Now, a year since quarantining began, we’re looking back at the lessons we’ve learned working within a design firm during a pandemic. We’re thinking of the changes we made internally and externally with our clients and future project occupants.
At the beginning of the pandemic, our firm switched to working remotely all the time. Protecting our employees, their families, and our communities was and still is our highest priority. With the move to virtual, we did have our concerns, however. Because the design and production of architecture projects is a very collaborative, team-oriented process, we worried about our ability to connect within teams effectively to advance our work. Fortunately, we quickly adjusted and began exploring other avenues to collaborate.
Thanks to flexible staff and a strong technical team, the initial shift to a virtual environment was a relatively smooth process. Not to say there weren’t a few challenges.
We were ready to go virtual when the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order was issued, but the process of refining our strategies took longer. Once we were connected remotely, we had to consider how virtual meetings would influence productivity and production standards. We also had to factor in possible technical limitations. We weren’t sure at first how communication platforms would handle large meetings with multiple people in different time zones. We didn’t know if the technology would help or hinder our work.
Looking back, it’s clear the first few months were a ramp-up period for us. Over time, we adjusted to the change by leveraging our software and exploring new tools to facilitate interaction and group work. In some ways, we improved our collaborative design process.
As our time working remotely stretched on, we found that where a person sits and which office they belong to—we have four U.S. offices—was no longer a barrier to building teams. With our digital tools, we are now building cross-office teams remotely.
So far, it’s working well for us. We now understand that design teams with members residing in different regions can be advantageous. Remote work can lead to positive outcomes internally and externally.
Internally, strengthening an individual’s expertise is essential and an ongoing goal for our firm. We aim to support and position others to be knowledge experts in their areas of interest. To help us achieve our goal, we’ve used virtual tools to offer employees more varied work. With virtual capabilities, employees can contribute to projects in different parts of the country and world—the result is increased connections to communities outside our own.
Externally, because we’re able to draw on staff from other offices, we can offer our clients the experience needed for their unique projects. We can move designers and engineers from one job to another without having to consider their location. Working virtually has also been an effective way for us to even out workload, which often varies by region and market.
It was a challenging year in so many ways, but we grew from a process point of view. Moving forward, we plan to use many of the virtual platforms we’ve implemented within the firm. We also plan to continue using this expanded team approach to introduce our clients to more expertise and resources since many of our clients are now comfortable with virtual meeting formats. Generally, working virtually has improved our connectedness between our multiple offices, within communities worldwide, and with our clients.
Architect Dana L. Harbaugh is the president and CEO at NAC Architecture and is based at the company’s Spokane office.
Subscribe today to our free E-Newsletters!SUBSCRIBE