How is the pandemic affecting architects?

“As far as we’re concerned, we have one relatively large project that’s ongoing. It’s in the critical design phase, and the clients are keen to push it forward. But all of our commercial projects have stopped, with clients not wanting to spend money at the moment. We’ve also paused a lot of the new projects we had coming into the practice. Most of the projects that were ongoing in the design stages are also on hold. We still have a few projects that are in between phases, working towards a planning application or working towards a tender. In those cases, clients want to get to a specific point and then see where we are. I’d say it’s probably a good time to do planning work.

“We also had a lot of ongoing projects on site, and they’ve all stopped. We’ve been planning on a day-to-day basis, as the government changes and announces policy. We’ve furloughed half our architectural staff, and then the other half will be eventually furloughed, apart from myself. Because as the director of a small limited company, there’s no support in pay and I’ll continue to do some of the minor stuff that keeps coming in.

“In terms of other small and medium-sized practices, we’ve heard a mix of things, but most are experiencing something similar. Some friends in large practices have said that they’re busy – for instance, a practice that’s doing a lot of government buildings, schools etc, that work is continuing. For them, it’s more the challenge of how they’re adjusting to working from home. Some commercial clients of the bigger firms are still looking to push some projects forward. But I think it’s very variable across the architecture profession.”

How are you approaching business continuity generally?

“Most clients have said it’s more of a pause than them cancelling projects, so managing cash flow is the biggest issue. We’ve put together a plan, which looks like we should be OK. But we’ll have to time that carefully. We put a stop on all of our unnecessary outgoings. For instance, we were doing a business training course, and we’ve stopped any subscriptions to things that we don’t 100% need. We’re not sure when we’re going to get money from the government. In the meantime, we still have to pay our staff and pay the furloughed amount while we wait for those funds.”

How are you handling workloads with fewer staff?

“Because my wife and I are the directors of the company, we’ve been balancing work with childcare; it’s been hard. Luckily our office manager is part-time, and she’s still been able to do some of the bookkeeping. But finding out about all the support schemes was time-consuming. We took advantage of the networks that we had, with other architects but also through the business coaching we’ve been doing. They organised a useful call with an employment lawyer.

“And I think in general, people have been supportive as a kind of business community, in sharing information and discussing the implications of all these things. There have been some positive things coming out of the whole situation as a kind of side-effect.”

How can partners lead teams at the moment; what is emerging as best practice so far?

“We set up a team meeting twice a week to get everyone together. I then try to catch up with everyone once a day individually and go through expectations of what they’re going to be doing and deliverables. We’re still generally office-based because we find that process of thinking and designing together is hard to do remotely. We’ve got a WhatsApp chat group, and that’s been helpful because it almost replicates the kind of informal discussions we have in the office about design and projects. Because it is less formal than an email, it’s less formal than a video call. You can quickly show sketches and computer model shots and things like that in an informal way, so it starts to replicate some of those discussions.

Most clients have said it’s more of a pause than them cancelling projects, so managing cash flow is the biggest issue

Tim O’Callaghan
Co-founder, nimtim architects

“We’re aware people are struggling a little, mentally, with the whole situation. You can’t ignore the fact that there are unprecedented and quite potentially stressful things going on in the bigger picture, beyond practice and beyond what we’re doing. And that’s affecting people. It was clear that a couple of people were negatively affected by the situation, and finding it hard to do the work in the same way that they might otherwise have done.

“I think you’ve got to be conscious of that. All our staff in their 20s who live in flat-shares would generally be out and about a lot. It’s a tough time for that age group. Being aware of that and trying to manage that is important. There’s been a lot of individual management, and there’s quite often a phone call, which is more like: ‘How are you doing? How are you feeling? What’s going on? Can we help?’ That sort of thing has been important.”

Are there any areas of the business that may actually benefit from the situation?

“We’re trying to look at it positively. We usually do design surgeries four times a year in our office; we’re doing them for free online at the moment, to make contact with people. And it’s partly to help people because we’re conscious that there are some things that you can do on a micro-scale now to improve living and working at home.

“But we’re also thinking about the future. Being stuck at home in lockdown is a good opportunity to understand what does and doesn’t work about a house. Meanwhile, a lot of businesses have also said they’re going to do more working from home and maybe scale back their rent on commercial premises. So trying to think about companies, and how they’re changing their space when we come out of the lockdown, is a new market for us. It’s an excellent opportunity to push out our thinking around that. Because I think a lot of businesses will change their spatial strategy and the way that they balance working from home and working remotely.”

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

scroll to top