It’s been a long time between lunches! Between a hyperactive preschooler, COVID lockdowns and a website rebuild, I haven’t had much opportunity to write for a long time. I’m very excited to have been working on some new content in the last couple of months, which I look forward to bringing you soon!
I’ll be at WORKTECH19 Sydney on Thursday 21 February – will I see you there?
From time to time, there are certain perks to being a blogger – one of which is the chance to convince people that you do know something about what you do, and you’d be a great person to help them out promoting your event. While I do this on a regular basis for BILT (which actually probably involves more hard work than perks), occasionally other opportunities arise such as being a Social Media Ambassador for WORKTECH.
I’ve been attending WORKTECH for a number of years (maybe since they first started their event in Australia actually) and this is the second year I’ll be there tweeting away in my capacity of social media ambassador.
Personally I’m really looking forwards to Dr Nelly Ben Hayoun as a speaker you wouldn’t get to see here in Australia often who is doing some really interesting work at the intersection of design, technology (and everything else really). Hopefully I’ll have some great inspiration for some new blog posts too.
Here is a link to the full programme, sessions include:
- BCG Create An Office Of The Future In Hudson Yards, New York | Ross Love, Senior Advisor, Office of the Chairman at Minderoo; Ex- Managing Partner for Boston Consulting Group New York
- Super-Experience Designing For Talent In The Digital Workplace | WORKTECH Academy & Mirvac
- The Art and Science of Murmuration: Burning Man’s Culture of Cooperative Leadership | Stuart Mangrum, Education Director, Burning Man Project
- B:Hive – New Zealand’s Largest And Smartest Co-Working Space | James Grose, CEO, BVN; Greg Smales, Director, Smales Farm
- Gen Z Workplace | Natalie Slessor, General Manager, Workplace & Change, Lendlease
- What Is This Tsunami Of Data Arriving From My Buildings Telling Me About How To Save Money?! | John MacLeod, Internet of Things Specialist, IBM
- A MONSTER AT WORK | Dr. Nelly Ben Hayoun, Designer of Extreme Experiences, NBH Studios | Sponsored by Mirvac
- Crossing The Threshold – The Sustainable Digitalisation Of Work And Real Estate | Simon Carter, Director, Morphosis | RICS & Morphosis
- The Sentient Workplace | Philip Ross, Futurologist & CEO, Cordless Group & UNWORK
- Designing for Fashion David Jones & Country Road Group – Case Study | Heidi Smith, Partner, Gray Puksand
If you are interested in future of workplace, people, culture and technology – then this is a great event to attend. Here is the link to register to WORKTECH Lounge Wednesday 20th February & WORKTECH Conference Thursday 21st February. I hope to catch up with you there!
If you are interested in the event but not based in Australia, check out Unwired’s website as they hold similar events all over the world.
Do we have to accept that “long hours are just part of the job”? Is it possible to succeed in architecture and design without working excessive overtime?
For the first time in Australia, a top law firm has recently been reported to Worksafe for overworking employees, “A source said KWM graduates were subjected to grueling conditions, with some employees choosing to sleep at the firm’s Melbourne office rather than return home. Day and night shifts were allocated so work could continue around the clock.” This probably sounds familiar to a lot of architects and designers – except we might be thinking “They got to sleep though?” and “so if there were shifts…that means individuals were not working round the clock”. Whilst law is renowned for its long hours, architecture is frequently worse – and far more poorly paid. Even if we haven’t worked all night lately ourselves, we all know practices where it is common place. It will be interesting to see the outcomes of this case and what impact it might have on architecture as well as law. There is no doubt that the long hours culture of architecture takes its toll on many individuals in different ways.
Around the same time as I came across this article, I attended two separate events on the same day – Sustainability Live and a WIDAC networking event. Through a session “Mental Health in the Building Industry” the topic of the long hours culture of architecture was part of the discussion. Mental health is an issue that the NSW Architects Registration Board is currently focusing on – and Registrar Tim Horton was part of the panel. The NSW ARB is concerned about the mental health of architects and commissioning further research to learn more about this important topic. However it does seem that their focus is on the risk of sole practitioners suffering mental health issues and the resultant risk to the public, than necessarily on the impacts of those working within practice and subject to long hours and bullying cultures. We have to remember that the job of the Boards is primarily consumer protection rather than protection of the architects – that’s where the AIA and ACA need to be involved.
Personally I do believe that part of the prevalence of sole practitioners and small practices is due to the desire of many mid career architects to escape the hours and bullying and to gain control over their own lives, and not just their own designs. But the problem we have is that often the long hours have been so well trained into us, and then you add the pressure of small business, and many architects still can’t get away. I’m not sure if its funny or scary that some of the young architects I spoke to after the session (and since) had thought the previous session on “Modern Slavery” was going to be about Australian architectural practices and their working cultures…
That evening I attended my first WIDAC (Women in Design and Construction) event – and I was very impressed. Outstanding speakers and well organised – I’ve already joined! The topic for the evening was “The Road to Leadership” and there were three speakers, an architectural director, a partner in a law firm and a HR executive (the selection of which somewhat seems to match the topics of this post!) Alex Wessling, Sara Haslinger LLB MPP and Kate Evans shared their fantastic and individual stories of their own roads to leadership. One of the things that all three had in common, and I think probably underpins many successful people, but perhaps even more particularly women, is that while working long hours can sometime seem to contribute to success, working long hours usually lead to problems in your life (be they mental, physical or both) and that ultimately this is not a sustainable path to continue along. The other common lesson is that the path to leadership is windy even if at an outside glance it might not always seem to be so.
My own story also has these threads in common. Initial career success stalled with the combination of a slowdown (GFC) and a psychopathic boss. Years of overwork – sometimes due to deadlines and those around me, and sometimes due to the pressure I placed on myself – combined with the pressure of workplace bullying eventually lead to repetitive strain injury and chronic pain. Physio, personal trainers, acupuncture, feldenkrais and a dozen different medical specialists and surgery didn’t solve it – for the first few years it got worse. Starting with my left shoulder, then my right arm, both wrists, my neck, both hands. Imagine the fear of not being able to use your hands. To the point where I almost couldn’t work at all. Then in the middle of all of that I was made redundant from the job that caused it. All of this defines my story from this point on. Almost 10 years later, I still have chronic pain in my neck but I am much recovered and can now manage and live with the pain and its impacts on my mental health.
Part of the way I have improved my health is to work part time. People assume I work part time because I have a small child. While this is partially true – I dropped my hours to part time after she was born – I’ve found its really helped my health, and I know I certainly can’t work more than 40 hours a week. I can’t take a job in a practice that might expect me to work excessive overtime. My symptoms would flare up and it’s just not worth it. This is one reason why I am passionate about hours and working culture – I don’t want to see more people face these kinds of problems – and the more time we spend crunching over computers the more common it is becoming. Already almost every architect and designer I know has some kind of neck, back, shoulder or arm pain that flares up from time to time.
At the same time, I have been determined not to let my injuries or my working hours define my role or opportunities within design practice. Whilst it has meant that I am careful about choosing where and with whom I work (unfortunately for me not always clear at the interview stage), my commitment to my own work life balance or integration has had a positive side effect. Bullies usually also seem to inhabit the long hours cultures in higher proportions…coincidence?
Now I am lucky enough to work at Custance Associates, a boutique practice where I have a senior client facing role and input to the practice direction, with directors who are supportive and who actually care about the staff who work for them – a team who are a friendly and incredibly talented bunch. I work flexibly from Tuesday to Friday working at 70% of full time, with some of that time being from home. Occasionally I work some extra hours to meet deadlines, but its pretty rare. Nor do my team work overtime regularly. I have time for my blog, being a part of the BILT ANZ committee, to exercise (which is actually essential for my pain), occasionally to meditate and always to spend with my family. I am happy. I think this is something we sometimes forget is even possible in our industry.
So many people I know have continued working in unhealthy environments on the premise that everywhere else is the same. Maybe a lot of practices are – but not everywhere. Take the time to define what you want and expect – and then demand that – and if where you are can’t provide it, you can probably find somewhere else that can. Maybe not so quickly and easily as just any job, but I believe for most of us, it is possible. If more staff expect that a reasonable work life balance and working hours is possible, and that bullying is unacceptable, then companies will be forced to change – both in architecture and law. Do you want things to change? Do you believe cultural change is possible? Will you be part of the problem or part of the solution?
Image via unsplash
Do you still read blogs or has instagram taken over all your free time?
Back in 2013 not long after I started this blog, I wrote a post on my favourite blogs. It was pretty popular at the time, but when I went back and looked at it recently I realised it was pretty out of date – a lot of blogs don’t last 5 years. Also in the meantime, insta has taken over as many designers first stop for inspiration. Whilst there are great visuals out there on insta, I’m still a fan of blogs, I want to read the story behind the design and also read about other aspects of design – the psychology, the business and the ideas.
So I thought it was time to update my list. Many I still subscribe too via the old fashioned way of email while others are sites I just pop into from time to time. Right now my problem is trying to make sure I don’t subscribe to more than I actually have time to look at. I never did find a replacement for google reader! (Any ideas?)
Yellowtrace remains one of my all time favourite blogs for interior design. You get both the insta worthy images as well as the stories and interviews behind the scenes. You also now get extensive coverage of Milan Design Week. It doesn’t really matter what kind of design or architecture is your thing, yellowtrace covers everything beautiful from furniture to retail and hospo, workplace and residential. Dana has worked really hard over years to make this an amazing daily dose of design all year round. What more do you need?
This site sits alongside yellowtrace as my favourite. Completely different type of articles – the focus is articles on workplace design and psychology, real estate, facilities management and culture (as well as some UK real estate news) with a wide range of contributors. Not just aimed at designers but a site for anyone managing or part of designing workspaces. I was honoured this year when I was commissioned to write an article “I’m a designer and I job share with an AI” . As well as this site, the same editors are responsible for Work & Place, an excellent journal – well written and and researched for a similar audience.
Office snapshots is a staple site for anyone working in corporate interiors – and now moving into healthcare and education too. Get a weekly dose of new workplaces straight to your inbox, and then visit the site to search for thousands and thousands of images using a variety of product or feature search terms. While you do get the story behind the design – the quality of the words is not always so good as the photos and can be very descriptive rather than telling the story of the design.
If you are into architecture and interiors then Dezeen covers all sectors. With daily stories covering products, architecture and interiors arriving straight to your inbox you can keep track of all the big international projects, competitions and controversies, but also check out some little known designers and their work. Its not just images either, usually there is intelligent reporting- and an often humorous summary of the weekly reader comments.
I do notice a bit of cross over between FastCompany and Dezeen. FastCompany is more focused towards design generally – graphic and website design, product design and technology design. Again, a daily is of stories, I always find at least one that intrigues me enough to click through.
Nigel Oseland’s blog is another long stayer. Nigel is an Environmental Psychologist and Workplace Strategy Consultant. It’s a blog I often stumble across new posts via social media. There is now the option to subscribe via email so hopefully now I’ll be reading more often!
Surviving the Design Studio
Covering a wide range of topics from surviving the design studio, through to the Vencie architecture biennale, bias and competition in architecture, fees, design and technology, I enjoy Peter’s style, sense of humour and wide variety of topics. This is probably one for anyone who is anti establishment architecture and it’s culture.
Workplace Design Magazine
An interior design magazine, as you can tell from the name focused on the workplace. Ideas, projects, products. This one is American and while it covers similar topics to Workplace Insight, I don’t seem to find as much captures my interest. I do like the around the web section for links to a wide range of other articles and sites.
Once a week, Michael Kilkelly shares five topics that have interested him that week as well as his own writing and courses. Starting with BIM, technology, automation but you could also find time management, architectural sketching and anything else that catches Michael’s interest. (rather like this blog!) Although there is plenty of content on the website, I think you only get the links if you subscribe to the emails.
Life of an Architect
An American architect named Bob, blogs on all sorts of aspects of practicing as and just being an architect. Great writing and great sense of humour. Life of an Architect has now been going for a long time and I still pop in from time to time.
Parlour is another website that I both write for and visit from time to time. Parlour’s focus is gender equity in architecture, but they publish a wide range of articles that effect this topic, from leadership and mentoring style articles, interviews with female architects, the impacts of gender and diversity on design outcomes to flexibility and fair work practices.
Since I first wrote this post I’ve also found I read more and more business focused blogs.
EntreArchitect and The Business of Architecture
In my mind these two blogs always go together. They cover a lot of similar materials and are both blogs and podcasts aimed at small firm practitioners. Covering topics from finances, making a profit, to proposals and marketing, hiring staff and managing a team – everything you need to know about running a practice that’s not the architecture part.
If you are more interested in what’s impacting companies at the other end of the scale (be that your own or your clients), McKinsey is THE place to go. Backed by reputable global research, you can learn about strategy, technology, HR, change and more. With different format articles, spend just 5 minutes or 50 minutes to learn more about topics affecting business today.
ACA – Association of Consulting Architects
The ACA focuses on being the place to lead the discussion of business of architecture rather than talking all about design. Another site I sometimes write for – you will find a mix of articles on fees, employment, HR issues, legislation and other matters affecting Australian architectural practice.
On a totally different note from pretty much everything else I subscribe to is Futurism. Want to know about future society, cutting edge medical research, blockchain, the latest robots and anything Elon Musk is up to? This is the place for a very wide range of short articles that can be your starting point to learn more about where in the world we are headed.
I do also pop into many Revit blogs, but for me this tends to be on as as needs basis to search for help rather than regularly reading any particular blogs. What are your favorites? Perhaps some of you can help out with more suggestions – although I will then need to find more blog reading time…maybe after I finish my architectural registration interview!
What is preventing interior designers from taking up Revit? We can’t just keep blaming a lack of content. Maybe we don’t need BIM but why should we use Revit for interior design? And why are interior designers so special anyway? At this year’s BILT ANZ event in Brisbane I presented a class aimed at teaching Interior Designers & BIM Managers how to transition or improve their interior design teams use of Revit.
Over the years that I have been using Revit and attending BILT and other technology and BIM events, I have frequently had conversations with BIM Managers or BIM savy interior designers about how their teams are really struggling to implement Revit for the interior design projects – even in large practices where the architecture team might be quite successfully utilizing Revit and BIM on many projects. This has surprised me, because I’ve always found so many advantages in using Revit and across the last 5 years have been involved in a number of practice implementations training many interior designers. So why is it that so many teams are struggling?
So how do you turn your Revit Inside Out (or should that be Outside In?)!Interior design teams have different needs to architects, your architecture template and library might need some work and the Revit essentials 2 or 3 day training courses don’t meet our needs. This class aimed at learning to understand the needs of interior design teams first , both from a technical and a change management perspective. Only once the interior design teams needs and reasons for using BIM have been considered, to then develop suitable content and a training program.
This class drew on my 20 years of experience as a lead interior designer managing projects from very small to very large, including commercial / workplace, education, multi residential and hospitality – for over 10 years working exclusively in Revit and working with 5 different practices to implement or improve their Revit from the Inside Out. Its a class I have had developing in my head for some years now and drew upon previous popular posts on this blog, Do Revit and Interior Design go together? and Revit for Interiors – Its not perfect. The content of this class is not advanced or complex. And that is exactly the point. You don’t have to have a team of Revit super gurus in order to use Revit for interior design. What you need to do is understand what your team actually need to produce and focus upon the tools that are going to give them the most bang for their buck, the easy efficiencies – or as I call them quick wins.
You can check out my slide deck below. Following the introduction, the class is based upon the 3 headings – People, Content & Training. You can get a pretty good idea based upon the slide headings and my previous posts, but do feel free to get in touch via comments, LinkedIn or Twitter if you want to know more on any particular topic.
I believe the reason why many people are struggling with implementing Revit for Interior Design is too much focus on the availability of just the right furniture, 3D modelling and materials – which are great, necessary and useful – but are not the best place for beginners to start and can suck up a lot of design time and money. Basic tools like keynotes, filters and furniture schedules can help super power you interior design Revit use and give teams an understanding of families and parameters before trying to create beautiful and amazing 3D models of every custom design.
Revit does ‘work’ for interiors. Don’t get caught up with content and materials. Think about the process first. Consider the people, content and training and with the right support your interiors team can be just as advanced at BIM and Revit as your architecture team.
Thanks to everyone who attended my class, asked questions and came up to chat about it afterwards. It’s always interesting to share some knowledge as well as hearing about other ways people are tackling the same problems.
Images via unsplash.
Is reintroducing fee scales and further regulation the solution to fee slashing and ‘the race for the bottom’ among architects? Is this really feasible in a world of increasing globalisation and diversification of service providers? If not, what other options are there?
Immediately after reading the article, I felt compelled to join the conversation and comment – and then realised I had the beginning of another article on fees forming in my mind. Fees are a topic I have frequently written about over the five years I have been writing this blog (from The art(or is that science) of architecture fees to talking about fees and BIMonomics and more recently Architecture and Design Fees: Why Hours), and so Shaun’s article was of great interest to me. Essentially he proposes that the solution is regulation across three platforms – minimum fees (essentially a return to fee scales), government as a model client and limiting architecture graduates.
Is regulation, restrictive trade practices or collective bargaining the right answer? While I used to think that maybe regulation could be a solution, I wonder how does regulation in NSW (or in any other Australian state) solve a problem which is national, but also potentially global? How can you regulate at the edges of architecture – for example in fields where architects and interior designers compete? Do we really believe we can regulate if your competition is Google or Amazon? (Right now in the USA I think its the other way around…Amazon are practically setting the regulations with the offers that came in from cities determined to win Amazon 2 HQ!) So personally I don’t think regulation, in particular fee scales is the answer.
However that doesn’t mean there is not a place for advocacy and education – both of architects and of clients. I agree with Shaun that “Clients don’t recognize that their service is cut-priced, but have the same expectations as a good, fee-paying client.” Fees have dropped so far, that many clients including project managers, would have no idea of the real cost of the work they are bidding, only ‘market rates’. Many clients have no idea of the amount of hours that go into designing and documenting a building or a fitout – I’ve had more than one project manager assume that my job is done after concept design “don’t you just hand it over to the engineers then?”
I’d love to see both the Board of Architects and the AIA take leading roles on the issue of cut priced fees and client education, alongside of other organisations working in the design of buildings – the ACA, the DIA, Consult Australia, Engineers Australia and more. This isn’t just an issue for architects but for all design professionals.
One of the “frequent offenders”clients guilty of this is our own government – at all levels across a wide variety of agencies and institutions. Cut throat fee bidding in government work where price is the only criteria has been a problem for years. Back in 2014 I published this piece on one architect who tried to take a stand against this practice, after uncovering one government agency who admitted they would have to accept a tender of zero if pre-qualified firm chose to submit it. (I also commented on this as ‘madness but without the great acronym!)
Maybe if you don’t work in the government sector, you believe that the fact these firms have been in business for long enough, with enough of a reputation and standing to be pre-qualified for government work, that they wouldn’t engage in such foolish business tactics. But when the work is low (or even often when it’s not), it’s such common practice as to be the norm. And then it’s paid for by the staff (even by the principals and directors) working long hours for free or by compromising the quality of documentation – thereby driving up construction costs and waste. As mentioned in Shaun’s article, there is no way that low fees don’t equate to lowered quality of service. Even if a company is spending the same hours on the project – if many of those hours are unpaid overtime the quality of the work is lower. (There is so much evidence that working 50 or more hours a week compromises the quality of your work).
Shaun’s call for Government to lead the way as a model client is a fantastic idea (and while we are at it, perhaps some model client contracts from Government where risk is fairly distributed and copyright ownership retained?) I agree that if our government at all levels takes the lead in demonstrating the value of good design and the better outcomes that could be achieved, it is more likely more private companies would follow. Whilst I’ll admit, initially this is regulation, I’d perceive it more as leadership by Government, rather than purely a regulative measure.
Leadership needs education. Everyone who designs needs to be part of educating our clients, but advocacy by the AIA or the boards around Australia could help make a difference. Not just for today’s clients, but by educating tomorrows clients to appreciate design. In Scandinavia, design education starts in primary school and an appreciation of design is a part of the culture. More recently, Australians too are coming to appreciate design, you see this in the quality of our newer cafes, restaurants and shopping centres and in our obsession with home renovation reality TV. But “clients need to understand that design excellence costs money” (and takes time). This is where the home renovation shows do professionals no favours. Where are the shows about architects or interior designers? Other than Grand Designs, notably absent.
For too long design has been undervalued in Australia, and this is because we need real evidence to back up and underpin this education. Evidence that will prove to everyone – clients, project managers, even builders and the architects/designers themselves that design really does add value. To do this we need more research, research like the new RASP project, that sets out to prove the value of design through the question “Do architect designed renovations improve capital gains in the Melbourne residential property market?” Whilst this research relates purely to architects and residential design, there are so many possibilities for commercial, institutional and other sectors to benefit from similar projects. The retail sector already knows it, and has long invested in research to understand how design drives consumer behavior, and the payoff is clear and direct. In other sectors the questions and the payoff is not so straightforward. The problem is that individual clients or practices can’t afford to fund this research. At the University of Sydney around 100 workplaces have participated in the BOSSA project for post occupancy evaluations – how much more extensive would this dataset be if we have if every government workplace had a post occupancy evaluation? Again,this is another area where the Government could play a leading part. Why isn’t the CSIRO involved in this kind of research? Improving the design of our workplaces could be a key means of improving our national productivity.
While good design does cost money, our professions need to also take responsibility for productivity and efficiency. While we might have BIM capable software, there is so much wasted human capital and time in most architecture practices. Our actual fees might be a lot lower if we invested more in technology and training. The whole of the construction industry is guilty of not investing in software, training or automation. Is this because of a lack of education at leadership level, a lack of understanding of how technology can benefit us or is it fear of change, a distrust of technology and of individually being left behind? Or are we now in a vicious cycle of low fees, with nothing to invest? Whatever the root cause, our industry will be left behind if we don’t invest in technology. I’ve written in the past about the coming wave of automation, (Will a Robot take my Job? and Is Disruptive Innovation Possible in the Construction Industry and more recently, I’m a designer and I job share with an AI) – if you didn’t know, it’s already here. If you have not started to think about how you can automate routine parts of your practice you will be left behind. When our fees are so low already, how can we afford not to automate where practical? Why should we be calculating the space for fire stairs or toilets when a computer can do this so much more efficiently that we can.
We don’t just need to educate clients, but we also need to train young architects and designers more in business – and even more so, in innovation and entrepreneurship. Architects might not feel that traditional business and accounting is their thing – but innovative ways to develop new business could be more appealing. Especially if we continue to train architects in such numbers – we need to train them to expect to be other things than a traditional architect, because there will not be nearly enough jobs. Maybe we don’t need to limit the number of graduates, but to value architectural training as the background to many other avenues of design thinking. If the next generation are nimble and accept change, and learn how to keep learning throughout their careers – maybe they will take their valuable design thinking into broader roles. I am constantly surprised at how architecture and interior design are creative professions but so many practitioners are so resistant to change (how many architecture practices do you know who have implemented activity based working…)
We can’t just expect the universities to teach business awareness though. For too long in too many practices, fees and charge out rates have been too secret – something that graduates are not expected or even often allowed to know about. Everyone at all levels should understand the fee budget and how their work contributes – just like when a client doesn’t tell us their budget, how can you expect someone to understand how their time contributes to the job cost if you never shares any information with them?
Finally, we need to think about how we charge. The world has moved on from dollars per hour. The ability to make money is no longer linked to human capital. This is the major lesson for all professions where we have historically charged by the hour. So I think we need to be thinking about value based fees, and about not fee scales. I’ve never worked in a time of fee scales, but I can’t see how fee scales in a time of globalisation and diversification are going to protect our jobs and fees. Fee scales won’t stop Amazon or WeWork from taking over the traditional roles of architects.
So what is a value based fee? The value of your work, the value of your ideas. I’ve written in a lot more detail previously on this topic in the article Architecture and Design Fees: Why Hours. If we start to think and talk about fees in terms of our value, and the value of our work – can we continue to justify cut throat fees in our own minds? Aren’t we devaluing our own work that way? Of course when clients don’t value our work and our profession doesn’t value our work – we have a problem. So thats why proving our value to others is also a key part of the solution.
I agree with Shaun – three things need to change – although my three are different:
- We need to value ourselves;
- We need to invest in the future; and
- Our clients and those who occupy our buildings & spaces need to value us
Thomas Edison is credited with the phrase “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration” and I believe there is no field where this applies more than architecture and design. So often people assume that interior design is such a fun, creative job – that it’s all about drawing, colours and furniture, something like being paid to colour in and shop – when today being a designer is just as much about people management, psychology, project management, documentation, checking codes and standards and managing contracts. It’s also often about a culture that expects long hours and being always available to the job. “It’s not work when you are passionate about it?” is common. But what if instead we could all work less hours and job share with our computers?
This is my latest article, which you can continue reading on Workplace Insight. Workplace Insight is one of my favourite blogs and I was really excited to be asked to write this piece for them.
If yu enjoyed the article, you might enjoy attending BILT. BILT ANZ will run in Brisbane this year from 24-26 May and will have sessions across a whole spectrum of technologies for architects, designers, engineers, contractors, estimators, quantity surveyors, project managers, building and asset owners and managers. Buildings Infrastructure Lifecyle supported by Technology – with over 100 classes to chose from over three days, if you work across these fields BILT has classes for you. Its not all about technology either, with classes in leadership, change management and strategy, BILT supports the fact that a wide range of skills are need to understand, implement and deliver projects in this complex and technology driven world we now work in.
Personally, I will be presenting a class “Inside Out: Implementing Revit for Interior Design Teams” in Session 1.3. I’d love to see you there!
You can register and find the full schedule at our website. (Disclaimer: In one of my other roles I am the BILT ANZ Communications & Marketing Manager) If you are not in ANZ, you will also find BILT in Aisa, North America and Europe.
Does technology kill creativity? Or do we need to think “outside the box” as to what creativity means in a world of coding, automation and technology driven innovation?
Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to Steelcase and Microsoft’s “Creative Spaces” launch with a panel of speakers specially flown in for the event – Julia Atalla (Microsoft), Chris Congdon (Steelcase) and John Ravitch (IDEO) (As a sidenote – Great to see a panel with two female panelists out of three!)
It’s not often you get the chance to participate in a session run by people of the caliber of IDEO – although only a couple of months ago, I was also lucky to participate in an amazing project based session with Cat Burgess from Frost Collective! I always find these kinds of workshops inspiring, even though there is still that school kid part inside of me that groans at the idea of group work! I also find I can get my own ideas and inspiration as to how to run strategy and design workshops. Clients are so often very busy people or just unenthusiastic about the prospect of spending 2 hours in a design workshop, and it takes a lot of knowledge and skill to get the best out of participants when you are running such workshops.
While the Steelcase / Microsoft event was more panel than workshop, there was a workshop element included at the beginning – asking us to define what creativity meant to us and come up with a shared definition with a partner (and one you didn’t already know) A number of audience ideas were shared and we then heard views and further discussion from the panel.
As an architect, designer and writer, creativity is clearly a topic of interest to me. It’s one that has any different viewpoints and definitions. When you think of creativity do you think of artists and designers or is creativity today more broad than this definition? Are “concept designers” the only creative people in a design studio? Or is a software programmer creative? Can a computer be creative? In an age where it is likely a combination of our softer “human” skills and our ability to program the machines, are going to become more valuable, these are important questions, particularly for designers of any kind.
Is being defined as a creative a compliment or potentially an insult? Why do so many people see creative and organised as opposites? Or more recently – being creative and able to use a computer as mutually exclusive? Creativity is not just about someone’s ability to sketch. Sketching in itself is not necessarily creative either – its just one method of communicating creative ideas. It has the benefit of being a quick and emotive one though. In our profession people who are good at sketching have always had the advantage. Not necessarily because they are any more creative but because they are able to better communicate their creative ideas. However today, communicating creative ideas though software is becoming easier and easier. Creativity isn’t just about the tool.
I frequently read or hear people criticising software, particularly BIM software for creating boring architecture or killing design and creativity. Software is not what is killing creativity in our industry. Low fees and a lack of community or government appreciation for what we do is what is killing design. Low fees alongside a university system that does not prepare graduates for actual jobs, have also created a huge gap between those who know software and those who know buildings. Many practices have not invested in training, or encouraged experienced staff to learn or sometimes even to understand new sortware and technologies (I’ve seen them be actively discouraged). I”m not talking about staff that are about to retire either, I’m talking about people have 20 years or more before retirement (as if any of us will retire at 65 anyway!)
For me, technology has always been a path to improving creativity. Whether it’s though the automation of the boring bits of our job to free our time up for design, or the abilities of generative design to help create thousands of options to quickly optimise the functionality or buildability of design, I believe technology can be used to enable creativity. For me personally, technology has become an essential component of my design process and a communication tool both to my team and to clients. My definition of creativity is in fact that it is something that comes out of the intersection of ideas or people from different disciplines. For me this has been a combination of technology, architecture and design and multidisciplinary ways of working.
Which is why I loved John Ravitch’s definition of creativity:
Curiosity plus progress = creativity
Isn’t that awesome! The panel went onto a discussion about how creativity today is about problem solving, not about what discipline you work in. A data scientist may not consider their work to be creative, but interpreting and communicating the data to others, is a creative task. I’m sure lawyers, accountants and doctors – all professions we don’t traditionally think of as creative – or in our own industry, even project managers and documenters – know that the best people in the fields do something differently to the most average. To me that is creativity, it’s thinking differently about whatever the problem is you set out to solve.
One thing that we do know is that creativity is not just about inspiration. Creativity (and design thinking) can be taught. Creativity can also be trained. By writing, drawing or doing whatever it is every day or every week, you will get better and you will be more creative. Not everything you do will be your best creative work, the idea of the creative genius is actually very rare (great article on this recently from Aureon’s Just Imagine blog). Meditation can also help you to rewire your brain and be more creative. By coincidence, a few days after I’d written this paragraph, I started reading about these same topics this week in Manage your day to day: Build your routine, find your focus and sharpen your creative mind from 99u.
You don’t have to be inspired to start being creative. But I think being creative is what makes you feel more inspired about whatever it is you do. So after months of feeling uninspired (and somewhat cranky with our industry – but that’s another story), reflecting on this Creative Space event and thinking about creativity has got me writing again. Hopefully this article inspires you to do whatever it is that makes you feel creative, inspired and excited about your work and life.
What does flexible mean to you? Is it the hours you work? Or the place? Is activity based working the same as flexible working? And what does agile working really mean?
These days companies are frequently talking about offering flexible and agile working conditions or environments but what that means in reality can vary widely between different organisations. If you google “flexible work” in Australia you will find the top links are to the government Fair Work Australia website. Fair Work defines flexible work as “Examples of flexible working arrangements include changes to: hours of work (eg. changes to start and finish times), patterns of work (eg. split shifts or job sharing),locations of work (eg. working from home).” However, one of the key items of note in Fair Works requirements for defining and flexible working arrangements is that everything is documented and approved – essentially it is a contractual definition of flexible. Definitions from government bodies in the UK and USA are similar. Is this what you thought flexible working was? I only discovered this definition when I was returning to work part time after maternity leave and I found it very surprising – for years I thought I’d had flexible working arrangements but it hadn’t been this. This contractual or legal definition of ‘flexible work’ does not allow the flexibility of varying hours day to day or with little notice. It’s not about trust or performance based outcomes, it’s still about watching and clocking the hours. I was used to travelling, working from home if I had a tradesman coming (or needed to write a submission), taking time off if I worked a weekend or even just arriving at a different time because I chose to fit a yoga class in before work. I would have thought for many people having to contractually defining flexible is almost the opposite – it wouldn’t meet the needs of many people looking for more flexibility in the workplace – such as the ability to attend children’s school events or to care for a sick child while still working. So if flexible isn’t what I thought it was – what is the right terminology to clearly define this way of working, based upon trust and the ability to change the plan? Could this be activity based working (ABW) or agile working?
While ABW is a way of working, it is a way of working which has been very much linked to physical environments. Often the term agile working is also used to define these types of working environments. But what is the difference between agile working and activity based working?
ABW is based upon the premise that staff choose where to work in order to best perform the task required. The choice may be in a variety of work settings within the workplace, or somewhere else all together. It’s is generally acknowledged that for ABW to be successful, a different style of management with a higher level of trust is required. If a supportive management culture exists this would therefore seem to lend itself to people also chosing the time at which the work is performed? But the definition of activity based working is also dependant upon the premise that staff don’t have an allocated desk. So what kind of work is it if you do have an allocated desk but you can choose when and where to work?
I recently started researching agile working and what this term really means, and discovered that agile working is a lot bigger than just a way of working or an environment. Agile working begins with how you run your business “you allow the established routines within your business to quickly and seamlessly adapt to the quickly changing marketplace.” While agile working does involve the flexibility of time and place, it is also about the flexibility of management, structures and the ability for an organisation to respond and transform itself. (You notice this articl doesn’t use the government/contractual definition of flexibility but the more commonly accepted notion).
It’s also important to understand that agile working is not the same as agile development – it’s not about the post it notes. Agile development is a project management methodology developed in software development in the 1990’s which in recent years has become very popular across various sectors. One of the most popular methods is known as Scrum. Scrum is best known for the daily scrum and scrum task board of post it notes. (Kanban is also similar). One of the limitations of Scrum is that is works less well for teams whose members are geographically dispersed or part-time – whereas agile working should not be limited by this. Paul Allsop of the Agile Organisation defines “Agile working [as] bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task. It is working within guidelines (of the task) but without boundaries (of how you achieve it).”
In this article, John Eary discusses he differences between flexible and agile working, and the concept of work-life integration. Work life integration allows staff to choose when and where to work to suit their personal lives, and as long as performance outcomes are achieved. John notes that “Managing this trade-off is a challenge for employers and employees. For employees the trade-off for more flexibility in working time is accepting greater responsibility in meeting work commitments. For employers the trade-off for staff becoming more responsible and responsive is adopting a relaxed attitude to their staff’ working practices, particularly to when staff choose to work. ”
To me, this says that agile working is really about giving everyone autonomy to chose how, when and where they work. Numerous studies have been published to verify that autonomy is one of the single biggest predictors of workplace satisfaction. Whether it is control of your place and time of work or of your environment, autonomy helps both attract and retain the best and brightest staff. And according to Gensler, autonomy also increases your chances of innovation.
While everyone these days claims to offer flexibility, how many organsisations are truly offering autonomy? When we ask for flexiblity should we be asking for autonomy instead?
PS. I’m currently looking for a new role as a lead/senior workplace designer – in an organisation that offers flexibility (3 days per week) and autonomy. Get in touch with me via the links at the bottom of the about page you are hiring! (no recruiters please)
Is it really necessary for us to accept a long hours culture in order for architecture or design practices to thrive, or for us to succeed as individuals?
Earlier this year I started a new role. I’m a senior associate in an award winning interior design studio. In my last practice I managed a major workplace fitout project of close to 8,500m2. I also work 3 days per week. A lot of people are surprised at the last sentence. Whilst it is not uncommon for women in our industry to work part time after having children – what is uncommon is that I changed jobs and managed a major project without switching to a full time role. Numerous women, both in design and other industries have told me that my job change is inspiring them to start seriously job hunting and not putting it off, “until they are ready to go full time again”. If you are a man thinking this post isn’t for you – think twice. Would you like your evenings and weekends back too? It’s all part of the same problem.
There seems to be a belief across our industry, from architects and interior designers through to project managers and clients that you have to work more than full time hours to lead a project. That part time won’t work. That you should be available to answer questions from clients and contractors at least during all business hours, but preferably during any hours they chose to work. This isn’t just an issue for women – I know plenty of men sick of the hours and the pressure too.
Why has our industry culture developed this way? Sorry to say – but what we do isn’t all that critical. We are not emergency services – no one’s life is at risk. To be really brutally honest – not even that much money is at risk. Your clients payroll for a week is much much larger than a week’s corporate rent. So why have we developed this crazy notion that everything is super urgent, that a reply can’t wait a day and that everyone has to be working all the time?
Mobile phones and email are part of the problem. In days gone by, contractors might have had to wait for us to come to site, or even send a letter – that could take days! Somehow even a fax was never as urgent as email has now become. It sat in the office until you returned. The pace of things has changed for everyone, but why do we let it drive us? If we are part of the problem, we are all a part of the solution. As long as we all accept the status quo, nothing changes. But what if we push back, if we look at alternative ways of working and managing our teams and our clients? Why shouldn’t everyone work part time? Especially if automation is going to mean less work for everyone.
My choice to work part time is partly about the fact I have a toddler, but its not just that. Working part time also gives me more time for other things – to write, to be part of the BILT ANZ event committee, to meditate and to try to fit in some exercise. I had already spent some time working more flexible hours a couple of years ago and had realised that working less hours makes me more productive, more creative and better at my job and my life. Especially in a creative role, sitting at your desk for 40 hours plus a week doesn’t help you do a better job, it just gives you repetitive strain injury or a mental health problem.
Right now, we have a shortage of senior interior designers in Australia. Why? Partly because so many young designers dropped out of the industry during the GFC but also because many senior designers are women with children who just don’t want the stress of feeling that they can’t meet the hours and workload expected of a senior design role. Architecture has a similar problem with a shortage of senior women, particularly in mid to large size practices.
It doesn’t help that many part timers are forced into roles that undermine their confidence and capability. Being a senior associate given the same work as the part time student is pretty demeaning (and it has happened to me, along with many others I know). Just because you are part time doesn’t mean you can’t be client facing. If you chose not to be – there are plenty of tasks in every studio that can really benefit from the knowledge of part time senior staff. Quality reviews are a really easy start. Internal staff training and mentoring. Partnering a part time senior staff member with a more junior team member can be a great way for a junior to get more client exposure and more responsibility.
Its true that looking for a new role as a part timer is harder – one practice told me they wouldn’t hire a part timer for a senior role – it’s too hard to manage. It’s different to manage – it is only harder because it’s not what we are used to. I know this as a manager, I’ve managed remote teams and I have managed a team in which I was the only full timer. Both of these kinds of management are different to managing a team who sit right in front of you, available every day of the week. The secret is being organsied, communicating and setting expectations. It takes adjustment on both sides. Managers have to realise that staff are not there at their beck and call. Micromanagement won’t work. This applies as much to other kinds of flexible and agile working as it does to part time. As an individual you have to take control of your role, your tasks and your relationship with email. Team members have to learn to balance taking initiative with when something is truly urgent and worth bothering someone on their day off. Finally, clients have to learn to respect boundaries too. Most of our client organisations have part time staff (and many of them work shorter hours than your typical design studio anyway). Given the knowledge and the chance, most clients seem to respect the fact that I’m not in the studio every day. Usually things are not so complex or critical that they can’t be solved by another team member, or wait a day or two. More often than the client having a problem with part timers, its our own industry perceptions that assume a client will have a problem. It is not unusual for a senior staff member to be regularly unviable several days per week due to existing project commitments or travel – why is the fact they are at home rather than in another client office that day any different? For some reason our culture seems to think it is.
It’s up to individuals and their practices to figure out what will work for you. How do I manage my part time week? I chose to spread my work days out, working Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday so I am only ever out of the office for one day at a time. This won’t work for everyone. I also keep an eye on emails on my days off, again this is my choice, and it can lead to difficult conversations around boundaries. The challenge is to be able to see an email and not freak out or feel you have to respond straight away, as well as for others to respect that you won’t respond to everything. If you and your team can’t do that, then maybe checking email on your day off won’t work for you (but maybe you want to train yourself to try to be less affected by email bombs – its something I am getting better at by practicing). If things are urgent, I might contact team members via email or on slack. The team know they can contact me if its urgent too. I don’t respond to client emails on my days off. My email signature tells people the days I am in the studio and I find most people respect this and don’t call my mobile on my days off. When I’m running a project, I make sure all the team members are fully briefed on the priorities for the days I am away and we have a shared to do list (I have been testing out trello) for when anyone finishes up all their allocated tasks. For my teams, its working. In my previous role, I delivered tender documentation on time for a fast paced 8,500m2 fitout project, thanks to the help of a great team working alongside me.
Its highly unlikely anyone else will ever tell you to go home, or not to respond to emails on your day off. Its true some clients, team members or managers will always be difficult and expect everyone to always be available. But rather than expecting this to be the case, expecting organisations not to hire part time staff – why don’t we all start expecting the opposite? That’s how change will come about. Once we start accepting that part time works we will also realise that no-one needs to work 24/7 and we can all get our lives back.
PS. Are you coming to BILT ANZ in Adelaide in May? I’m really excited that we have a great range of presentations lined up this year, particularly of interest for anyone interested in Interior Design and Technology – Daniel Davis from WeWork will be presenting. See more on the RTC Events blog. You can register as well as enter our competition to win a free Golden Ticket here.