Since establishing Owen Architecture in 2015, architect Paul Owen has been no stranger to the realities of working from home. Now in its fifth year the studio – small in size and numbers – finds its office within a separated structure at the rear of the house Paul shares with his wife and children.
What has changed recently, is that fact that his team no longer comes to his home office to work, and that they can’t meet up to catch up with each other, clients, or contractors. For a few weeks now meetings have been taking place via video conferencing or – when appropriate – not at all.
Habitus spoke to Paul about the adaptable and flexible approach Owen Architecture has taken to moving forward and key takeaways the team has already managed to find.
You already work from home with your team of two out of a former garage separated from your own house. What, if anything, has changed in the day-to-day now that they’re both working from home?
Logistically it doesn’t feel very different from our usual work situation, because we’re a very small home based studio. Since Christmas it feels like we’ve had non-stop meetings and that seems to have eased off … not sure if it’s because of the covid situation or just coincidence.
Now we’re running meetings via screen sharing, which is completely fine because our design meetings are always around a screen, viewing a 3D model and imagery.
So, having remote meetings is completely workable. It will be interesting to see if there are disadvantages compared to in-person meetings.
I wonder if it will force a total rethink of the way we work? I’m sure not everyone will walk away from this period and move their companies to operate remotely permanently, but as you say, it highlights those little inefficiencies in the office and people will start to think of ways to combat them.
Yes, already I can see it’s very possible for our team to work remotely, at least for some of the time. Our team are independently self sufficient, which makes this much easier than if we required a larger range of experience levels.
My wife and I were listening to a podcast last week that discussed working from home because of social distancing. It mentioned a case study where a travel company trialed working from home. Staff reported being more productive and satisfied but began missing social interaction of the office environment. The study noted the staff in the survey worked independently – they were a travel company – which suited a work form home dynamic.
Architectural work definitely team-based, so I wonder how sustainable it is to be working separately. Maybe there’s a system of deliberate catch ups combined with working from home.
Have there been any new working strategies put in place like morning meetings? Has anything changed now that your team is remote?
I’m not very good at maintaining regular team meeting culture, I feel we’re discussing things we already know, because we sit right next to each other all week! I also actively avoid situations where staff can tell me what I’m doing wrong … only joking 😀
Perhaps we should be having zoom catchups so we don’t completely forget about each other.
There are also big chunks of sitting at the computer for a couple of weeks producing work; it’s not a daily or even sometimes weekly update. I could have a chat to a staff member and that’s them for the next two weeks.
Almost as if you were to update everyday it could be the same conversation/meeting everyday?
Exactly. That’s the really great thing about our work, they’re house commissions, which are admittedly small but still two years worth of work. I empathize with friends who are graphic designers who have lots of small commissions as they have ten times the number of meetings, fee proposals, and would have to more regularly catch up with staff on things.
In terms of the realities of our work, I guess it would be 75-80 per cent sitting down at the computer doing work and the rest would be having contact with people.
What are you anticipating for the next couple of months for client catch-ups and meetings? How will you do that now?
Screen sharing meetings are working quite well. Given the seriousness of the current situation I think everyone is able to be flexible and to look for ways to ensure we have a workable way to communicate.
Also, in later project stages it’s possible to meet less and send detailed information in electronic form for clients to review.
Because in the earlier stages you’re still teasing it out?
Yes, after a while it’s more or less understood what the design is and we’re talking through technical stuff. We could even not have meetings: send through drawings and a list of things to check as homework. From this, we might even reconsider those processes. We could simply send things through and highlight what we need them to check. Most of it’s already worked through quite well.
What about sourcing things for clients likes finishes, materials, surfaces and even furniture as the case may be – how would you navigate these elements if the current circumstances don’t lift for the next little while?
It’s always great to see products in the flesh but we’re happy seeing these them online. Pretty much everything is set up to do remotely if you wanted to.
In the last ten years or so, imagery and online representation of products has improved enormously. Often product websites are better than a physical showroom.
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