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Why architects can’t work from home

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As the coronavirus spreads, going into the office is looking increasingly risky to many. What are your experiences? Leave a comment and join the conversation about what practice and the profession look like in a COVID-19 world

Maybe you have already wondered to yourself ‘Can I work from home?’ Perhaps work has asked you to fill out a survey so they can gauge if staff could be productive remotely. Working from home is often thought of aspirationally, but would architects actually be able to work from home and would they even want to?

The AJ employs some not-currently-practising architects and their response is a resounding ‘no’. Architects can’t work from home. We’re interested to see whether readers agree.

Companies don’t have enough laptops; it’s difficult to co-ordinate CAD drawings from home – if you even have CAD at home as the licences are so expensive; you need to be able to print things and sketch ideas out collaboratively; if work laptops are available, you won’t be able to use Revit effectively with only one screen; and site visits are obviously not possible from the sofa.

These are the broader reasons why architecture firms have not earnestly embraced flexible working while other businesses have moved in that direction. Often only high-level employees in architecture practices can work from home as they don’t tend to do any drawing, their jobs mainly involving management and emails. 

There are also some cultural barriers to overcome. In 2018, the AJ reported the experience of Pepper Barney, an architect at BDP who, when summoned to discuss a flexible working request, says she was asked how they would know she was not just watching Grand Designs? The request was later turned down and she quit.

What can you do from home then? How might coronavirus shape and change architectural practice? What does it mean more of (reading, research, business development … catching up on your recent issues of the AJ)?

Or maybe everyone has already been enrolled on intensive online CPD courses.

Our readers join the conversation

Co-director of HAT Projects Hana Loftus says coronavirus might have greater impact in different areas of the profession: 

Kieren Porter doesn’t think the question helpfully contributes to the profession’s image:

KITSON Architecture director Ellen Kitson says on Facebook ‘Totally possible to work at home as an architect. I’ve done it loads! It’s not perfect and I also miss the atmosphere of my practice but as long as you are super organised you can do it!’.

But Elisa Pardini, partner and co-founder at Pardini Hall Architecture says it’s ‘Impossible for all the material that is in the office. Plus I don’t have the licence I need on my personal laptop’.

David Simpson, associate at Associated Architects has working from home down pat: 

On Facebook RPS Europe senior architect Jordie Bokor, agrees that it is ‘Definitely possible and much more dependent on whether your practice has a decent VPN/internet bandwidth and laptop resource than about the uniqueness of the architect’s role.’

Hari Phillips of Bell Phillips is optimistic;



Readers' comments (18)

  • This is possibly the largest pile of ignorant crap I have ever read. Software licenses are very easy to transfer of they aren't portable. AutoCAD for example, can be logged in to just as Adobe creative cloud and installed.

    Seniors, in my experience are the ones who draw the most..working collaboratively on drawings being difficult? BIM? I've played chess on archicad.

    Site visits..why are they more difficult from the living room than the office? If the site is closed, it doesn't matter where you are.

    This disgraceful piece is yet another display of ignorant opinions that dictate fave time as more important. As the bdp experience described, they obviously have no measure of output. They measure efficiency by the time spent sat in the office, not on any other metric. Are architects really this stupid? I know I have worked for a few, but my current mid size company has enabled and admitted to hone working being relatively easy to implement. But we are also a very well structured company with everyone having very clear duties, and a very well organised filing system.

    Whomever wrote this piece has either never worked in a practice, or only worked for extremely poor employers.

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  • I have worked from home for the last 20 years. I'm still here, and I've seen my children come in from nursery and school every day. I would not have missed this for the world.

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  • Working from home is a very good thing and Architects can and should do this. It assists everyone in achieving a work life balance, reduces stress, improves employee wellbeing and helps build trust. It also assists staff in managing other aspects of life such as sharing care responsibilities. This in turn creates a more equitable work environment where mums and dads can maintain career continuity without having to choose between Architecture and family. 9 till 5 presentee culture (with lots of unpaid overtime) might have worked when one parent always stayed at home but the world has now changed. Home working also takes cars off the road and reduces rush hour congestion. Is the Architecture profession really against the above and if so why?

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  • Looking at the positives of corona I think as an industry we have to embrace the opportunity to test how technology can aid us by working more remotely (and flexible working hours for the future), and yes it is possible. The idea you would sit at home watching grand designs is both old fashioned and nonsense, there should be trust for your staff to complete their work tasks. Hours sat at a desk in the office where they can be monitored does not mean that staff are working efficiently. The opportunity to work remotely and more flexible hours could do wonders for retaining staff, especially for those who have family demands etc. This could also allowmore diversity within the industry as architecture becomes a more adaptable career for people’s lives.

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  • Henry Smith-Miller

    While we have been working with our New York City civic clients remotely for years as travel their offices is time consuming and much can be accomplished virtually with programs like GoToMeeting and BlueBeam, and we were equipped to do so, sending our architects to work remotely was an interesting logistical challenge; our office operates on specific user configured desktops for specific project development using specific and expensive softwares as in REVIT, ACAD, LUMION, etc. A simple remote laptop installed program that can offer instructions to an in-office desktop will give total control of the desktop to the remote user and all file development will occur within an office Eathernet network an not require additional software investments. Such a program as Splashtop works very effectively. What we miss is the simple pencil and paper, the "sketch" an effective, rapid and immediate means of postulation.

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  • AJ, Why not do a piece on all the IT tools that people use to enable this, with some good research and comment on how good or bad and what short comings, for architects?

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  • Felix Mara

    Architects should work at home. Must architects' offices are awful plastic environments, full of annoying people policed by even more annoying office managers, which stifle creativity and productivity. Revit licences work out cheaper than many employees' commuting expenses, and that's before you factor in the time and energy lost while they're in transit.

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  • With some pre-planning and consultation with staff, we moved the whole office (32 people) to home working within 24 hours. It was clear that laptop working would be unsustainable, so staff have taken home their full office PC workstation. Moving kit was surprisingly straightforward with staff with cars helping to deliver to nearby colleagues. We therefore have our full software on high quality machines and are linked to the server via VPN (although we are awaiting a few more licences to make this smoother). Meetings, internal and external, are taking place via Microsoft Teams which is proving to be very straightforward. Before stopping work each day, staff have been asked to send an email listing 'what I did today' as well as giving us an update on their health and general wellbeing. There is an office-wide WhatsApp group which is keeping everyone 'chatty' and feeling connected. Of course we would prefer to be collaborating at the office but our wonderful team is yesterday showing that we can work positively and productively from home. To stay together in the office would be irresponsible.
    Wendy Mason, Rivington Street Studio

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