New Challenges & Modes of Working
Hayball has explored varied modes of working and learning over many years, but the rapid shift to remote, distributed workplaces in the era of COVID-19 is a new challenge. Policies, protocols, regular check-ins and exploring new ways to support company culture are all helping to improve efficiency, communication and connection.
Hayball is one of Australia’s largest design practices, specialising in architecture, interior design and urban planning. Established over 36 years ago, we now have 160 staff working across our three studios in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Our strength is in supporting clients competitively and creatively, harnessing multiple perspectives within a dedicated interdisciplinary team working closely with clients on every aspect of a project. Our process generates innovative thinking and delivers strong, cohesive and marketable solutions.
The practice has realised hundreds of projects across Australia, New Zealand, South-East Asia and China – including multi-residential buildings, education, civic, workplace interiors and commercial developments to urban design for entire suburbs.
What measures has your practice put in place in response to COVID-19? What are you looking at doing next?
We were swift in our course of action. In late February, we implemented strategies to support social distancing such as staggered start times, increased space between desks, minimised face-to-face meetings and ceased all travel. Senior leadership developed a comprehensive plan with the IT team and HR to enable remote working for all staff, established policies and protocols for client and team collaboration, and rolled out new communication channels. By mid-March, all staff were set up to work from home.
Remote working at this scale and in this context is a work-in-progress. COVID-19 is an unprecedented experience for all of us, and we are closely monitoring updates and advice from the government and health authorities, adjusting our approach as needed.
Do you have staff working remotely? How are you managing this – in terms of both technical / IT matters and workplace systems and cultures?
Our Working From Home policy is a direct response to the COVID-19 situation. We established a framework for remote work, which includes contact points for staff, communication and reporting requirements, and a process for meetings to support activities and staff roles.
We are continuing to prioritise Hayball’s social company culture. Regular state-wide events such as our weekly Monday morning tea, Friday Night Drinks (see Laura live streaming artwork below) and monthly book club event are all still proceeding as usual. Interestingly, taking our social events online has opened up more national opportunities for all staff to get involved. For example, a group of our Sydney staff used to meet on Friday mornings for a yoga class, which has now transitioned to online classes, led by our very own Kit Ku. It has become more popular, and she now runs two online classes.
We have also launched our first virtual ‘GL[E]AM: Quarantine’ series. The original GL[E]AM Forum is an annual program that bridges topics around community, culture and learning. In the spirit of keeping this community connected, we’re taking these forums digital to share information and support over the coming months as we collectively shift towards new ways of working and learning.
How are you communicating the changes to clients?
Transparency is key. Management and project leaders are communicating with clients more than usual. It’s great to see that staff and our clients have embraced the perks of technology. We’re using FaceTime for site visits and Microsoft Teams for our client meetings. We also issued a formal statement to communicate the new policy and measures we were implementing to manage the wellbeing of our people, collaborators, families and wider community. The statement is published on our website. We’ll continue to communicate with clients on any changes that may arise.
What challenges have you encountered to date?
We already had a number of staff working on portable devices, a majority of them based in our Sydney studio. Though they were able to assist IT, mobilisation of all staff to work from home was a challenge. But in less than two weeks, we were able to set everyone up with the software, equipment and the training (for new communication channels). One of the obstacles that we’ve encountered is getting all staff up to speed and comfortable with using several new programs for internal and client communication, as well as meeting the set expectations for effective communication.
At the moment, Hayball’s leadership team meets on Monday afternoons to reflect on our communication/collaboration to-date – a space to enable people to discuss what’s working/not working, intending to develop or update protocols/processes for more effective internal team communication. At the moment, there are differing levels of communication, which can sometimes leave people second- guessing and having to follow up more often than usual. We want to get all staff on the ‘same page’ to improve efficiency.
Did you have systems and processes in place already that you have been able to build on (for example for flexible work)? If so, how has this worked?
Being a multi-studio practice across different cities, we recognise the importance of effective and fluid communication between people and across studios. Before COVID-19, Hayball offered flexible working arrangements and was trialling a variety of alternative remote working options aligning with our commitment to the Male Champions of Change program. Therefore, we were prepared to a certain extent, with existing systems and software to support remote work which has reduced IT and server access issues significantly.
What advice would you give to other practices based on your experiences so far?
We recommend all practices develop clear communication protocols among staff/internal teams. The most difficult aspect of remote working is not having instant feedback/responses in a traditional office environment. Another observation is that due to the constant communication – whether on ‘Chat’ channels, Microsoft Teams or Zoom video conference calls – some staff feel that they are experiencing more disruptions, which are impacting on their productivity. We are currently working on protocols around video/ audio calls to improve time management across all levels of staff and business areas.
Top: Group shot in the Melbourne office pre-COVID-19. Photo by Henry Lam. Bottom: The Sydney team in Hayball’s Surry Hills studio.