Rip up the RIP notices: We’ll be back in the office soon

By PRP – 10 November 2020

Since our employees started to return to our London studios on 3rd of August the consensus across the practice is that teams are working far more efficiently and collaboratively bringing numerous benefits to the business. And until the new lockdown, we had resolved to get as many people back as possible for a minimum of three days a week. Response from our staff has been positive with an overwhelming feeling of “great to be back” amongst the 50 per cent of those who had returned.

The pandemic has taught us that it is possible to work remotely and achieve the results that we would have expected from a normal office set-up. This has principally been possible, of course, because of advances in technology, particularly in the IT systems that have allowed us to work remotely.

This would not have been possible a decade ago. The video conferencing software facilitated by Microsoft Teams and Zoom has utterly transformed the way we communicate with our colleagues, fellow consultants and clients. Even planning committee meetings can now be conducted remotely.

The success of the new working environment is almost too good to be true. That’s because it is. Remote working, despites its stunning success for many firms, has a number of significant drawbacks which will save the traditional office.

The first of these is operational efficiency. Even the most robotic among us will suffer the occasional distraction from the domestic environment, whether it’s a dog jumping in the background or your toddler making a guest appearance in the middle of a Teams meeting. Such interruptions are simply non-existent when you are at the office.

Furthermore, not everyone is able to work comfortably from home at makeshift workstations which pale in comparison to the utility afforded by a fully equipped workstation in your office. Remote working makes checking of other team members’ work that much harder and some tasks take twice as long without the ability to lean over someone’s shoulder.

Many consultancies and most architectural practices have grown and thrived on the creative interaction of their teams, including the guided development of new and younger members of staff. This is clearly restricted with remote working. Great works are rarely conceived by hermits.

The second drawback is personal and business development. One of the reasons Microsoft Teams has been such a runaway success is because it facilitates communication between teams which already exist. We don’t need to re-learn the body language of a colleague nor do we need to second-guess what is meant by a milli-second pause in a response from a trusted mentor. We take this knowledge for granted. However, such learning starts from scratch every time you physically meet a new member of staff or a new member of your team.

The lack of direct client interaction is also problematic in relation to meeting and developing new clients. It is hard to form new business relationships on Teams or on Zoom.

The third is mental health and well-being. We are social animals. Months of confinement have tested this like no other experiment in the history of mankind. It has put pressure on families, on the schooling of children, on those in shared dwellings with multiple occupancy and on individuals living alone.

Lockdown has been challenging for many, be it the monotony of a repetitive, monochrome existence or simply the lack of life-enriching vitality that comes from a shared experience with friends and colleagues.

So, long live the office. We missed you but we’ll be back presently.

This blog was written by Brendan Kilpatrick, Senior Partner at PRP and first appeared in Building Design.