The world crisis caused by COVID-19 has forced millions of people to stay at home and socially distance themselves from others to help stop spread of the virus. It has resulted in companies with the challenge of working from home. ‘Work from Home’ is a common term that we have heard more often in the past couple of years. While the adaption of ultra-fast internet connections, powerful computers, and other technological tools has made the switch easy for most industries, it hasn’t been a cakewalk for the Singapore architecture industry. Singapore Architecture firms and freelance architects were forced to adapt to the situation quickly, and it proved a challenge for many.
All Home Workspaces are Not Created Equal
In the whirlwind of COVID-19, architects and architecture firms had an euphoric beginning. In the initial days, they shared their home workspaces online and changed backgrounds on Zoom on their video calls – many felt it a blessing. But, quickly, the challenges and differences in the quality of access started to surface. In the office, they had ergonomic furniture that helped with sitting posture, coffee machines, pantries, and unlimited access to the internet and the comfort of air-conditioning. But with work from home, many of these perks were unavailable for most professionals. Many living with their families or other renters find it difficult to look for quiet corners for those important online meetings.
While work from home started off looking like a privilege, Singapore architects have realized the challenges that come with it. Understanding their struggles and making allowances based on unique circumstances is important.
Main Challenges Faced by Architects While WFH
Impact on Collaboration
Architecture is a collaborative process, and interaction is often required with other parties to conceptualize a good design. Maintaining the same office culture and keeping the entire design team connected at the same time can be difficult when working from home. Without sufficient collaboration and interaction, architectural teams can feel isolated and lonely at home.
Technology is critical when working in architectural teams. Limited access to advanced technological tools for architects can be a stumbling block. Not everyone has the same computing hardware, software and tools at home, which are close or equivalent to what is available at the office. There were few people working remotely before the pandemic, but with large numbers working remotely, it can put pressure on Singapore architectural teams to produce the same quality of work while working from home.
Architecture is an industry that greatly relies on mentorship. It is no secret that many architectural professionals attribute a portion of their success to the interactions and guidance by their mentors. With remote work, it can be challenging for architectural staff to receive the same amount of direction and mentorship from their seniors and supervisors.
Difficulty in Motivating Staff
Lack of Leadership
Working from home requires leaders to align culture, expectations and business processes. It can take years for remote teams to have the same level of productivity as the office environment. Leaders are expected in essence to build the system. That’s how it has always been whether in business or in the government. Team members who expect things to work exactly like the office will often cite a lack of leadership and a lack of clear communication that leads to low morale.
Distractions and Impact on Productivity
The difference in the office setup and home office setup is a big hindrance when it comes to productivity for architects. With many of them juggling household work, spouses, and kids, these distractions can build up and make it difficult to focus.
Projects that Have Halted Due to the Pandemic
Singapore entered into recession in the second quarter of 2020 due to COVID-19. The country experienced a double blow during that time since work on site stopped, and dormitories where construction workers lived, were infected. Singapore faced construction delays fearing manpower crunch and disruptions in material supplies. Among the big projects that were hit, the significant one was that the mega terminal of its international airport in Changi was put on hold for two years. Several projects by top building companies in Singapore, such as the Waterway Sunrise II, a BTO project in Punggol, and Sky Vita in Bukit Batok by Greatearth, came to a stop. All these have put even more pressure on the architecture industry.
Overcoming Economic Challenges – Costs and Overheads
Despite the challenges mentioned above, many architecture firms enjoy the freedom they have experienced working from home. They can hire staff from anywhere in the world, allowing them access to a larger labor pool with the least competitive restrictions. In addition, some have also been able to expand the number of projects available to them. Many are able to team up with international firms outside of Singapore. With the industry quick in adopting technologies such as 3D printing, BIM, drones, and sensors due to the pandemic, the digitization process in the Singapore architect industry shows no signs of slowing down.
To Return, Or Not to Return?
Although people are allowed to return to offices, most of them would still prefer working from home. People were forced to work remotely, invest in new ways to connect, develop new communication patterns; people enjoyed their ability to work from home and would want a balance of time at and away from their physical offices. However, not all Singapore architecture firms are willing to let their teams work from home full time. Many are encouraging their architects and staff to return to the office as they believe it is critical for sharing ideas, team building and communication. Successful work from home arrangements would be a key concern for most architecture firms in Singapore, and it remains to be seen how they plan for a work-from-home dominated future.