ACA President’s Comment

John Held , 9 June 2020

As we release the preliminary findings of our third Pulse Check Survey, John Held explores the key issues in the profession, from workflow to JobKeeper, from stimulus to flexibility and the future of work.

Taking the pulse of the architectural profession at present is both sobering and hopeful. Sobering, because some practices have lost all their work and hundreds of employees have had hours reduced, been stood down or made redundant. Hopeful, because JobKeeper seems (at the moment) to be supporting many practices from bigger cuts to staff; because practices have been able to adapt quickly to changes in working environment; and because mental health (from the perspective of those completing the survey, at least) is generally better than many had feared would be the case.

As a society we have been fortunate in the management of the pandemic, and this is reflected in the fact that many practices have either returned to their offices or intend to do so soon. What is clear is that the new normal will not be the same as the old. The artificial divide between work life and family life has been exposed, and new and more flexible work arrangements will be commonplace. Many have learnt what is valuable about being flexible, but also the limitations of creative collaboration without face to face interaction. Many have relished the time saved in commuting and travelling to meetings; others complain about the exhaustion of too many videoconferences. Parents and students doing remote learning have discovered the real value of schools as places and social constructs; we should also learn the real value of collaborative workspaces.

Our profession needs to be clear about several things. Our work has a different flow to retail and hospitality; many are fearful about the medium term unless the economy picks up quickly. Our work is the precursor to the wider construction industry – if we are not busy now, they will not be busy in the months ahead. It seems imperative that JobKeeper needs to be in place beyond September – but for architects at least, wouldn’t it be much more productive to be working on real projects for roughly the same level of expenditure? One hopes the lockdown has allowed people to reassess the value of public and private place.

One concern from the survey is when different levels of government are making life more difficult for us rather than facilitating a steady flow of work for the construction industry – whether putting government projects on hold, delaying planning approvals or choosing inappropriate procurement methods. Our survey was completed just before the HomeBuilder package was announced, so we do not have direct feedback on its effectiveness. It might help a few small practices but falls very short of the responses in the survey on immediate priorities for government stimulus to concentrate on well-planned community and social infrastructure projects. We have not learnt the lessons of past stimulus packages.

Over the next few weeks ACA will commission a range of articles looking at the survey in more detail. We want to know why some firms felt productivity has risen while others think it has fallen. We need to find out how practices will approach life differently. We want to know more about the stress and mental health issues arising from the pandemic. We need to make our opinions clear to governments. And we need to keep listening to your concerns and ideas. Want to write about how you are going? We are waiting for you to get in touch!