Architecture and work in the pandemic
Click the image to watch the first session in the Light at the End of the Tunnel online series – Architecture & Work in the Pandemic with Misty Waters.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel online Q&A sessions help develop mutual support, solidarity and camaraderie, while building the skills and knowledge we need to navigate architecture in the pandemic!
In the first session Misty Waters discusses the broad issues of working in architecture in conversation with Naomi Stead and Justine Clark. What is the state of the industry? What are the challenges? Are there new or unexpected opportunities? How and when can people get a job in this market? What next?
Hi everyone, hopefully everybody has managed to enter the room. The participance is going up, rapidly.
My name is Naomi Stead and I’m Professor and Head of the Department of Architecture at Monash University. Welcome. We’re really delighted to be here with you. It’s really wonderful to know that many of our friends and collaborators from all over Australia, and indeed some from across the world, have joined us here and lots of new people as well.
Of course I would like to start by acknowledging the Traditional Owners, usually we say of the land in which Monash operates, the land and waters on which Monash University operates, which is the people of the greater Kulin Nations, but, in this case, we acknowledge the traditional Owners all over Australia and acknowledge elders past and present.
This event is a collaboration between Parlour and Monash University and it is Parlour’s first online event. So, actually we’re quite delighted by the fact that we can bring people together from across Australia, which we’ve never really been able to do before. But, this is an experiment so please bear with us – it’s going to be a bit of an adventure and might be a bit glitchy this time around, but, as you know, this is part of a series and this one can be the first ‘pancake’ as it were.
So, we’re really looking forward to the time when we will be able to see you all in person again, but obviously we can use the digital tools that we have at our disposal. This session is the first of a two-part starting series called ‘Where Are We Now’, asking where are we now? The idea is that these two conversations will canvass the situation we find ourselves in with the pandemic, the challenges, the opportunities – expected or unexpected.
So, the question really, for many of you, is what can we be doing next and some later sessions will focus on more detailed advice on focused issues. So, we’re starting with the big picture, which of course includes our distinguished guest speaker, Misty Waters. As Naomi said, welcome it’s really lovely to be here with everybody and we’re very, very pleased to have got this off the ground. So, this session, as Naomi said, is part of a two-parter and it’s going to look at the world of work. Because, for many of us, if not most of us, then probably all of us, the way we work has changed substantially in recent weeks and months. Some among us have found themselves without work, others are very worried about what the future holds and some are just so busy they can’t have a minute to think. We’ve got a cohort of recent graduates and students who are really nervously waiting to see how they might start their careers under these really difficult circumstances.
Of it’s also an opportunity to reimagine the way we work, and where we work, and how we work. The argument for flexibility for example, has been turbocharged in recent weeks and when we returned to the office it won’t be the same place, the same as the place we left. So, there’s an opportunity here to really remake how we work and, I would say, in architecture, that’s an opportunity we should be grasping with both hands.
We have a lot of anecdote at the moment, but we don’t have very much data about what’s happening for people. The data we do have, comes from two Pulse Check surveys run by the ACA, the Association of Consulting Architects, and I should acknowledge that I had a pretty big role in helping develop those. They do shed some light. The second survey, which was run at the end of March, revealed that almost 90% of the practices responding had projects cancelled or put on hold, or that they were anticipating that this would happen. The overall value of the work cancelled, just from the 333 practices who told us, was around 5 billion dollars. So, you know, these are pretty big shock waves going through the industry. 78% of the practices were negotiating changes to employment agreements or expected that they would have to do so, and most hoped that the JobKeeper subsidy would help them keep people on, and of course there’s been lots of glitches with that coming through. So we need more information on all of this. The ACA is intending to run another Pulse Check survey of practices at the end of this month, and here at Parlour we’re investigating partnering with the Architects Male Champions of Change group to survey individuals. So the ACA survey was about practices, we’re really interested to know what the impacts on individuals are. So, we don’t know a great deal, but we do know a bit, and we know a bit from anecdote, and informal discussions too.
So, to help us understand all of this, we are very, very happy and thrilled to have Misty Waters as our first speaker. Misty has been a keen supporter and an advisor to Parlour since the very beginning. When we first met her, she was the legendary practice manager at Bates Smart in Sydney. She had an extraordinary reputation for managing that practice very, very well. It was one of the practices studied by Gill Mathewson, our colleague, as part of her PhD, and Misty was a speaker I think… if I’m right, at our first symposium back in 2012, maybe. She wrote really helpful advice about part-time work, from both the perspective of individuals and practices, and that’s still available on our website and I think still very valuable. So, Misty was trained as an architect, she’s now a principal at Bespoke Careers based in Sydney. Bespoke, as many of you know, is a specialist recruitment agency working within architecture. Misty’s been there for over six years. She mostly has focused on senior strategic roles and she’s worked with many of Sydney’s more well known architectural practices. She is incredibly knowledgeable and very generous. She also has three sons and she tells us that she’s very glad that the schools in New South Wales are going to be reopening next week.
So, welcome Misty.
I think we should just dive straight in with the first question really, which is, Where are we? What’s going on in the industry and what’s the impact being from where you sit?
Thank you both, thank you for the words of welcome both of you. Look, it’s been a huge 10 weeks I think, I’ve kind of counted as 10 weeks since COVID arrived, definitely there was a massive shift, a total stop on recruiting from our side in those first few weeks, and lots of things have happened as you all know. The huge shift to work from home, which I think most people are actually shocked at how well they’ve adapted with that shifting of, almost overnight, thousands and thousands of staff to working from home. A lot of them took… you know, sent their staff home with laptops, or computers, or monitors, or chairs, all kinds of equipment went home with them really quickly, a huge sort of shift in trust and IT mobility.
So, lots of good things, but then also of course there was some real fallout. We saw redundancies happening across, I’d say, probably about half of the studios in Sydney. I don’t have the data, but my feeling would be able to be just over half made some redundancies and others put their staff on reduce salaries, or reduced hours, so there’s lots of pain in there. When we got talking to lots of clients in the following few weeks, we kind of… and candid… and people who’d lost their jobs or was still working, I was really relieved that the numbers of the redundancies in most cases were quite small, I have seen much bigger redundancies, and I think in many cases people were panicking and possibly overreacting. I think as the ACA figures would suggest, there was a lot of expectation that everyone was going to lose work, but already we’re seeing it was more often the case that projects we’re not hold, and often they’re actually starting to come back alive already.
So, I do think there’s a big shift in mood, in the last even a week or two weeks, and nearly every architectural practice that we’re speaking to is reporting feeling very, very busy.
Does that answer kind of the beginning of that early part of that question
So yeah, Misty, I was just going to say I’ve heard anecdotally that some people actually have far more work than they want, because either contracts have been put on a rush, or the staff who have remained in practices are picking up work from others. Is that something you’ve heard?
I’ve heard more so that… yeah, I mean I think there’s things… there’s some really good things that are happening, so a lot of DAs are being fast-tracked. I think DAs are coming out, I saw Hannah Tribe posted on Instagram this week that one of her houses have come through in five weeks, which is a record. So, that’s been well publicised that government is trying to do its best to fast-track planning approvals where they can. We’re also seeing… I think it’s in today’s Telegraph, there’s a list of the first 20 or… I think this is a second tranche of projects where government are really pushing money into the economy, so I think even though there’s a lot of doom and gloom in the paper about the economy, I do think the architectural industry will be one of the better, earlier sectors to recover and it might not be a perfect, but I think there is already some really nice signs of recovery happening. I mean there were some practices who didn’t lose a project, didn’t let go any staff, and actually, in one case I know, hired four people during the lockdown and hired them all kind of… you know remotely, which is extraordinary on top of moving everyone out of the office. So, it is, it’s quite patchy, it’s strange. It seems to be very different according to the sector that practices of working in as well. Yeah, definitely. I’ve also heard of people who were desperately trying to find staff, which seemed like a very… Send them to me.
I told them to advertise on Parlour.
I know that you are based in Sydney, do you have a sense of what’s happening sort of geographically across Australia and the different states.
It felt like… I mean, we have an office in Melbourne, as you’d know, and also we service Brisbane and a lot of bigger national clients have offices in Perth, so it’s varied, it’s hard to say. I think it was interesting, we had a roundtable on Friday with just about… I think it was only six or seven practices, just to try and figure out… the topic was mainly about the return to work and that was definitely changing from state to state, because some of them have virtually no cases of COVID now. I know… you know say Perth, they were already opening their offices, one of the Brisbane studios we’re doing 50% in one week and 50% in the following week. Whereas in Sydney there was a lot more concern about how do we safely manage the return to work and can we, or should we just leave it for another few months. It was just quite difficult for some of the bigger practices to figure it.
We’ve got a good question in the chat about which sectors seem to be doing better? So maybe you can answer that first, but then a follow-up question would be, which demographics of the workforce are possibly being affected more or less?
I think in terms of sectors I would say… it’s not necessarily what we… so yeah there’s lots of schools are still looking good, education. Community and government type work we’re expecting to stay strong, because government’s obviously trying to keep, spend money where they can. Multi-residential surprisingly is quite healthy and it hasn’t taken… that would cover social housing. Health is okay. The areas that have been the worst hit would be things like aviation obviously, and hospitality projects, workplaces a bit, commercial. I’m just trying to think, I did write a list this morning, industrial is picking up again, private residential is a bit patchy, some practices are fine other practices… if you’ve got two or three of your biggest projects, you know with a client that was in aviation or tourism or something, some of those big projects have gone on hold. Tertiary is actually also pretty quiet, as you guys sympathize with yeah, I think there’s… yeah tertiary is bit scary at the moment.
What about in practices that have been making staff redundant, which staff will they be making redundant?
Well sadly, some of it is at the lower, more junior end. I think because… I think it’s been across the board, it depends, I think it has been across the board, but I know it has also been sometimes the more junior inexperienced staff, and they felt that they couldn’t supervise them remotely, when they’re not in the office. So, I think it’s really good news for graduates and students, that there is this returning to the office. I think that’s really good for them. Yeah, I mean I’ve met… I’ve spoken to people at all levels who’ve been made redundant, but not…, it’s not massive numbers but I’ve certainly spoken people at every level. So, in previous downturns, there has certainly been a strong sense that women working part-time were being disproportionately affected by redundancies, and you know I read something in the newspaper today about the impact… the gendered impacts of the pandemic in science. So, I guess I wonder if we’re going to see that kind of impact again here, or if in fact, people who are quite often are women who are already very used to working remotely, and part-time, and flexibly are actually quite well placed at the moment. I couldn’t honestly say with any data.
Funnily, the two people that I’ve helped get jobs in the last month are women, and part-time, and both were returning from… one had been working for herself for about six years and her youngest child I just reach kindergarten, so that was really nice and she started two weeks ago in a very empty office space, so she’s been going in and doing a few days in the office and some from home. The other one’s a sort of similar story, she hasn’t started yet, but yeah. I think so yeah… but I mean that’s just two. I wouldn’t say I’ve seen… I couldn’t say, and I’m pretty tuned into that sort of thing, I couldn’t say there’s a gender to the pattern that I’ve seen. To our audience members, if you’d like to… if you have any information to share, or if you have any observations from your own sector or experience please feel free to put them in the chat, it doesn’t just have to be questions and I think we’re already getting some really interesting information coming through there.
There’s a question for you Misty, do you think there’ll be a shift to contract work?
Yes, there always is after a downturn and while there’s still… a lot of the practices we’re talking, even though they feel that they’re very, very busy at the moment and they’re also very preoccupied with trying to get people back into their offices, there’s still this fear about what’s the pipeline going to be like in three months. Also, if you think about the fact that… I don’t know exactly what the data is, but a lot of practices did qualify for JobKeeper, so then there’ll be another reckoning if JobKeeper cuts out in September, can we afford to keep the same level of staff and what’s the pipeline looking like. I still do think… everyone’s bidding on a lot of work, I still like to think it’s looking quite positive compared to what you might think. It feels more positive now… well the conversations I’ve had in the last week feel a lot more positive than I was having two and three weeks ago, and certainly I’ll be very interested to see what the ACA ends up in its next survey, because the last was quite a while ago and everyone was very, very anxious. I think that will be very interesting.
So, what kinds of strategies are practice’s using to keep people, I guess, I mean I know the people I talked to, who are the ones… who you know, really want to keep their staff and you know, if JobKeeper obviously is still….
Look I think the best practices are doing, you know, good things like they went out to their staff and said, you know, at the beginning of this, who would like to take some time off? Who can offer reduced hours? Was anyone already thinking about leaving? We want to know what, you know, what we can do before we make decisions around redundancies. I know that has saved some jobs and also things like cutting… in some cases practices have cut salaries by 10% or 20% and some of those have, and have not reduced hours, so there’s some controversial topics in there to think about.
Yes. I do think there’s a fair bit of downward pressure on salaries right now. Yeah, I mean I think if you’re going to survive it’s the practices, the ones on who will do best are the ones that do look after their staff well in this time, keep hold of the strongest team and, you know, look after them. Misty, we’re having a couple of good comments and questions in the chat, and they have to do partly with the kinds of opportunities at my emerge from this, so for example Anita Morandini – hi Anita – is saying if we’re being so successful at remote working, what does it mean for us in terms of international markets and competition, and how do we turn that into an advantage rather than a threat.
It’s a really good question, I think even though I am a huge fan of working from home and I like the combination of working from home a little bit, I don’t think it works… I don’t think architecture works completely working from home. I don’t think we’re going to be like a Facebook or a Twitter, where we all work from home forever and I don’t think that’s going to happen, it’s a team sport, it’s a very collaborative adventure and certainly for graduates it’ll be a disaster if you went completely working from home. But it’d be great if… you know, I think people can see the benefits to their lifestyle, and the environment, and everything in so many ways of increasing the amount that we work from home, and if we move towards a model where everyone worked three or four days in the office and one or two days from home, for example is a typical base, that would be fantastic and I think that is really quite realistic.
In some ways that’s the thing isn’t it, it’s shifting what’s considered to be the norm that you negotiate from, and that will place people in a very different position from the norm being presenteeism. Whatever the norm… but if the norm is a kind of more mixed model, then some people might well be in the office all the time, and that’s suits them, and it’s great for everybody, but then if the norm shifts in the capacity you’re going to negotiate, I would imagine, also really changes, so that seems really yeah… I think that’s really exciting. I think that would be one of the most positive things that could come out of this, you know yeah.
Also Misty, what about positive outcomes in terms of people not having to constantly travel everywhere, and therefore the pool of potential clients being not only Australia-wide, I mean we’re hearing from Steve, he’s not having to spend his life on airplanes which is a wonderful thing, but also someone earlier said that it may assist us in terms of accessing international markets.
Well I’d be careful about that though, because the vice-versa can happen too. It might suddenly… if we can outsource Australian graduates then why don’t we just outsource them overseas, you know, if you can have them… I don’t know, it’s a scary… it it goes two ways doesn’t it. I don’t know, it was interesting, I saw someone told me this week who’s being shortlisted for the new Mirvac Tower in Sydney, and it was interesting that there are still international… Anita would know probably about this, there’s still a mix of international and local architects in there, including an Italian architect, and I was thinking does COVID make it harder or easier to work with overseas architects who can’t probably can’t fly here at the moment, what does that do to those sort of big scale competitions. That’s another... that is an interesting thought. I wonder if we might go to Fiona Martin and get her to actually say the question herself. Hi guys, great work.
Just… I put that question in there because I was on a webinar yesterday, I’m a little webinared out but this is great. It was around access to almost a global talent pool now, and Misty just from your comment then watch out, it works both ways, is if we taking the notion of workers no longer a place where you go, it’s actually what you do and also the fact that COVID has proven workers can be trusted and productive remotely, we know this is actually the hardest barrier for flexibility in working remotely, the trust and productivity. But this opens up the interesting prospect of a huge talent pool from afar now, like even just in our state potentially, somebody from Newcastle or wherever, could be a Sydney employee and if they had to come and do maybe three or four face-to-face meetings in a month, or two months or whatever, then they could actually be an employee now, because this is a change in this candidate pool and if you’ve got… what does that mean for our locals, greater competition, and then even internationally, you know.
On top of that, if we do go down that path and have this remoteness and this is electronic employee almost, what does that do to culture. Yeah, I didn’t think… I can’t see it going that far, I really do think you do miss out on a lot by not working in the same space and I do… and I think people’s performance drops when you’re not seeing each other, you miss out on a lot of innovative ideas and collaborative… I don’t think in architecture would ever go that extreme. I mean except for documentation, which documentation already has been you know, a lot of firms already outsourced to Vietnam or the Philippines or… I mean it’s offshored, but it could have been on-shored, if you know what I mean.
I wonder if it also depends on the scale of the practice, like I know Winter Architecture here in Melbourne, I don’t think has been… very origins has operated in different… you know, from a number of different places and they seem… you know very, very effectively as a smaller practice, so I suspect there might also be different kinds of opportunities for different scales of practices and different models. But certainly, the concern about, you know, you just learn so much as a young architect or young graduate sitting there, listening in on phone calls, and you know, there’s so much that’s picked up by osmosis and that’s certainly something that… again the kinds of conversations that I’ve been having that people are concerned about.
Do you have any thoughts? I mean I’ve been, we’ve been wondering, what might one do collectively as a community to try and support those people as much as, you know, having each practice trying to support the graduates are there kind of opportunities to sort of, you know do this kind of thing again in a way that that might help graduates pick up some of those… you know, those osmosis skills, you know, but while we’re in this process of going back to the office and, you know, we’re by no means there yet. Do you have any thoughts about?
I don’t know, I mean I was recommending to someone this week that while… its quite a small suggestion, but I do think that podcast series, The Business of Architecture, is fantastic. I don’t know if all of you have been listening to that, but that would be to me, almost like having a series of mentoring coffees, just listening to the life experiences of all those architects and their career paths, I think that’s really valuable. I was talking to one of the directors of Cumulus in Tasmania about this, the Finley project in Tasmania has these lovely evening catch ups, and we were talking about this, and she was suggesting a kind of drop-in session, where you know, you’d have someone who was a really great detailer available online at a certain time, and you know, people could come along with their kind of queries and have that sort of open discussion. I think it’s a really great idea, I just can only organize one set of online events at a time. But I mean I guess all those hundred and something people out there, if that was seen to be something that might be valuable, I’d really like to know. Parlour’s got a platform; we can do things with it.
I’m not being able to keep up with these questions so… I wonder if we might throw to Ciaran Snooks, who I believe it’s one of mine, who has a question about the challenges particularly facing graduates and I’ll let you… please Ciaran say the question.
That’s alright, well Parlour it’s been a fantastic. So, I’m the recent graduate, I graduated from Monash masters last year. My sort of question… I know from friends, the conversation is there is a bit of a anxiety about the next couple of months and potentially years depending on how long this sort of goes on. My question would be, from a sort of recruiter point of view, how does the recruitment industry sort of help graduates, or what advice could you give to graduates.
We’ve got some sort of standard tips that I could send to you, or to anyone, that are targeted more at graduates, but basically in terms of the COVID issue I’d be saying, it is going to be a little bit harder. I actually, I was trying to think about this, because thought this would come up today and I thought I’d probably in the short-term, if you’re looking for a job right now and you’re a recent graduate, I would possibly target smaller and mid-size practices sooner than the larger practices ironically, because I think they are going to be back physically in their offices quicker and more smoothly than the bigger practices. The bigger practices have a far more challenge… a much bigger challenge getting a sort of smooth process of return, and I think the other thing we always say to graduates, there’s a big difference between a graduate with or without experience but really, really important to have either… it’s really boring, but really important to have either Revit or ArchiCAD and really emphasize that. So, if you don’t have that, go and do a quick course on that before… you know while you’ve got time on your hands. Just be really persistent, persistence, persistence.
We’ve got a good question from Sindy Kwok as well, Sindy would you like to say your question?
Hi, thanks for taking my question. I know that a lot of us have actually been enjoying the benefits of working from home, not having to commute to work and the collaborative size seems to be working quite well with video conferencing, so I know from a lot of conversations that I’ve had, a lot of people are hoping to enjoy this... to continue this form of flexibility in some form in the future. But how do you… do you know how employers feel about this going forward? Do you think they’ll be more open to it or do they think it’s going to be like, a compromise to the work in office culture?
I think a lot of principles have enjoyed it more than they thought they would actually. I think they’re all shocked at how well it’s gone and how much productivity hasn’t dropped, and how well it’s working generally. I’ve heard some of the larger practices are busy doing surveys within their own staff, trying to figure out who wants to come back and some of the early numbers are quite surprising. I think I’ve definitely heard at least twice that 75% said they don’t want to come back, they just want to keep working from home permanently. I do, I really do think it’ll be more of a split system, and I do think even the people… once you get into that habit of being at home and enjoying that, it’s still not necessarily… there’s still downsides to it. There’s a lot of benefits, but I do think there is a cost as well, where you’re not… and even for mental health, I do think over time there is still a lot to be gained by interaction with your team, and getting to know other people who you might not directly be working with on Zoom, on that one project, that you might benefit from hearing about, chatting to at work and there’s a lot of other benefits. So, I still don’t… I would not be advocating for a hundred percent work from home. I don’t know, but it’s personal.
Certainly the employers that I’ve been speaking to, some of them are maybe have been same ones you’ve been speaking to Misty, but you know, through the Male Champions of Change for example, that group is very aware that there’s a big opportunity here and some of those people had been, you know, really advocating for flexible work for a long time and not always being well-received by their partners, and now that’s kind of gone out the window. My feeling too is that those practices that were already, had some systems in place around working flexibly, already were working across geographies and therefore, we’re already set up for things like videoconferencing. Already… particularly ones who are working internationally, already had a lot of the systems in place and so were very, you know, quite well positioned when this all happened and also were really using that to market themselves to get in more work in the middle of this. So, feel like, I think working from home and working flexibly in this current environment is a bit different than in a kind of normal… you know, I suppose more normal times. I mean I’ve work from home for eight years, but it’s very different working from home when everyone else is here doing that as well, and I’m not in my office right now because my partner’s giving a lecture in it.
You know, I think one of the things of working from home, is you do kind of need that social interaction and we’re net shut down, it becomes a different thing. But, I really feel like there’s a lot of opportunity, and I think again, what some of these topics hopefully will flesh out more in some subsequent events like this.
I’m just trying to look at all these thousands of so many great questions and comments. Misty I wondered if we could return in a minute to questions of mental well-being and self-care and what practices are doing to look after their workforces, but we do have a number of really good…
Well if you don’t mind asking that first we’ll kind of work out where we’re going to go to after that. I only know a little bit about this anyway, so I probably won’t talk about that too much. I do know a lot of practices are… its more the big practices, where they’ve got sort of trained HR staff I guess, that are really on the front foot we found and doing wellbeing surveys, and they’ve organized different senior people to do well-being phone call check-ins, and yes I do think there’s quite a lot of good work in that area, but it’s probably… I don’t know enough; I think there’d be other people that can answer that better than I could.
What about, I mean do you have a sense of there’s… a do you have a sense of what’s going on in that space, so there’s a need for more?
I don’t particularly within architecture, but I have been following it more in other… you know just, I mean… it’s scary listening to… there’s a lot… I’ve read about it anyway, you know, say with Lifeline, the number of phone calls going up on Lifeline, and some of them were related to unemployment and unemployment stress, but also a lot some we’re just pure loneliness, you know, a lot of people are really lonely. So, if you if you keep them all at home, it’s not good for anyone. I think to it depends on what your circumstances are at home, if you’re in a small, shared, crowded, shared flat and everyone’s trying to work, it’s very different than if you’re well set up. Let alone home school. Let alone, yeah, remote learning.
On that front I think we should all take a moment to congratulate Naomi Stead who’s just got a giant grant to investigate mental well-being in architectural practice. So, we’re looking forward to a lot more information on that.
One thing that did come out of the ACA survey, the most recent one where we asked about mental well-being, was the results were quite positive, people were finding that things were better than that expected, and we asked also for some tips. My colleague Susie, who’s here at the moment, went through those and collected a whole lot of advice and has put that up onto the ACA website, so that’s worth checking out as well. I wonder, speaking of the ACA if we might throw to Angelina, who has a question about leadership skills which I suspect Naomi might also be interested to respond to, so Ange.
Thanks Justine, thanks Naomi, thanks Misty. This has been amazing by the way, so well done. Yeah no, well look I’ve hearing a lot about people, you know, directors, principles, talking about having to tap into these skills that they’re kind of had in reserve and haven’t used a lot of, you know, having conversations that are challenging or difficult, people managing is taking a lot more time because of that distance and the disconnect with having that face-to-face interaction, of course all of this leads to the productivity issue, but I feel fundamentally it’s about those qualities as leaders and how that’s been impacting, firstly productivity, but also the teams, and I know Fiona mentioned this earlier, culture too - and of course well-being at the end of the day.
Was there a question though?
Oh yes, the question was on I guess the… you know, what are people observing from your interaction. Well early on one of the clients I spoke to who runs a mid-sized practice of about 15, he was saying… and a typical architects office it was open plan, he was saying one of the best things he was enjoying about the shutdown and working from home was… he kind of by accident was forced to actually call each person, he was doing a lot more phone calling each day, would call pretty much almost everyone in the office rather than… he said I’ve kind of in my head I thought, rather than me commuting to work I’m spending that hour now catching up one on one with each person.
Probably isn’t every day now, but in that early huge adjustment stage it was, and he said he just got to know each person so much better and he actually found out a lot more about the project, and what… you know it was invaluable he said I’m really going to try and do that more often in the future, think about that one-on-one. I think that’s true in an open plan office, you can struggle to find those sort of more, you know, that more direct communication.
I’ve also heard people saying that the Zoom meeting is a kind of... in some ways, is more equitable and so, because someone can’t just talk the whole time, and so the people who are quitter are often having an opportunity to put ideas forward, and they’re finding out things about skills and capacity that they didn’t know about previously, so that seems kind of interesting.
You also learn you learn a lot about people’s home lives too don’t you, just with the camera in your house. Sometimes you see some accidental things. Had a few mishaps in our team I know. The other thing that I’ve had people saying to me as their relationships with clients shift when you’ve spent time in their living room. You know, they’re kind of those… especially with you know, kind of institutional clients, where there might be a kind of degree of formality, which is… you know there’s ups and downs to having people in my bedroom.
In fact Misty, we’ve got an interesting, good question from Stephanie Wake which is a fair way back. Stephanie are you still there, do you want to give us your question?
I was just kind of… probably more of a comment in some respects, it’s just, what are the equity concerns with working from home and I think Justine touched on it. Like working a dedicated space with equipment, versus working at desk, in a bedroom, in a share house. I know that at my own workplace it’s actually really visually evident in those Zoom meeting, as you know what everyone’s kind of work environment is, and it’s not at all equitable in a way that our very open plan office is.
Can I just check that everyone could hear, that can some people nod, for me if you could hear that, it was a bit quiet for me? Yeah, all right good, thank you. Do you want to take it Misty?
Yeah look, I think… I think look it’s been… it was so sudden wasn’t it, I mean I was just impressed that every… basically practices were quite trusting at the saying, do you need a chair, take one. Do you need a monitor? Take one. Do what you need. I think everyone’s been fairly accommodating and everyone. You know, some people have got children they’re trying to support with their schoolwork, and other people don’t, it was never going to be ideal for everyone. It’s very hard to keep that equity, yeah, I don’t know, I don’t know what else I could say about that. It’s certainly… it’s been…
I was talking to a research, a very nimble researcher, at Monash the other day who had managed to get together a project very quickly on the gendered effects of the pandemic. She was looking at academics and she was looking at domestic workload, which of course disproportionately falls on women. Certainly, it’s been, anecdotally speaking, it’s been my experience that some people are loving this experience, finding it really fantastic, but that the fault line is… I mean yes, I think we can probably say that the burden is falling more heavily on women, but the real fault line is between parents and not parents. Because, you know, I’ve been on staff meetings and you know, people have got a wriggling two-year-old, you know, that it’s really very challenging. The challenges of a wriggling two-year-old are different from an anxious seven-year-old, which are different from a year 12 who’s matriculation year has kind of gone down the tube. So, it is pretty challenging I think, for those of us who are wrangling children.
I think though too, there’s also a fault line around… I absolutely agree with you, and I’m very pleased my children are old enough to you know, just be glued to the computers by themselves. But I do also think, as said the kind of younger people in you know, not very great accommodation, or crowded accommodation, I do think that that is another fault line. I think the other thing is, people who live by themselves, some of who… I mean I think someone here said they were having a great time, and other people are finding it’s a struggle... I think it seems very personality dependent too, so those people who thrive on interaction.
So, it is very patchy, and I think there’s sort of equity and inequity, and advantage and disadvantage cuts and slices in lots of different ways. I suppose the good news from my perspective is, again this is through the Male Champions of Change group, but those directors seem very aware of all of this and very keen to try and find ways to ameliorate those kinds of iniquity. But again, as we know there are some practices that are really great at the stuff, there are some that are trying really hard, and then there’s some that are just pretty hopeless.
I wonder if we could go to Helen Norrie. Helen, you’ve got a question here.
Not so much... it’s kind of a whole bunch of questions. But I do think there’s definitely an equity issue but particularly, you know… there’s two things, one is we are working from home, but we’re also working from home in a really particular condition, and part of the problems of working home at the moment, are associated with the fact that everyone’s working from home. So, when you take some of that out of the mix it’ll be different. But I actually also really wonder about whether or not… I have heard people say we might get rid of our really expensive office and just get majority of people to work from home. But I think that’s a really dangerous path to go down, because then it really affects people’s capacity to work from home could affect their potential to be employed, and I think that’s a really, really big issue that we’ve got to look around. Because even in our university we no longer have telephones, we have to talk through Skype, so you use your mobile phone, and at the moment we’re all using our heating. So, when you start to shift the practice expenses back to the individual, I think that’s something… there’ll be a lot of issues around the workplace HR that will open out, don’t you think Misty.
I do, I was speaking to someone yesterday who runs a practice of about 75, and also just talking to these other big practices, I’d really… it hadn’t occurred to me until about… yeah, it’s only really sinking in just how complex it is. I think it was actually in hindsight, much easier to send everybody home really dramatically, then it will be… it’s actually going to be much harder to bring them back. It’s so complicated at the moment because you’ve got, say for example, the person I speaking to yesterday, he said we’ve got… we only had 40 laptops, so we couldn’t give everyone a laptop.
Some people had computers at home and some didn’t, so if we start talking about bringing people back in part time and giving everybody say, two days in the office and three days at home, that doesn’t really work because they can’t bring their monitor with them two days a week, and then take it home again.
Then you’ve got some people that are uncomfortable with public transport, and some that are close enough that they can get in without the public transport.
You’ve got… you know, there’s just so many kinds of layers of… some have got more health concerns and others, you know. Another big practice was saying, well at the moment they’re just letting their competition team come in, they’ve got a couple of competitions on and only those people are allowed in the office at the moment, and everybody else is pretty much banned from coming in. So, it’s just really complex. I think there’ll be… so the next two or three months or I don’t know… you know… I think there’s going to be changing issues as we roll through.
Once the pandemic’s completely gone, that’ll be also a really interesting time to see then, that’s much simpler because then you do is decide, right how many… how do we want to do this. But right now you’ve got all these other… you know, there’s probably going to be other flare-ups of the health issues, so what do we then do, and someone in the office does have a false alarm or a real alarm with Covid so yeah, it’s really complicated.
I wonder if we might go to… we’ve got a good question from Targol Khorram. Do you want to ask your question Targol?
Naomi and Justine, it’s great this event, obviously, as every Parlour event. My question was about women being able to get more management and leadership roles, because what I’m observing is that in my work environment we always design and I also manage construction sites, but I keep hearing this conversation over and over again, as if… my male co-workers, they are kind of trying to prove that they’re better project managers, and they’re questioning our ability to manage. I’m wondering if that’s something that you see happening, like broadly, that there’s a difference between being a project manager and a designer, and there is more competition for people trying to manage sites, and it will make it more difficult for women to get to project management leadership in general, because there is more competition in the market. Do you mean more recently, just with the fallout from Covid and the pressure of unemployment? The competition I think, for women to prove themselves, even if you have 15 years of experience, you have to prove yourself a lot harder compared to someone who has 2 years of experience, and he an engineer and wants to be a project manager. But I see this a lot more during this time, and I was wondering if it’s just my observation, or have seen any changes?
I think it to be too soon to say, I’m not sure. I think… I mean, I think because of the good work of the Champions of Change and Parlour, we get a lot more requests now for senior women, and they want… they’re very self-conscious the mid and larger firms are now very self-conscious about their female leadership numbers. So, I regularly… because I mainly work with requests for senior people, I get requests all the time for women. Have you got any women? Can you include women? So… but having said that it still… it’s definitely true that it is, yeah… I’m not sure… I’m not sure how to answer that. Sorry what was that Justine?
Targol, did you want to answer… did you want to say something else?
I just wanted to say maybe it’s too soon, it was just my observation based on the Zoom meetings and the conversations that you hear. You think there’s something else going on, that leads to these comments that you hear more and more often, but Misty’s like maybe it’s too soon, we don’t have the data. Yeah, I think at the moment people will be cautious, just generally, about taking on senior, permanent people at the moment, over the next month or two. I’d say most of our recruitment will be more likely to be in the contract kind of remit I suspect. Maybe ask me in another month.
Misty, I was thinking… we asked before, you know, we were talking about what young graduates and new graduates, regardless of their age, can do in the circumstances and we understand it’s pretty tough for them. I’m also interested in what your advice to kind of, people mid-career, who found themselves redundant, who may be looking for part time work or whatever, I mean do you have advice for that cohort?
Yeah definitely, those mid-career people, I mean it just sounds really awful and boring again, but I can’t emphasize enough how… just being really versatile is really important. So, having again, if you can brush up on your software skills that just helps, if you’re choosing between two people with ten years of experience and one can still use Revit and one can’t, the one with the Revit will always get the interview. It depends what role you’re after. Being a little bit flexible, I mean both of the two people that I just helped recently, I would say are mid-career I guess, they’re about… probably both around that…. I don’t know if they’re listening, but I’d say they’ve probably both around that 40-year age mark. They look like they’re 25, right? They do, they do, they’re very beautiful. They both ended up having to be a bit negotiable on salary, and both of them had kind of negotiated a lower salary for now with the review in six months.
So, you know, being a little bit open-minded at the moment. But I think their mid-years… that midpoint person is still very valuable out there, I think. I mean… I think, because the market has been slower, I’ve been encouraging people, it is more competitive, so just put that little bit of extra time into making sure your portfolio’s as good as it can be, your CV’s really clear, if you’re struggling then maybe do go and brush up on your software skills. Be versatile, because everyone… no one’s sure what the markets going to be doing, so you want to be able to tick as many boxes as possible and be as useful as possible, I guess.
We’re coming to our five minutes to go point, did you want to ask the final question Justine?
No, I just wanted to make a point and then you can do that. I just wanted to say that, I think one of the things that Naomi, you and I were thinking about when we set this up, was that we would also have something like a quite practical session on how to brush up your CV. So, the kinds of general comments that are coming out here, hopefully we’ll be able to pick those up with some quite focused nitty gritty stuff, as well and some of the big picture.
One definite quick thing I’d say for graduates, one mistake we often see graduates make, is they attach… that they’ll attach some samples of their University work, that they’re really proud of, which is beautiful and they should include it, but they don’t show any of the…. this is where they’ve got a little bit of experience in a practice, they don’t show that… the work that they’ve gained, any sort of imagery from the work they’ve done in a practice, because they think it’s not their work, or it’s not very beautiful, it’s just sort of black and white markups or you know, drawings. It’s sort of the wrong way around, you actually really want to emphasize whatever tiny speck of experience you’ve got, you really want to emphasize that more strongly, because that’s the bit…that’s the bit that looks the most useful to a hungry employer.
That’s excellent advice Misty, thank you.
There’s some real corkers in the questions, which we won’t have time to come to, and in fact Missy I’m going to give you a choice. We’ve got one more… time for one more question and you can either answer, how are you doing personally? or do you think the pandemic is actually leading to the creeping expansion of a long hours culture? Which I am certainly observing for myself.
The pandemic is such a moving thing at the moment it’s really hard to say, possibly, because people are worried about their jobs. I’d say, yeah, I’d say I’m doing more hours than… yeah I don’t know, it’s a funny time. It’s also hard I think because I’ve had a difficult 12 year old at home who doesn’t like doing remote learning, it’s really hard… my days… you know, you’re chopping and changing between looking after that and trying to do your work, so it’s hard to keep a measure on what, where your hours are and you know, you’re all over the place.
Well you answered both questions at once, that was quite brilliant. I don’t know about that. Justine, do you want to introduce our next event?
Okay so next Friday same time, same bat-time, same bat-place, as they used to say when I was a child, I’m showing my age. We’re going to take a similar kind of approach, a sort of broad-brush conversation, but that will be looking at the kind of state of the profession, the kind of opportunities, challenges, etc. and that will be with Helen Lochhead. So, kind of see these as a two-parter, these overviews to start with today about workplace, that next week about the kind of broader issues of the profession. I’ve got to say, I’m so… the chat stuff that’s been going on here, which I’ve haven’t managed to read all of… I have to go back and read it.
Its extraordinary, I’m really like, this is everything that Naomi and I hoped it would be when we made that other silly video. So, it’s really great and it just feels like there’s so much to talk about, I’m sorry we didn’t get to everything. We’re also looking at taking our Parlour salons online, so Kellie McGivern and Emma Healy, who I think might be there, taking a lead with that and we’re looking at the first one being in early June. We’re trying to find a way to keep that networking component going, so we’ll have a public conversation between two women as we always do, and then I think we’re looking at separating people into little Zoom rooms, so you can sit there with your glass of wine in the evening and have a chat five or six people. So, you know… that will be another experiment, but based on how this one’s gone, I really feel like that will be a hit as well.
I’d like to thank Monash and particularly Erin… whose name has escaped me… Middleton. Who’s just done a fabulous job of… Naomi is very used to Zoom meetings, I’m not used to running them, so Erin’s been fabulous. Our colleague Susie was in the background there to kind of manage the questions, but in fact Naomi and I just took over and did it. I also just wanted to acknowledge that, well thank you Misty of course, can we do it online clap. No need, no need, totally fine.
Thank you very much, and I just wanted to acknowledge Parlour, I always do this at every event, but Parlour has, you know, a lot of partners so who sponsor us, they give us money, and they give us all sorts of other kinds of support as well, and obviously right now it’s a pretty tough time for people to be handing over cold hard cash. I just wanted to really acknowledge our sponsors without whom we couldn’t do any of this, so this is a collaboration between Parlour and Monash. The Parlour side of it couldn’t happen were it not for those people, and particularly AWS who really focus on events with us, but everybody, so thank you very much and we hope you keep supporting us.
It’s worth saying Justine, that this session, I forgot to say at the beginning everyone, but as you would have known from the top left hand corner, this session has been recorded and it will be made available as a video to everybody, obviously free via Parlour and also the Monash Art, Design and Architecture faculty website.
We will be recording all of the sessions from now on so please watch them again. Likewise, the whole CPD thing you know you could easily access the CPD through that as well. Actually, that’s something else I’d be interest to know, if people think… that us CPD with these things as useful, I’d really like to know. Or if you don’t think it’s very helpful, I’d like to know that as well, so that you know… do I keep writing CPD questions or do I not?
All right, well look, thank you so much Misty, thank you everyone for coming. It’s been so wonderful to see you all, and there’s a lot of love coming through the chat, which is also fantastic, thank you. Very nice look at the gallery view and see everyone there. Yeah it was great thank you, thanks for having me. All right. Thanks Misty. Bye everyone. Bye.