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Keep talking to each other – how we are making home-working work

Feix merlin friday night beers
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Fixed routines and plenty of communication will be vital for successful home-working, says Tarek Merlin of small practice Feix&Merlin Architects

Well, the good news is our studio now extends from Peckham to the far reaches of High Wycombe and St Albans, to Stokey and back again. 

We are now working from home for all of our team. As we thought we might have to do a few weeks ago, we put iMacs into the backs of cars and drove them round to everyone’s houses, carefully handing them over to their new homes on kitchen tables, person-caves, bedrooms, and spare rooms around Peckham and greater London. 

What is the biggest issue with remote working for the practice? 

For the directors all of this carries with it a sense of nostalgia – this is actually how it all started. Julia Feix and I worked remotely from each other in the early days, for a couple of years actually, while we did some work for other practices, taught in architecture schools and travelled, all the while successfully navigating time zones and internet connections as we went. So, in a strange way, it feels comfortable to be back in my home office (aka spare room/junk room/clothes dumping ground) chatting away to Julia and the team in far off locations. 

For others less used to the WFH experience, there will be a significant new cultural shift that they have to get used to. We, like many, have rushed to technology to help us, particularly Microsoft Teams (good for sharing screens and taking control of each other’s computers remotely, allowing us to draw together and avoid confusion or miscommunication) and WhatsApp (good for informal quick project chats and notes). Over the weekend we have also discovered the Houseparty app (good mainly for shits and giggles). 

Any which way you can help improve communication and maintain that studio atmosphere is paramount; the physical isolation comes with feelings of an existential isolation, and while we are all painfully aware of our collective physical health, we all need to mindful of our mental health and that of others. 

Don’t be a stranger, keep in touch with everyone as much as possible

Here’s some handy tips to working from home:

  • Routine is key! Get up at the same time, shower and change as you normally would do. Be at your desk ready to go at 9. If you’re still in your pyjamas at 11 am you will still be in your pyjamas at the end of the day! 😉
  • Take a break! Go outside, if you can, and get some sun and fresh air. Little and often is best!
  • Stay connected with your team! Don’t be a stranger, keep in touch with everyone as much as possible. Don’t feel uncomfortable about calling people more than you normally would; it’s a slightly unusual situation for everyone but we will all get used to it.
  • Stay connected with your peers! It’s always good to get insights from how other people are dealing with this. Find out what’s working well and what’s not. Reassure each other and be supportive, which I’m sure you are all doing. We have a great little WhatsApp chat with a crew of other practices, including StudioShaw and WhiteRed, and it’s become an invaluable resource – sometimes just a great sense-check to make sure you’re doing the right thing!
  • Regular communication Stick to a fixed structure. We have 9am Team F&M Breakfast Briefing, just to bring everyone together to say hello and chat about the day ahead; and a 3pm Team F&M Coffee (or Tea) Break, just five or ten minutes to check in, see how the day is going, and chat about what the next Netflix show to watch later. And of course, many calls and chats in-between. It’s important to keep this up as it creates a sense of shared credibility to what is, at first, a slightly comical setup. And let’s not forget the all-important Friday night beers (pictured) –  just as refreshing when shared online
  • If in doubt get in touch! If you’re in doubt about what to do, just pick up the phone or dial in. It feels odd at first but once the novelty of the technology wears off, this will all quickly become part of the new normal to your working day. 

We have a couple of hotel clients whose businesses are suffering but thankfully the projects continue to push on

Are projects being put on hold or cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis? 

Thankfully, most of our projects are in the design phases and are not yet directly affected by the coronavirus fallout. We are steaming towards a design review panel on our Walworth Town Hall project with General Projects, likely to be an online webinar-style affair, which we look forward to. And we have our first online design team meeting on Walworth using Microsoft Teams this week, with 20 people or more – should be fun. 

We’ve just had the Walworth Town Hall public consultation, which was supposed to be a big event but, in the days running up, it ended up being online, which although disappointing was definitely the right decision. The public consultation event for Rethinking the Aylesham Centre (a mixed-use housing project in Peckham with AHMM, Tiger Developments and Black Rock) went ahead as planned in late February, which although not that long ago at all, feels like an age away from where we are now. The next one will likely be online now too. 

We have a couple of hotel clients whose businesses are suffering for obvious reasons, but thankfully the projects continue to push on through the design stages at pace.

There are a couple of other projects on site; one about to complete, and one about to start, and although both contractors have been quite progressive in adjusting their ways of working to maintain distancing and safe conditions, one of them - the one about to complete - has closed their site as of today, Tuesday the 24 March, for three weeks, in response to government advice.

One contractor has closed its site as of today

We had a very considered message from them last night, which must have been difficult to write, saying that even though technically they could have stayed open this is not about being a hero, and the right thing to do is to close for now for the safety of their team, but also in consideration of other key workers who need to use public transport safely.

We will review in a few weeks time and see where we are.

How long can we expect to be away from the office? 

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, expect nothing. The simple answer is, unfortunately, we don’t know. What is clear, and borne out from the stats of the AJ’s survey of what people expect, is that this is unlikely to be just two weeks; more likely it will be a month or two, maybe longer. The key takeaway for me is that people need to take heed of the advice, for everyone’s sake. Stay home, stay safe.

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