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London practices unite to end 40+ hour working weeks

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Members of the London Practice Forum have vowed to end working hours of more than 40 hours per week as part of the network’s drive to make the profession fairer and to tackle wider social issues

The pledge is one of a number of commitments outlined in the network’s new Principles & Ethical Charter which aims to tackle the problems of ‘long hours and poor pay’ and counter the impacts on physical and mental health within the industry.

The forum – the brainchild of RCKa founding director Russell Curtis – is an informal collective of 21 London-based, smaller-scale architectural practices employing, in total, around 300 people who share knowledge, experience and resources.

Among the member firms are alma-nac, Cousins & Cousins, DRDHGort Scott , IF_DOvPPRStitchZCD Architects and Pitman Tozer (see full list at bottom). The group also includes Bell Phillips Architects whose director Hari Phillips and associate Jay Morton helped draw up the charter following 12 months of discussions with members.

The wide-ranging principles in the charter – which forum member practices must sign up to – are split into five sections: who we work for; valuing people; addressing inequality; addressing the climate crisis; and promoting good design.

As a first step, firms in the collective said they would not accept commissions without considering the social value of any scheme as well as its environmental impact, provenance of the finance and the destination of the profits.

In terms of valuing staff, the charter says: ‘Member practices will … commit to standard working hours of no more than 40 hours per week and monitor compliance; not ask staff to opt out of the EU Working Time Directive; and have a written overtime and time-off-in-lieu policy which compensates staff appropriately.’ 

It continues: ‘[Firms] will pay all staff at least the London Living Wage/Living Wage and require that all subcontractors do the same [and they will] not use unpaid interns’.

The ‘promoting good design’ section adds that practices will only competitively bid ‘for work where the [tender] assessment of quality is valued more highly than that of fee’. It also says firms will ‘share research and best practice through wider public forums, research papers, building visits, design review panels and teaching’.

Launching the charter, Curtis said: ‘When we first sat down together in late 2018 we’d only a vague idea of what our nascent group might achieve. We were painfully aware of many of the challenges faced by small practices working today, but also of the problems facing the wider industry: long hours, low pay, a lack of diversity and declining design and construction quality, among many others.

‘[We] soon wondered how we might use our collective influence to campaign for wider reform. A product of this discussion was the ‘ethical charter’.

This is the beginning of a journey rather than the conclusion

He added: ‘We know [the charter] is not perfect: it is the product of much discussion and compromise. Many interesting and provocative ideas were put forward and discarded along the way. But collectively we believe this is the beginning of a journey rather than the conclusion, and this charter presents an idea of how, as we enter a new decade, we might act together to address some of the challenges faced by small practices and wider society.’

Curtis concluded: ‘It is not carved in stone. We expect to revise and update this regularly so it remains both relevant and aspirational. The environment in which we work is changing constantly – our commitments to each other, and the communities in which we operate, should adapt accordingly.’

London Practice Forum - members

 

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Readers' comments (5)

  • John Kellett

    In fact you can do more actual work in 32 hours and 4 days. On top of that BIM has at least doubled productivity. Why are LONDON practice so keen on underpaying staff such that only the already rich can afford to be in the BEST profession? Real salaries have fallen consistently for a decade, this is nearly the only profession to have that inflicted upon it.

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  • You don’t need to work long hours if you use your time correctly and stick to your default diary. Less social media, less email and less procrastinating = Deep Work.

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  • You're both missing the point somewhat. The problem is not one of time management—it's that there exists an unhealthy expectation for staff to work long hours regardless of how efficiently they spend their time. The profession's lack of diversity (including socio-economic) is exactly what we're attempting to address with this initiative.

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  • Clare Richards

    I applaud LPF’s founders, this is an excellent initiative. But can the Forum really achieve both its inward-looking aspiration – better working practices – and outward-looking aspiration – to lobby for change in wider society? Already the long working hours culture is the aspect that’s been picked up on, both here and in social media.

    To be effective in bringing about social change we need to understand and value the social context in which we work; and to do that we need to define clearly the social purpose of our profession – and then commit to applying it.

    What constitutes ‘high ethical standards’, for example? And how, precisely, are member practices to ‘actively support clients who want to help create a more equitable and sustainable society’?

    Also, by combining in a single ‘principle’ the aspiration to ‘maintain high ethical and sustainable standards’ there’s a risk that the social aspects of sustainability are subsumed by the environmental aspects. It’s important to separate these out, so as to give them equal weight.

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  • if you're only working 40 hours you're shirking...

    also, some of us LOVE working as architecture isn't really work... go on site and watch people grafting compared to coffees at the breakout space...

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