Clear Communication and Patience

Justine Ebzery , 22 March 2020

Justine Ebzery outlines the steps Fulton Trotter has taken in response to COVID-19 so far, including clear, regular communication to clients and employees, transitioning to more work from home arrangements, and a focus on patience and kindess.

Fulton Trotter Architects has eight directors, and a ‘terrific’ team of 36 (33.25 FTE) people in the Brisbane office and 13 (10.55FTE) people in Sydney. The practice provides full traditional architectural services to the community sectors of education, aged care, health, multi-residential housing and civic projects.

What measures has your practice put in place in response to COVID-19? What are you looking at doing next?

We have been constantly monitoring government advice for workplaces and responding quickly to make changes as recommended.

We have been regularly communicating with all staff, both verbally and in writing, about our COVID-19 Response Plans and actions. These updates are also pinned to the landing page of our cloud-based document management system and can be easily found by staff at any time.

We increased hygiene measures with additional hand washing and sanitiser use, as well as regular cleaning of meeting rooms, handrails etc. We displayed posters around the office about the recommended hand washing and coughing measures.

We stopped all air travel until further notice.

We minimised visitors to the office by conducting most meetings via video conferencing.

We cancelled all non-essential gatherings, such as our Friday Design Talks, CPD in house events, yoga classes, art and classes until further notice.

We made early arrangements for some staff with higher risk factors to work from home. We put additional measures in place the week starting 16 March to conduct a one-day trial of most staff working from home to test all the technical aspects. We have planned to have most staff working from home from the week beginning 23 March for an extended period to finetune the management and processes. We then anticipate we will have most staff working from home most of the time from the beginning of April until further notice.

Do you have staff working remotely? How are you managing this – in terms of both technical / IT matters and workplace systems and cultures?

Yes, we already had a couple of our staff working this way some of the time. This means we already had some flexible working arrangements and WHS checklists in place. These were a good foundation to work with. In addition we found the Chamber of Commerce templates issued free this week very useful.

We have fairly quickly increased the number of staff working from home in the week starting 16 March, with the majority working from home by the end of that week. We will assess what improvements can be made and implement them to allow extended working from home from next week and beyond. We have kept a skeleton staff working in each office with plenty of social distancing between them.

We already had in place a cloud-based document management and project accounting system so staff could already easily access this from home. This also allows staff to complete and lodge time sheets via a mobile app.

We have recently installed remote access software to allow all staff to log in from their home computers and access all their usual software and files from their work computers. Where staff did not have a home computer we have supplied one.

We have organised our phone system so that calls can be easily directed to staff mobile phones.

We have issued all staff with Temporary Working from Home agreements and WHS checklists to meet our legal obligations as employers and understand what additional resources or support we may need to provide to ensure they are able to work safely and effectively at home.

We have been using gotomeeting for video conferencing for a number of years, but have also been utilising Zoom just recently. This has been good for team communication.

How are you communicating the changes to clients?

We issued an e-newsletter to our clients, consultants and collaborators on Tuesday 17 March. We put information on all our social media platforms. And we provided an email version to all our staff to allow them to personally send the info out to their contacts if they wished. We have also encouraged our staff to discuss the changes with their contacts to explain that we are well placed to continue to provide our services just with new methods of connecting and communicating.

Have you encountered challenges to date?

Yes, lots! There has been a lot of change thrust on people very quickly, which has been stressful. There has been some communication breakdowns and confusion as we trial some new technology and on occasions it hasn’t worked smoothly. We have also had some well-intentioned installation of apps and software that was not properly coordinated or approved for use by our IT  coordinator. We have had challenges keeping track of staff movements as more work remotely and we are exploring better ways of remaining connected. But we are making good progress and expect all of these challenges to be resolved fairly soon.

Longer term, I think the challenge will be maintaining connectedness and communication amongst our teams. I expect we will all experience feelings of isolation and loss of control at times and will need to be clever and creative in how we provide emotional support to each other through this protracted challenge.

What advice would you give to other practices based on your experiences so far?

Communicate regularly, utilising every type of format available to you, and be patient and kind to each other.

2 - Fulton Trotter Sydney

Justine Ebzery is a Director of Fulton Trotter, and is based in the Brisbane office. She re-joined the practice after an eight-year role with the Queensland Government’s Project Services office – in this capacity she oversaw major government infrastructure all over Queensland. At Fulton Trotter, Justine works closely with the administration team to coordinate financial management, human resources management, planning and marketing, information management, risk management, governance and organisational dynamics. In addition, she continues to lead education and health projects for government and not-for-profit clients.