post-pandemic? At first, maybe, but the changed their mind after too many people not being accessible at beck-and-call to owners and people joining zoom calls up to 10 minutes late
  7. Other thoughts?  "this is why we can't have nice things" comes to mind, multiple levels of some people ruining options for the rest of us.  Numbers have spiked in GA/ATL and leadership is not leading by example for best practice.  I've personally been made fun of by firm owners for wearing a mask at meetings.  I'll be staying home until they fire me and using whatever excuse necessary to maintain WFH, even though it's a lot more difficult.  I tried a week in the office and it was just a train wreck.
Jun 30, 20 10:34 am  · 
 · 
bowling_ball



  1. PM / manager
  2. Central Canada
  3. ~30 people
  4. We are fully open to those staff who are comfortable coming back. Small meetings allowed in our main board room. Hand sanitizer and wipes everywhere. Stairwells one direction only. No masks to be seen.
  5.  I mostly enjoyed working from home while it lasted and will try to continue to do so in a limited way (say, one day a week). I wasn't nervous about coming back to the office, but I do miss the focus that came from WFH. It has been somewhat difficult to provide all the guidance needed to new and junior staff (we've hired two people since this pandemic started).
  6.  Owners would like to have everyone back in the office, which I'm sure will happen soon enough. Our part of the world has gotten away with nearly zero deaths / hospital stays.
Jun 30, 20 11:00 am  · 
 · 
Non Sequitur

you're in the 'peg right?

 · 
bowling_ball

Oui

1  · 
gwharton
  1. Your Role: Principal
  2. Firm Location: Seattle, WA, USA
  3. Firm Size: XXLT
  4. Has your firm begun reopening physical office space? -- Kinda-sorta. Our county recently went to Stage 2 a week ago. Seattle was ground zero for CV in the USA, so we've been on WFH longer than pretty much anyone else (4 months now - mid to late February start). Our office downtown is now open on a limited basis, but few people are going in at the moment. We used an in-house parametric use and infection analysis of all our offices to determine the safest re-opening strategy, and have moved some furniture around, bought masks and stuff, and implemented some signage to indicate safe use patterns for the space. We are playing it by ear and not trying to force or rush things.
  5. What aspects of remote work have and have not worked well for you? -- I hate being stuck in the house all the time with limited FTF contact. I also don't like having low or permeable boundaries between home and work. It encourages me to oscillate between workaholic and sloth, neither of which is a good thing.
  6. Has your firm announced any plans or signaled any receptiveness to continuing to allow full or partial remote work post-pandemic? -- Yes. Our plan is to allow maximum flexibility for re-opening and working arrangements moving forward. Most of my staff have requested that they be able to continue WFH 1 to 3 days per week even after all of this blows over. Because we were already working in a highly distributed mode before CV and made the transition to WFH very easily and quickly, there is no desire to arbitrarily insist everyone go back to an office for no reason. Helping meet everyone's comfort level on work environment and location while still providing the highest level of value to our clients is our number one priority.
  7. Other thoughts?
Jun 30, 20 12:24 pm  · 
 · 
5839

1. Architect/Management

2. Northeast.

3. Medium.

4. Yes. Approximately 25% of staff have returned.  Typical measures: distancing, separated work stations, disinfecting, masks in common areas.

5. No particular drawbacks for me. Some coworkers are chronically distracted by family members.

6. No announcements yet.  We will probably re-evaluate in September.  For people with health issues, particularly those on the CDC lists of probable an possible factors for severe illness, we will probably need to continue to accommodate WFH or we'd be in violation of ADA.  For others we are not sure yet. WFH has been fairly successful in the short term.

7. Concerned about much longer term economic consequences for our target markets.

Jun 30, 20 12:35 pm  · 
 · 
axonapoplectic

1) Project Architect/manager


2) somewhere in the US


3) L


4) yes - but with limits on total number of people, social distancing, masks worn at all times, etc...


5) I liked remote work primarily because it saves me at least 2 hours a day in commuting and getting ready.  that’s time I put back into my family and self care. I don’t like remote work because I found it very hard to focus at home - especially with kids at home and spouse also working full time. I miss some of my coworkers and found it harder to work with certain people.  


6) office already allowed remote work to a certain extent, and I think they are softening somewhat. There is, however, a clear benefit to being in the office if you need face to face time with senior people.


7) I personally would like to continue working from home 2 or 3 days a week moving forward. The commute really stresses me out - and the more I can avoid it, the better I will be.  I do see benefit to being in the office at least part of the week, but I think there needs to be more balance. 

Jun 30, 20 1:09 pm  · 
 · 
  1. Your Role: Architect
  2. Firm Location: Multiple.
  3. Firm Size: L, you've probably heard of us.
  4. Has your firm begun reopening physical office space? Yes, but very very limited. Mostly open to people who absolutely need it for project work or because WFH is not working for them. Protocol to getting in the office is to check in with HR prior to going and then cleaning everything you touch, social distancing, all the usual stuff people are mentioning, etc. No expectation for everyone or even a large number to come back for at least this summer.
  5. What aspects of remote work have and have not worked well for you? I miss the physical, mental, and emotional distance between work and home. It has been good to have a spare bedroom that I've been able to use as an office and simply close the door and separate myself away from the distractions at home. Will be interesting this fall if my wife (school teacher) has to work remotely as well. She was able to manage on the kitchen table, but not nearly as many hours as me and for a limited time prior to summer break. Not sure how we'll handle it if they do remote learning this fall.
  6. Has your firm announced any plans or signaled any receptiveness to continuing to allow full or partial remote work post-pandemic? They haven't signaled anything either way. I can't imagine them not allowing it in some manner though. My guess would be partial WFH would be fine, but you'd probably need a good reason for full WFH once the threat of COVID-19 is gone. I'd welcome it, but I'd only take advantage of it minimally. Maybe a few days each month at most. My answer would have been different just a month or two ago, but for now I'm getting tired of not going into the office. I think our office has a great culture and fosters creativity and connections between coworkers. I'd be surprised if many of my coworkers would want full WFH arrangements.
  7. Other thoughts? Firm has indicated we're doing pretty well during this time. Hourly billing ratio (utilization rate) for the firm overall is good (above our target actually), and we are still finding and winning work. Still haven't had to do any lay offs or reduce hours. Firm is being very transparent about the situation and holding regular all-staff zoom meetings to go over things so we can all understand the situation. It's been really great to see. The firm I left last year is larger, and more spread out geographically, but has been hit harder. They've furloughed a lot of people as work has dried up and they were never quite that transparent with staff so I know the vibe among the employees is much more tense. Glad I made the switch when I did. My biggest concern is burnout in the office. We haven't been hiring though we probably could use a few extra people here and there. I worry that the extra workload on certain people will start to overwhelm staff.
Jun 30, 20 1:29 pm  · 
 · 
mightyaa

Not exactly your ‘target’ since we were essential.  But I think the field work in these Covid days gets interesting and most firms won’t consider.    

1. Your Role: PM

2. Firm Location: Denver

3. Firm Size: M – 50 people

4. Has your firm begun reopening physical office space? 

Yes, never shut down (essential); alternating office/remote days for two weeks early in March, then back to full time in the office. Things modified as the State issued requirements.  First was no outside meetings (zoom).  Then social distancing/mask required outside cubicles.  Now its meetings less than 10 (masks unless everyone is ok without), and temp readings/wellness checklist at arrival/checkout.   Bi-weekly extra cleaning of spaces with sanitizers, tons of hand sanitizers and wipes around.

We also do a lot of field work.  Mask required, social distancing, etc. We aren’t doing hotel stays as much pre-Covid.  Early morning flights, redeye home the same day when possible.  Otherwise, it’s driving; no more than two people per company vehicle, masks, wipe down before and after use.  If doing interior in someone’s home, upon request, full body PPE and mask (basically Tyvek suits and our full mask respirators like abatement folks).  Also, on call company attorney who can inform tenants of their (lack of) rights to deny access.  I’ve heard some field teams have been threatened by homeowners; which the standing order is to stop and walk away and let the attorneys deal with it.  Basically HOA stuff where HOA owns the exterior and has us performing inspections and tearing into it.

5. What aspects of remote work have and have not worked well for you? Firm never bought the right tech, didn’t coordinate, so connecting was pita.  Basically, two machine setup, accessed the server, downloaded files to your home rig, then worked; others then could log onto the machines.  However, half the employees don’t have a computer at home capable or the software or just iPads or project files are hours long download tying up the remote access.  So the boss decided everyone had to come in.  As for me; I’m setup at home with my own office, wife works from home too; didn’t matter, show up or lose the job. 

6. Has your firm announced any plans or signaled any receptiveness to continuing to allow full or partial remote work post-pandemic?  No.  Show up and work 40 hours or get fired. 

7. Other thoughts?  As much as I am nervous about it; We’ve been full time this entire time.  No cases, no positive test, though about 3/4 believe they were asymptomatic and had it.  Now that it’s been months, barely anyone wears a mask around the office, nor do GC’s coming in.  And the tech bullshit; we don’t even have headsets or cameras for our office computers, so you have to use your phone AND log in with the computer to zoom meetings or use your personal cellphone so they can see your face.  I'm setup much better at home than I am here; just feels like I'm sacrificial to the ownership so they can invoice higher and not take a hit.  I also miss the quarantine shut down rush hour commute; I got used to using cruise control and having empty road.  While not as bad as pre-covid, traffic is backing up again.

Jun 30, 20 1:53 pm  · 
1  · 

1.  Your Role: Project Manager / Project Architect

2.  Firm Location: Grand Junction, CO

Firm Size: S - 12 people

3.  Has your firm begun reopening physical office space?  

We opened over a month ago.  We take our temps twice a day and log our results into a form.  Commonly touched surfaces are sanitized after each use by the person who touched it.  We are allowed to WFH if we want.  

4.  What aspects of remote work have and have not worked well for you?

Remoting into out work computers is very slow when using Revit. 

5.  Has your firm announced any plans or signaled any receptiveness to continuing to allow full or partial remote work post-pandemic? 

No.  However the office is taking steps to allow seamless WFH in the future if needed.   I personally don't like to work from home.  


Jun 30, 20 5:53 pm  · 
 · 
  1. Your Role: Owner
  2. Firm Location: NY, NJ and sometimes PA and then even rarer CT and FL
  3. Firm Size: S
  4. Has your firm begun reopening physical office space? (Y/N) - Never closed really, but everyone can work from home, no need to come in yet.
  5. What aspects of remote work have and have not worked well for you? The occasional phone call instead of email is all that is needed in communication breakdowns.  Otherwise business as usual.
  6. Has your firm announced any plans or signaled any receptiveness to continuing to allow full or partial remote work post-pandemic? Pretty sure I'll make one day WFH mandatory and allow more flexible hours in general other than client and site meetings, but frankly until there is treatment or a vaccine I'll do all the meetings as usual.
  7. Other thoughts?  Not sure having an office really matters other than a place to check-in between sites or having an official address.  Rarely meet clients in the office anyway.
Jun 30, 20 9:26 pm  · 
 · 
thatsthat
  1. Your Role: Project Architect 
  2. Firm Location: NYS
  3. Firm Size: S / M; 20 ppl including support staff
  4. Has your firm begun reopening physical office space? Yes. We are doing a month-long "transition" until end of July when everyone will be expected to be in the office full-time.  
  5. What aspects of remote work have and have not worked well for you? I personally really like WFH, but I do not have kids. I like that I can use part of my lunch break to prep dinner, get in a quick workout, or throw in a load of laundry. Even if I do need to work later, it isn't a big deal if I'm working while dinner is in the oven and my partner is reading on the couch.  I like that my time is more flexible. If I want to go for a short walk mid-morning, I can as long as I make up the time. I can focus for longer periods without office distractions. We have a very positive and social office culture, which I do miss.
  6. Has your firm announced any plans or signaled any receptiveness to continuing to allow full or partial remote work post-pandemic? No one has said anything about WFH post-pandemic. I've heard that past employees have taken advantage of similar policies we had, which makes the partners nervous about offering it any time soon.  A few of the PAs are hoping the option sticks, even if it's only for the winter months, since our projects are typically only under construction during the warm months anyway.
  7. Other thoughts? I've learned how to work best with each of my staff members.  Some work best at home and only contact me with questions. Some need the office environment and more check-ins to keep them focused and progressing.  I'm a younger PA, so its been a unique challenge to learn how to best communicate with each staff member in a way that fits their learning style.  I think this will definitely help all of us work together more efficiently when we are all back in the office together.
Jul 1, 20 11:12 am  · 
 · 
4arch
  1. Your Role: Associate, Licensed Architect
  2. Firm Location: Mid-Atlantic
  3. Firm Size: M
  4. Has your firm begun reopening physical office space? Yes, they expect most people back in the office early July but are allowing people to continue WFH if they don’t feel comfortable returning or have other limiting circumstances. Temperature checks, limited use of conference spaces, one-way circulation, meetings of more than a handful of people will continue to be held virtually, and seating reassignments will be implemented at the office. They have a very detailed safety plan but working in a socially distant office has very little appeal to me. The main thing it would add back to my existence is some limited water cooler talk, but with everyone being skittish and most meetings still being online, day to day it would be much the same as working from home except that I’d have to commute again, I’d be washing my hands raw, and eating my lunch out of a bag at my desk. No thanks! Another problem is that in going back to a shared space with many coworkers whose personal lives I know very little about, my risk would be upped to that of whomever is the biggest risk taker. If someone goes to a packed bar on the weekend, their risk becomes mine.
  5. What aspects of remote work have and have not worked well for you? I’ve found remote work to be 90-95% wonderful, to the point where I can’t see ever working 40+ hours per week in an office again. WFH is working so well for me I’d very seriously consider leaving the job if I can’t come to an accommodation of at least 60-80% remote work permanently.
  6. Has your firm announced any plans or signaled any receptiveness to continuing to allow full or partial remote work post-pandemic? The firm has made it very clear that they eventually want everyone back in the office full-time. I find this attitude disappointing as the firm continued to do quite well under four months of WFH. I also find it premature as it seems a hardline anti-WFH stance will be an increasingly difficult position to justify as this situation continues to drag on.
  7. Other thoughts? I don’t understand the architecture industry’s resistance to remote work. I didn’t see any embrace of remote work even as a lot of other white collar professions embraced it over the past ten years, and the pandemic doesn’t seem to be notably changing that. The explanation I’m always given is that architecture is collaborative by nature and collaboration occurs best face-to-face. I don’t see architecture as inherently more collaborative than jobs like software development and animation that have been more open to alternative work arrangements. I’d also like to tell this to outside consultants with whom I’ve been successfully collaborating for years with minimal face time. I’m not denying the need for the occasional in person meeting, but we’re not collaborating 40 hours per week nonstop. A lot of drawing and spec writing work is actually quite solitary.
Jul 1, 20 11:55 am  · 
1  · 
gwharton

On your last point, I see both sides of that. On the one hand, the actual production part of our work is not terribly social and can be done from literally anywhere with the right equipment and connectivity. On the other hand, as a professional service, literally our entire business model is dependent on building relationships with people, and that requires face time. Lots of face time. And design itself is a fundamentally social activity.

 · 

Most people involved heavily on the production side of the profession aren't also involved heavily on the business development side, at least in the larger firms. Perhaps not so much in smaller ones. 

Your point about design itself being a fundamentally social activity probably needs more explanation or context. In some ways, I'd agree very much. In other ways, not so much. My designing a waterproofing detail that won't leak isn't that fundamentally social (perhaps a phone call to a trusted representative is all the social interaction that is needed), whereas perhaps conceptual and early design phases are.

 · 
gwharton

RE design being a social activity, that's a topic which really deserves a blog post or thread of its own. I will collect my thoughts and try to write them down.

1  · 
gwharton

RE production vs biz dev, if you want to move up to leadership in a firm or go out on your own as an architect, a fundamental requirement is that you be able to bring in new projects. That means building relationships with clients, current and prospective. Architecture is a people business first.

 · 

Re: moving up to leadership or making it on your own ... I completely agree. It's not for everyone though and I think there is room for firm owners to allow their workers the chance to WFH if their role wouldn't require as much face to face interaction.

2  · 
gwharton

I'm not arguing against WFH policies, which not only provide a lot of flexibility for everyone, but are now inevitable. Those firms who don't allow WFH are about to get hugely uncompetitive in the hiring market. My point is more for people deciding how much they want to WFH. At a certain point, limiting face to face interaction will hurt your career. Maybe a lot, depending on what your goals and career track are.

 · 

In response to 4arch's last point about the industry's reluctance to embrace or allow for flexible WFH options you stated that you "[saw] both sides of that." Perhaps I misunderstood that you were arguing against WFH policies, or at least giving more weight to the side of not embracing WFH options ... my apologies if I misunderstood. Contrary to your initial statement, I felt it was a little one sided coming from a principal of a firm who is likely in a position to embrace or not embrace WFH options at your firm. 

Likewise, I'd assume you're in a position to embrace or not embrace those workers who work more from the office or from home, so hopefully you understand the messages you're sending as you discuss this here and in your firm in the future post-CV19. For example, seeing your previous statements combined with the most recent one of "limiting face to face interaction will hurt your career" would affect my willingness to take advantage of a WFH option in your firm if I worked for you. As a person in a position to "hurt" your employee's careers, I'd hope you're aware of this and the affect it has on people who may not approach their careers the same way you have or have the same career goals as you. The caveat of "maybe a lot, depending on [...] goals and career track" doesn't offer much solace as it also seems to disallow that limiting face to face interaction may not hurt your career at all.

 · 
gwharton

I am in a position to set policy on WFH, and have made it clear to my staff that we will do what we can to accommodate their comfort levels on how or how much they want to be in the office vs work remotely. My approach to that, as with all other firm and team management issues, is that we are all professionals and grown-ups who can manage our own time and efforts to meet shared expectations. I am not a micromanager and don't want to have to be one. At the same time, it is also my role as a leader to help my people accomplish their goals and provide them what they need to succeed. As with any decision or action, choosing among alternatives means balancing positives and negatives, and understanding the constraints of what was chosen. If somebody wants to WFH full time, that's fine and policy can allow it. But it also means doing certain other things will get way more difficult. So they are either choosing not to prioritize those things or need to have a plan for how they are going to accomplish them anyway. If, for instance, somebody's goal is to themselves become a regional practice lead in a global firm, that's going to be very difficult to do on full-time WFH. Not impossible, but difficult. Being aware of that reality, which is something I did not just make up myself but is intrinsic to the job, needs to be part of the decision.

 · 
atelier nobody

1. Middle management level architect

2. Southern California

3. Huge E/A/C/Defense company

4. We had the option to return 6/15, but are not required until August (or not, see 6 below)  - today I am the only person on the floor, and possibly the only person besides security in the building. Masks and social distance are required in common areas; our cubicles are big enough that we can forego masks at our desks.

5. Working from home wasn't bad, we have a very good VPN and, because we're an international company, already had internal and external videoconferencing capability. My reason for coming back to the office early was purely personal - I live alone, not even a pet, so I was going stir crazy in a big way.

6. The company already had a remote work/alternative schedule policy limited to certain classes of employees - they have now opened it up to all (or almost all) employees.

Jul 1, 20 4:14 pm  · 
 · 

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