A glimpse of hope emerged from the endless loop of COVID-19 news this week when China announced the closure of their last temporary hospital in Wuhan due to their stabilization of the pandemic that has now taken the world by storm. Western countries have been enforcing more restrictive measures aiming to stop the spread of the virus, including mandating shelter-in-place orders and forcing any business deemed non-essential to close. Due to the quarantine and isolation politics imposed by the authorities around the globe, we asked you, our readers, how the coronavirus is affecting your daily life as architects and designers. These answers allowed us to compose an overall picture of the atmosphere established by the pandemic – and the way we are adapting to it.
Our poll surveyed our Spanish, English and Portuguese platforms, and more than 600 readers shared their experiences. Most of the participants (39%) were between 21 and 30 years old, followed by the group ranging between 31 and 40 years old (29%). Readers between ages 41 and 50 represent 13% of the survey participants, while 9% were between 50 and 60, and readers over 60 were 7% of the readers who shared their experiences since the outbreak.
We also discovered that approximately 65% of the participants stated that they had already worked from home before the quarantine in some capacity, whether just for a few days, or as a part of their regular routine. For the others, the new reality of adapting to a home office has brought many challenges, related to the ability to focus on work and finding new means of communication with colleagues.
Communication and Remote Access
For many of those surveyed, one of the main challenges of having to work from home is the inability to connect with colleagues for informal conversations. The idea of remaining isolated for an undefined period of time, compounded with the general sensation of anxiety has brought a variety of disruptions to usual work flow, demanding an additional layer of communication. Video and phone calls, social networks, and other technology platforms have helped maintain synergy among team members.
The ability to access to the files and digital drawings was another frequently mentioned topic in our survey, which have been supplemented with cloud servers and private company networks. The readers of our three platforms pointed out the slowness and instability of internet services as a major downside to working from home, that has resulted in designers spending more time working than usual.
Discipline to Maintain a Work Rhythm
One of the main challenges of designers who have made the transition to working at home is the difficulty in maintaining their typical work pace and finding the discipline to focus on daily tasks. Distractions caused by other family members who are also facing quarantine lock down measures, pets, neighboring noises, and domestic activities were cited as a few of the main obstacles to work at home. The lack of spaces exclusively dedicated to work have forced some of our readers to improvise small offices in their living rooms or bedrooms, only further adding to the inefficiencies of having to work from home.
The absence of a barrier between domestic life and work also seems to concern some of the readers who have been working more hours than usual since the quarantine began.
A Potential Economic Downturn
Among the readers’ worries was the uncertainty of facing a potential economic recession. Projects that have already begun design and construction phases are being closely monitored, and some architects are seeing that clients are hesitant to sign contracts and award more work. The fear of this potential crisis and its immeasurably directly impact the concerns of architects and other design professionals around the globe.
The Continuation of Construction
While a home office might be a temporary solution for many architects and designers, it only works to a certain extent. Throughout this quarantine, many countries have deemed construction services as essential, which means that sites are still being built, even as architects are required to stay home. The amount of on-site meetings and coordination that traditionally happens through face to face social interactions needs to find a new medium in order to continue to have successfully completed projects.
"Working from home in a third world country is a privilege not often shared by the laborers. These skilled workers are forced to choose between going to work and being exposed to the virus, or to stay home, depriving themselves of basic needs since they live exclusively from their work. Some of these countries have governments that lack of humanitarian initiatives to help them financially during this crisis."
– Jeric Rustia, Philippines Architect
Some readers also expressed that they have experienced local building departments involved in the project approvals halting not only the start of new construction, but also not approving drawings that have been completed since the quarantine period began.
Reclaimed Free Time
On the other hand, some readers said that despite the myriad of challenges and problems imposed by the isolation, there are a few advantages of remote working. No longer having to spend the time commuting into the office, which in cities like São Paulo or New York can sometimes take up two hours, designers have gained additional time that before was not available for leisurely activities. Some survey participants noted that spending more time with their families, cooking, reading, and watching TV are activities that they now have more time for.
Additional Management Opportunities
The greatest opportunity though, is how to undermine this moment of crisis and rethink the modes of work that have become commonplace in most architecture offices around the world. Improving remote communication abilities, storing project files in the cloud, and implementing the use of BIM models are just a few ways that offices have come to adapt and modernize their methods of practice.
"It is mandatory we rethink completely our role as architecture professionals. Will we all be seen as necessary in this field? I think not. In Italy, we are 153,000 strong, and architectural design is still been seen as a luxury service. The Coronavirus will change the priorities of people for better. This is a great opportunity to define how architectural projects positively affect the lives of the people who will ultimately inhabit them."
- Francesca Perani, Italian architect.
The End of the Beginning
With any global crisis of this scale, there are many fears and unknowns that our readers have expressed that they face in their new ways of working. As seen from our perspective, this might be the starting point for a deeply-rooted transformation in the way we work, communicate, and practice architecture. Despite the fear of a possible recession, our readers as designers from around the world, seem to seek strength and believe that together we will not only overcome this, but we will also discover a more human future in our profession.
We invite you to check out ArchDaily's coverage related to COVID-19, read our tips and articles on Productivity When Working from Home and learn about technical recommendations for Healthy Design in your future projects. Also, remember to review the latest advice and information on COVID-19 from the World Health Organization (WHO) website.