South Australian Snapshot
The ACA – SA committee has completed a survey and organised a series of three broader roundtable video conferences to gauge member practice responses and experiences in the pandemic conditions currently in play. Very consistent themes emerged across all practices large and small.
Pleasingly, many of the themes that emerged focused on leadership in response to adoption of social distancing approaches and a focus on team wellbeing.
All practices have implemented changes to working behaviours. The vast majority now work from home, while some organisations see the potential to use personal transport to their studio where large spatial separation is achievable.
All practices are minimising face to face interactions, with almost all consultant, client and representative meetings now being held through a range of VC technologies including MSTeams, Zoom, Go to Meeting, Skype, Whatsapp video and Facetime.
A similar approach is being followed for site attendance; however, most teams are still attending site for defects or specific issue inspections. When undertaking these inspections, most practices are arranging for attendance outside active site hours and with limited interaction with site personnel. Some members are applying PPE, such as gloves, and across all practice activities, members are seeking social distancing and regularly hand washing or sanitising.
Contractual challenges in meeting pre-COVID deadlines or being required to attend against the architect’s will were discussed but not yet encountered, although one member did note awareness of a civil works contract that was building in allowances for operating in a pandemic environment to avoid application of force majeure. Members should be aware of future special conditions and contractual peculiarities around service delivery, which may start to appear.
A consistent theme was care and concern for team members, meaning that attendance and interaction was voluntary in all cases. Those with health issues or exposure to others with issues, or simply a personal position, were able to refrain from interaction.
This same concern for team wellbeing extended to engagement and morale with working from home arrangements. All practices expressed concern in managing and maintaining connection, with techniques such as virtual morning teas, lunches and regular team catch-ups being actioned to combat isolation.
Workload and Productivity
Currently, most members are still busy with work in progress; in fact, in several cases, they are very busy and actually employing. At the same time, there are some examples of far less work, particularly where practices are exposed to the residential or hospitality sectors. The consensus was that productivity appeared to be maintained in the working from home environment, although some limitations on people with significant parenting commitments were noted.
Despite current work levels for most, there is concern about ongoing workflow and potential downturns requiring team negotiations to get through. Different practices had different profiles of future work, depending on exposure to government or private sector markets – the latter of which has slowed – and upcoming programs for the commencement of already secured larger projects. JobKeeper was well understood, but with no practices immediately seeking to pursue the opportunity when it is brought in.
When asked what good can come of this, most participants embraced the technology learnings we have all had to adopt, which may not replace face to face in the future but should provide greater flexibility and efficiency. There was a great sense of connection with teams and families and valuing each other, which for now is being expressed remotely, but all hoped it would remain into the future.
The question less well answered was what we as architects can do to help our communities at this time. Perhaps that is one for us all to ponder.
Mario Dreosti is the Managing Director of Brown Falconer and Vice President of the ACA – SA Committee.