Trialling Remote Working

Leigh Robinson , 19 March 2020

Taylor Robinson Chaney Broderick (TRCB) has been trialling staff working from home for a number of weeks. Leigh Robinson generously shares details about how this is working, lessons learned, and the guidelines the practice has developed.

TRCB’s working from home trial began when the practice decided staff should self-quarantine after either returning from overseas or in the instances where their partner may have returned from overseas.

In the week of 9 March 2020, they also had a senior Revit documenter trial working from home to see if there were any software, hardware or speed issues when using large Revit models. As of 17 March, the practice has sent half the office (approximately 20 staff) home to increase the social distancing between staff both in and out of the office.

Based in West Perth in the CBD, TRCB is a practice of around 50 people, including architects, technicians, interior designers and administrative support personnel. This year marks their 25th year delivering architectural services. Core work sectors are commercial, university, retail, schools, hospitality, interiors and urban design.

How many staff do you have participating in the trial and how did you select them? 

We have had three staff working from home over the past two weeks. One is a senior Revit documenter and two are senior project architects. This enabled us to see what the issues might be for staff requiring a high level of computer capability to document in Revit on large building models. It also allowed us to see how senior staff running projects would manage being remote from the office using a home computer, laptop or taking home their office computer screens and boxes. 

What systems or software are you using to stay in touch with your staff throughout the day?

We have had our IT person provide remote connection for staff working remotely via VPN so they can connect directly to the office server. They have been provided with Phone Conference Instructions so they can host teleconferences or access to Zoom software if a video conference is required. We have set up Microsoft Teams software for internal office communications and video meetings. Obviously, email communications are easily maintained. 

How have you been managing the productivity of staff working in this way? 

We have instructed staff to be vigilant in using our office time recording software (Abtrac) and to record exactly the hours that they work on each project each day. We are expecting that there will be some loss in productivity and that this will vary from person to person. We have told staff to not be concerned if they need to record a higher than normal amount of unproductive time. Based on the trials, we found one person achieving about a 75% productivity and the other approximately 90%.

If the situation continues to ramp up and your entire workforce ends up working from home, how will you negotiate hours with people who have children or other family demands at home?

We held a staff meeting yesterday to discuss the working from home situation and protocols that we were putting in place. We said that we were entering uncharted waters, but that we would work with all staff on a case-by-case basis and attempt to assist in any issues as they arise. Our aim to this point is to endeavour to keep the office functioning and productive for as long as possible. 

What advice would you give to other practices based on lessons learnt from your two-week trial? 

We have provided staff with a Working from Home Checklist as follows:

  • Get up and dressed as if you were going to work and set a regular start time for your working day
  • Ensure your workplace is conducive to working
  • To be productive, you need an environment that allows you to comfortably work and stay focused
  • Schedule your day
  • A structured routine helps effectively manage your tasks and stay to target deadlines
  • A short planning session in the morning to map out your day can be very effective
  • Track your time
  • Be aware how much time is spent not working
  • What are you spending that time doing and how much does it detract from your working goals?
  • Avoid checking personal email or visiting social networking sites during work hours
  • Stay connected
  • It’s easy to lose contact; check in with your immediate colleagues and team regularly throughout the day
  • Don’t forget family and friends; set aside time or use your breaks to call or email close contacts and stay in the loop
  • Take regular breaks and “exercise”
  • Respite from your desk is important, especially when you’re confined to your home; it's best to schedule regular breaks
  • Staying active can be a challenge, especially cardio – think stretching, yoga, dips, lunges, natural resistance exercise

Our Working from Home Guidelines circulated to all staff are as follows:

  • You will continue to operate on a business-as-usual basis
  • We are fortunate to have all the technology and systems to support working from home
  • You will log on to Microsoft Teams each morning
  • It is your responsibility to keep your team’s status up to date (for example, when you grab lunch, update your team’s status and update your status again when you return to working)
  • You are to continue to have your team meetings; weekly huddles; 1 on 1 meetings as needed through Meet-Up, Zoom or teleconference
  • Refer to the Working from Home Checklist (see above)

Leigh Robinson is a founding director of Taylor Robinson Chaney Broderick, and is primarily involved with the practice's education sector work. Leigh is a member of the ACA – WA Committee.