An Oxfordshire-based practice has outlined plans to abandon its studio after realising the benefits of staff working from home during the lockdown period
HollandGreen said it had no plans to return to its main Thame studio and that its 28-strong team would work remotely for the foreseeable future.
The firm closed its office in line with government advice as the coronavirus crisis escalated in March.
But it has found so many benefits in decentralised working that it has told staff of its aim to continue doing it – and has set up working groups to plot the way forward.
Co-founder Stephen Green told the AJ: ‘We have taken away all the uncertainty by saying we will definitely be working from home until Christmas – and aim to do so long beyond that.
‘We have set up workshops with the team to look at best practice in remote working. We are asking them to craft the questions for us and then answer them.’
Green, who started the practice 10 years ago with Ben Holland, said the company kept all its files and software on the cloud so was well prepared for the sudden change in March.
He added that after an initial tricky period, HollandGreen had worked ‘more effectively’ without a studio and ‘improved delivery’.
HollandGreen gave notice on premises in London and Cheltenham in late 2019 to bring together all geographical and discipline-based teams under one roof in Thame.
‘The intent was centralising and all working together,’ said Green. ‘The pandemic has taught us we don’t have to have a studio to do that.’
Working remotely has improved collaboration and finely tuned processes, he added.
‘We were working on a presentation recently and not coming to an office to do that drove people to make sure they understood clearly what others required – it actually honed our delivery.’
The studio shut-out has also made the practice rethink how it operates as an employer, Green said.
‘We have recruited a small number of part 1 and part 2 staff over this period so we have generated passports for them to move past their probation period by getting certain tasks signed off. The structure is more robust than we have had in the past.’
When the pandemic passes, the aim is for the practice to move from Zoom meetings with staff to regular social events.
‘Rent is not a major part of our overheads but we can spend the money we save on fun stuff,’ said Green. ‘Money is not the driving factor here – we’re trying to make a better environment for people to work in.’
Presentations will take place at client premises, being more convenient for the bill payers and helping the practice get closer to them.
Key elements for the working groups to look at include how to maintain culture and ensure junior members of staff are able to learn from more experienced heads. Again Green thinks working remotely is forcing the practice to come up with clear processes here rather than relying on office life to make things happen.
‘We can be more thoughtful and structured and put more checks and balances in place.’
Making sure everyone at the company has a suitable space to work in, free from distractions, is another important challenge the practice is now tackling.
‘We may ask to come and look at workspaces and see whether we can design fold-away offices for those who need them. We want people to feel they are going to work and also that they can leave – they are not always on call.’
Green thinks the practice will settle on some core hours and allow a degree of flexibility to suit individual needs.
‘Ultimately if you have a choice between working for a company where you have to drive for half an hour, sit in an office from 9am to 6pm and then drive home again – or for a practice that judges you on output and meets you for a curry every so often, I know which one I’d choose.’
Home working expected to soar post-virus
A poll of more than 1,000 employers by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development last month found that more than half were putting in place extra measures or budget to support home working in the wake of the coronavirus.
Companies expect the proportion of staff who always work from home to rise from 9 per cent at the start of this year to 22 per cent post-pandemic.
Two-thirds of respondents said home working had improved or at least maintained productivity and efficiency.
Institute chief executive Peter Cheese said: ’Greater use of home working will make work more accessible and sustainable for all, particularly for people with caring responsibilities and those with mobility or health concerns.
’This shift will support and encourage employers to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce, which is good for the economy and society at large. For many people, more flexible working opportunities and choice over when and where they work can give a better work-life balance and support for overall mental and physical wellbeing.’
Comment Adrian Dobson, RIBA executive director for professional services
The pandemic has had a huge impact on architects’ working lives, with many staff continuing to work from home. Many practice directors are re-evaluating what their studios should be used for, and it’s clear that a return to unchanged pre-lockdown office culture is unlikely.
While home-working is effective for many, studios provide invaluable opportunities for social interaction and creative collaboration. We will continue to support our members to respond to the many challenges they face as a result of the pandemic to ensure that they can continue to prioritise effective and innovative ways of working whilst adapting working practices to safeguard the physical and mental wellbeing of their staff.