Archinect Survey Results: Has the Architecture Community Returned to the Office This Summer? | characteristics

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The office of the New York design firm Michael K Chen Architecture. Read our Studio Snapshot interview with founding boss Michael K Chen here. Photo: Max Burkhalter.

As the 19th month of this COVID-19 pandemic begins, it appears that the only certainty we have gained so far is that nothing is certain. Earlier this year, as vaccine protection became more and more available in the United States, we asked the architecture and design community about their return to office plans, and the survey results released in March reflected ideas of transition, flexibility, and legitimate hope for a return to normality.

To investigate those initial reactions, we reached out to our readers again to learn how the expansion of the vaccine program and the emergence of the Delta variant virus have shaped the working conditions for millions of architecture and design professionals in recent months.

We received survey responses primarily from respondents from large to medium-sized cities in the United States, while 12.1% were from overseas, adding an international perspective to the data sample.

When asked about the size of the architecture firm in which the respondents worked, the distribution was surprisingly even: 28.2% worked in small companies with fewer than 10 employees, 37.4% in medium-sized offices with 10 to 49 team members and 34.4% in large companies companies with more than 50 employees.

With 64.1% the overwhelming majority of the participants described their work in the office as architectural staff, 19.1% as builders or company owners and 2.3% as interns. 14.5% of those questioned held other positions.

The residential design sector was represented at 26% of the respondents, followed by those who specialize in workplace, health, educational and retail design. All other sectors made up around 35%.

Have you returned to the office?

Of the respondents, 29% said they returned to work in person after their company’s request to work in the office, while 15.3% still worked remotely as their offices had not yet reopened. Of the 38.9% given a choice, 22.1% had worked both in the office and remotely, 15.3% continued to work remotely, and only 4.6% preferred office work.

When we asked a similar question in January this year, 33% had already returned to personal office work, 26% were planning to return, and almost 19% had no plans to return to personal office work.

Some offices reported that they had set new schedules that required employees to work in the office on certain days and work remotely on others. Other companies had given up their physical office space altogether and switched to remote workforce. Some employees at large companies with multiple offices reported that each office had different requirements based on local conditions.

We learned that some workers had questioned their employer’s requirements for personal exemptions – for both remote and office situations.

Participants who responded from outside the United States all said their work stayed away, or at least was voluntary, with the exception of Japan, where personal work was still mandatory.

Some workers had challenged their employer’s requirements for personal exemptions that applied to both remote and office situations.

We also expanded the survey to include Archinect’s active discussion forum community and received multiple responses.

Long-time Archinect reader, contributor and podcast co-host Donna Sink said, “We (130 people, 5 offices, non-profit) should return to the office 3 days a week after Labor Day. Three weeks ago the board came with a new message: The return to office will now be postponed indefinitely. That means I go there on a few days and stay home on a few days, as do the rest of my small local team. I still do face-to-face visits and around half of my meetings are online, the other half in person. “

Chad Miller replied, “We were only out of the office for two weeks. Thanks to our ability to stay 6 feet apart, combined with the Colorado Five Star Program, we didn’t have to stay isolated for long. “

Josh Mings wrote, “During the summer break we would start with a hybrid half office in MT, the other half W-Thu, all at home on the Friday system starting around this time. Of course, only a few of us are in the office regularly right now and a few others drop by occasionally. We have the technology, as they say, to actually make remote work work, and the business mindset to make it work, so it works. So no real rush, come back when you feel good. “

When your office reopens, what changes, if any, have been made due to COVID?

Common changes and new health measures at the companies that reopened their offices included HVAC filter systems, room dividers, physical distancing, daily health checks, vaccination requirements for office work, weekly COVID tests for unvaccinated team members, more aggressive cleaning, and disinfection of stations Guests are not allowed to enter the office or all guests are required to provide proof of vaccination.

The notable changes and measures included flexible working hours to stagger the working hours of internal staff, parking grants to avoid public transport, reduced offers of food and goodies, discouraging lunches with colleagues and the relocation of staff meetings from individual desks to the Internet.

11.3% of respondents said no changes had been made to their workplaces, in some cases due to a 100% vaccination rate among team members. While many companies required their employees to wear masks because of corporate or regional mandates, some readers indicated that masks were originally mandatory but were slowly forgotten or ignored over time.

Does working in the office with your employees feel safe and comfortable right now?

When asked about the general feeling of security and comfort, the overwhelming majority of 54.3% agreed with the current situation. However, more than a quarter of those surveyed, 26.4%, said they did not feel safe or comfortable.

At just under 20%, the size of the remaining group is significant. Answers ranged from simply “currently out of the office” to more nuanced experiences including “Sure enough, definitely not comfortable”, “Yes, except that I was asked to be in a small conference room with others” to “It is only feels safe if there is still a minimal number of people in the office on one day. “

We also learned of intended gradual reopenings that were reversed or rescheduled due to the rise in the delta: “We had planned to start again in the office three days a week in August – this was delayed with the rise in the Covid delta. Variant “, shared a director with the owner of a medium-sized practice.

The January responses to a similar question showed a higher percentage of “yes” responses at almost 60%, while around 40% said they did not feel safe and comfortable when they returned to the office.

How has your company changed from before the pandemic to today?

When asked how companies and office culture changed during the pandemic, many participants reported more flexibility in working hours and home office arrangements.

The answers ranged widely from perspectives of hope and improvement to negative and regressive perceptions.

A decline in corporate culture, less socialization among team members, and the end of happy hours and office events were common complaints.

Among the positive responses, respondents said their teams are better connected and felt that utilization was at an all-time high. Others reported efficiency gains from more projects and fewer staff, as well as a clear commitment to include remote work in their business plan for the foreseeable future. Some believed that the atmosphere between employees had become friendlier and that the company was placing more emphasis on the well-being of employees.

Respondents who noticed a negative trend in their company complained of layoffs, staff shortages and terminations of employees due to poor pandemic management and / or the requirements to return to the office. One person in California shared frustration at employee health disregard, the mandatory short-term return to the office, and management failure to address concerns about the Delta variant. Another participant admitted that the situation was so poisoned that he decided to leave the company. Others reported that more people were now studying for the license exams, but not too many passed.

A decline in corporate culture, less socialization among team members, and the end of happy hours and office events were common complaints.

Are you looking for our survey results from March ’21? The Architecture Community on return-to-office plans in 2021 (Pictured: Laney LA office in Hermosa Beach. Photo by Madeline Tolle.)

What did we learn?

Summarizing the results, it becomes clear that workplace conditions still vary dramatically depending on local health needs, management’s desire to balance new technological possibilities with conventional face-to-face presence, and the power of employees to have their voices heard procure.

With no sudden end to this pandemic in sight, more surveys may be needed to identify a long-term sweetspot of remote and personal work post COVID that will shape architectural office culture for years to come.

Join the conversation and share your personal experience in the comment section below.


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