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The Coach: Cut yourself and your staff some slack in this crisis

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With a potentially long period of domestic confinement ahead, we need to adapt quickly, says Matthew Turner

Matthew turner

Like personal jet packs, home working for most was always in the near future. It has been the kind of thing the business pages of newspapers have been wont to muse on for years. As of last week, it has arrived. With the world going topsy-turvy, we are living through an overnight revolution in the workplace.

Coming alongside the overall uncertainty affecting the whole economy the effects of the coronavirus are brutal. In one fell swoop, all is up in the air, with no clarity of how and when it will land. The design presentation that kicks off the next stage of work has been postponed, or the project at a critical stage on site has the potential to unravel dramatically.

Some of us may be starting this period of enforced home working with a diary that last week was full, and now is suddenly full of nothing – a cliff-edge of cancelled work.

So architects, like many, will be struggling on a business level. But what about the actual experience of home working; what are the issues? While architecture has a sizable cohort of sole traders for whom working at home is old hat, many have been thrown into this with no warning. It’s action learning.

Firstly, there are the practical issues of equipment, functioning IT and file access. Next, the spatial issues of functioning alongside other home workers, children, dogs and so on.

Then there are the added communication complexities (the increased email traffic, the peculiar dynamic of video conferencing), as well as the management issues (running and supporting a team, metering out work, co-ordinating with others).

There is also a whole new etiquette and work lingo to get your head around, such as not being caught too brazenly snooping your colleagues’ domestic interiors in a conference call, and the discovery of the phenomenon, long the preserve of home workers, of ‘Winnie the Poohing’ – wearing a presentable top-half to video conferencing with an unseen bottom half. This can be fun for a while. The internet is an ever-burgeoning resource for optimising your workspace and working-from-home tips. 

However, the reality can be messier. With a potentially long period of domestic confinement ahead, we need to cut ourselves – and our teams – some slack. With all this new work culture to take on, we need to adapt.

We shouldn’t beat ourselves or others up about this, if at all possible. Bosses need to communicate better, employees need to be more resourceful, and we all need to develop our resilience, and compassion for each other. Families, in particular, have a hard gig, with all of our independence curtailed, the compartments of life broken down, and priorities in direct conflict.

We need to acknowledge we may not be able to expect the same levels of productivity during this period, as concentration levels are likely to be affected. Research and task-based work will perhaps be easier, while the nuanced, negotiational work may become more difficult.

The most important thing is to control your stress, and lean into sources of happiness

With all this happening in a matter of days, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and get stressed. So I would advise that the most important thing is to control your stress, and lean into sources of happiness.

Take breaks, take time to look out of the window, walk your balcony or garden, if you are lucky enough to have an outdoor space. Exercise the dog, the kids, and yourself. Enjoy the spring blossom. Indulge the biggest cliché of them all, breathing deeply. Then, come back to your desk, after washing your hands thoroughly, of course.

It’s funny to think that the long-trailed shift to working remotely has become a reality overnight, not due to finessing great software or an ambitious government policy, but on account of an itsy-bitsy virus. But, like much in life, making the best of a given situation is a good plan.

For those running businesses, the issues are huge. If you are a manager, you need to maintain a positive attitude to face your team – your number one asset.

There is invention in adversity, and solace in sharing adversity with others. I, for one, am excited to be asked to a lifetime first tomorrow – virtual after-work drinks. So let’s approach this experience positively; keep practice morale up through sociability despite our isolation; and let’s all raise a glass to beating that virus.

AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. Email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com.

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