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Freelance Building Design and the Shift to Remote working

Work from Home- Are we ever going Back?

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2 years ago
Remote working conference call (image via Project Crunch)

Working from home is becoming the new norm for building designers. Many were apprehensive about making the transition, sceptical about productivity and really uneasy about meeting project deadlines whilst out of the office. As the new status-quo becomes more familiar and (most of us) see that productivity is not impacted negatively it seems like the transition may be more permanent than first thought. This may be an easy transition for those used to freelance building design but not for all building designers. The question is are we ever going back and how will the industry change?

It could be said that the Covid 19 pandemic has pushed this one off a cliff, but perhaps this change was inevitable in time either way. In all industries people are enjoying the flexibility of working from anywhere and increasingly question the purpose of being chained to a desk.

Why the Office worked in some ways for designers 

Design team meetings are often much more productive in a face-to-face environment. Communication, be it verbal or via sketches during design meetings have expedited the delivery of many a complicated design concept. The architect can see the fear on the engineers face as they talk through their desire to create a 50 ft cantilever sky-bridge..these non-verbal cues say a lot at times. Research also shows that the vast majority of relationships are built and strengthened not via email, or phone but by face-to-face interactions. It makes relationship building (architect-engineer, client architect etc.) easier.

Accessibility to fellow designers and colleagues is much easier at the office. This accessibility may be of benefit when you want to talk to the in-house design expert on vibration design or sustainability criteria to meet a certain LEED standard. In the office, it is also often quicker to set up a quick sit-down with your internal design team or swing by a colleagues desk compared the the new norm. It can be difficult to schedule a meeting following multiple team members work from home schedule. 

There are also benefits arriving from the social interaction that the office environment brings. This might be through bumping into colleagues in the office kitchen or after-work activities.Working form home doesn’t facilitate this to the same extent. Online social events are OK… on a good day , but real world interactions are much better for relationship building as referenced above. 

Managers are somewhat comforted by the fact that they can physically see their team members sitting at their desk working. This is maybe less of a concern in the modern work environment when performance is measured more by output rather than visibility. That said it doesn’t make it easier for design managers to keep tabs on their teams. 

In more general terms, the office environment does allow us to separate work form home. It’s also a good storehouse for resources such as codes and reference design manuals. You have access to stationary, various office equipment and perks.  But all this said I’m not sure if many designers are ready to go back.  

Why designers are not going back in a hurry 

Most designers say that they are more productive working from home and mand many are becoming more comfortable with freelance building design. Research also shows that employees are generally happier when not obligated to go the office daily.  The global pandemic has forced many designers hands into a massive shift of work environment, but it turns out we are much happier with the outcome.

This may be due to a combination of things; there is no commute and there is less prep required to sit at your home desk rather than dragging yourself to the office. There are less distractions and, for the introverted designers out there, the obligation to socialise with co-workers is removed.

According to research most people are happier working from home.

There is also certainly a great deal more flexibility with your work hours. Its very important to stick to a schedule and keep somewhat of a routine, but your timetable is much less rigid. The extent of these advantages does of course depend on individual circumstances. But we should keep in mind this has only recently become the new normal. Are enhancements of the work-from-home model inevitable? That is unquestionable. Is the freelance building design and remote working part of the industry likely to sky-rocket?

Technological developments will certainly help the transition in the future. Many designers have already hit project deadlines via Revit models hosted on BIM 360 and have gotten to appreciate the benefits of communication apps such as Microsoft Teams. Technology will only grow to make the shift to working from home even more seamless. 

BuildingDesignExperts.com will go some way to facilitate remote working for those operating in the freelance building design world and others looking to find a knowledge community whilst away from the office. Designers can find projects from wherever they are situated in the world. Architects, Engineers, BIM specialists and more can advertise their credentials, resume and design portfolios. BDE opens your expertise up to a global audience through the expert profile portal. You don’t have to miss out on interaction with fellow designers either. In our forum and communities you can create groups based on expertise and put questions to fellow designers. You can interact with designers both global and local. There are many other levels of technology and infrastructure which will also help to enhance the transition to working from home. 

What this all means?

In a broader sense, this shift is not restricted to building designers. All industries are experiencing this change. The freelance building design industry, similar to other sectors is scheduled to grow. This will certainly lead to a huge shift in the commercial retail estate market. This will in turn impact, not just the way we design, but how and what we design. This is a bigger topic, which merits its own discussion.

Focusing on the way we operate it seems as though we have done the hard yards, we have been forced into making a transition and its worked out Okay..actually more than Okay according to the research. And there is every reason to believe the working from home model is likely to become even more seamless in the future. There are advantages to bringing designers together as outlined above, but this can still happen with the home (or remote working location) as the primary work environment. So, to the question are we going ever going back ..It seems like the answer in short, is no. At least not to where we were before. 

Thanks for reading and please comment!

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