We’ve been saying it for a while now, but it bears repeating: We know we’re fortunate.
Shelter has been able to continue operations, uninterrupted, during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve moved projects forward and welcomed new work. But that’s not to say we haven’t made adjustments. The health and safety of our staff, clients and greater community has remained our top priority. With that in mind, we’ve implemented changes — some of which may even lead to permanent shifts in how we conduct our day-to-day business for years to come.
Working together while apart
For a couple of months now, our entire staff has worked from home. The transition has been pretty smooth, all things considered. The nature of our profession allows us to perform most of our tasks from just about anywhere — provided we have access to electricity and a halfway decent internet connection.
However, none of us is in solitary confinement! Collaboration is one of our firm’s strengths — a key component of our creative process. So we’ve taken full advantage of videoconferencing and other solutions to share ideas and data with one another and engage with peers outside of Shelter. We’re using Zoom and products such as BIM 360 (BIM stands for Building Information Modeling), a software platform that allows team members to work together on 3D modeling and other aspects of our design processes.
These tools have proven so effective that, when we’re able to regroup in a shared studio space, our typical working arrangements might look very different than they did in the past. Perhaps some of our staff will continue to work from home a few days a week. In addition, as we make plans to redesign our offices — a project that began before the COVID-19 crisis arose — we’re now thinking about how we might build in increased social distancing throughout our workspaces.
We can’t get around it: What we do requires getting good, comprehensive looks at the places we work on. Evaluating existing conditions and the ways people interact with their surroundings is difficult to do remotely. So, we’ve done site visits in masks while practicing social distancing.
We’ve also, at times, toured spaces via video and gotten up to speed on project progress using photographs. Those can be very useful tools after we’ve been to a location ourselves. But virtual visits cannot replace the experience of occupying a space in person.
Maintaining eye contact
Zoom and other videoconferencing tools haven’t only helped our team’s internal communication; they’ve also kept us in close contact with clients. The video component, in particular, has been crucial. Facial reactions and other visual indicators help us glean more useful, “human” feedback than we’d get via email or a phone call.
Our success with videoconferencing may be something we build upon in the future, even after COVID-19 is less of a concern. Increasingly widespread use of this technology may open up new opportunities to expand our market and better serve clients outside our geographic region.
What matters most
Although we’ve been able to keep working, that doesn’t mean the COVID-19 outbreak hasn’t had any negative impacts on our business. Our strategy for facing those challenges has been rooted in our core values. And at the heart of those values is our team.
We’ve spent our entire history building a staff of talented, kind individuals whom we admire, trust and care about. At this time — as always — Shelter is basing decisions on how we can best help our team members, their families and those they’re sheltering with stay safe, healthy and financially secure.
We’ve asked our staff to put their personal and family’s needs first. We’ve accommodated schedule adjustments to foster better work-life balance. We’ve encouraged people to take walks, mental health breaks and days off. We’ve sent small gifts of appreciation and created a new Fun Committee to ensure we fit a little levity into each workweek. And we’ve taken steps to make sure that, if any staff member is struggling, they know how to reach out for help and be assured that they’re not alone.
None of those actions was difficult — or counter to our usual business practices. Wellness has always been a priority for Shelter. It influences our designs and the way we run our firm. Nothing will change that. Not even a pandemic.