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Hire or fire?

The AJ answers your questions on recruiting in the credit crunch

SHOULD I OUTSOURCE?

Yes outsource all non-fee-earning elements

‘It is possible to save a third of costs by employing external professionals for roles such as marketing, payroll and HR,’ says Delwar Hossain of Adrem Recruitment. ‘These are non-fee earning elements that do not contribute to the business’ profits.’ Hourly fees for external companies are more expensive, but practices can economise by only buying their services when required. John Clemow, managing director of London-based practice YRM, explains that its approach is to outsource all functions with which clients have no direct interface: ‘This means we benefit commercially and professionally because we buy the experience of the specialists. For roles such as IT we can have support 24/7.’

No fulfil roles with in-house teams and architects

Some firms, especially larger ones, find it more cost-effective to keep some non-architectural functions in-house. ‘This is particularly relevant to HR and payroll,’ says Peter Browne of SIV Architectural Career Management. ‘If you take these in-house services away from a medium-sized firm of 25-50 staff you just make a lot of work for senior staff.’ The architecture team can alsop carry out some roles themselves. for example, Alan Dunlop, of Glasgow practice gm+ad, writes all the practice’s press releases ‘It’s a decision based less on economics than on the advantage of making media contacts,’ he says.

 

SHOULD I EXPAND THE BUSINESS?

Yes expand using temporary workers

‘There is a definite upturn in the contract worker market - a change which everyone will have to adapt to,’ says Robert Dunning of recruitment firm Hunter Dunning. Contract workers can provide practices with a flexible base. They are associated with high rates, but this has to be considered against the lack of employers’ National Insurance, holiday pay and the ability to release staff at short notice. Large practices, with a naturally high staff turnover, are experienced at integrating temporary workers, but those with fewer employees may find it more difficult. ‘Contract workers run counter to office culture, particularly important in small businesses,’ says Julian DeMetz of dMFK, a practice that doesn’t use contract workers.

No keep business the same size

‘These are difficult times,’ says Simon Sturgis of Sturgis Associates in London. ‘Although we have jobs on the table we are unsure of how many will be followed through.’ In the past this has meant the practice has taken on contract workers, assuming more work will come in to sustain the extra staff, which until now, has always been the case. ‘Now we have to be more cautious - only replacing people who leave,’ says Sturgis. Remaining the same size means a firm can judge how much work can be taken on and that it will be well rehearsed in the sharing of load during the natural peaks and troughs of a project. It is not necessarily a passive tactic and can involve restructuring and recruitment.

 

SHOULD I DIVERSIFY?

Yes diversify into new sectors

The credit crunch could be an opportunity for architects to seek new revenue streams as well as exploring new sectors. In AJ 24.07.08, David Birkbeck, chief executive of housing lobby group Design for Homes, urged architects to consider taking on practitioners made redundant by housing specialists in preparation for the end of the credit crunch. Lindsay Urquhart of Bespoke Careers confirms that some of her clients are staffing up in this manner. International firm Dyer’s approach is to forge partnerships with experienced firms to access new sectors, for example with American healthcare expert Anshen + Allen to become Anshen Dyer. Dyer director Tim Hampson says: ‘Although this relationship has now ended - the partnership was always structured so that it could end in mutually beneficial separation - Dyer has gained the experience to work on similar projects independently.’

No but do seek new markets

‘Firms that are doing well now have diversified in terms of where their business is conducted,’ says SIV’s Peter Browne. Working worldwide does not have to mean setting up offices abroad, as firms can take advantage of existing international contacts via current employees. Chapman Taylor uses this method before committing to an outpost abroad - the company has offices all over Europe and Asia, including in Spain, Poland, Russia, India and China. ‘We develop projects and relationships first via existing staff or by purposefully recruiting someone at the necessary level to explore opportunities in the targeted region,’ says director Adrian Griffiths. Dyer’s method of forming partnerships can also be applied, linking with a foreign practice to open access to new business.

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