Practice director Mike Darwell gives a first-person account of JCA’s experience of the coronavirus pandemic lock-down, how the practice has managed to cope with the stresses and strains placed on it during a turbulent few months and looks ahead to what the future may bring.
When Boris Johnson announced the lock-down measures on the 23rd March we had already pretty much anticipated it would come and had decanted the office the week before so that all technical staff (five architects and four technologists) were working remotely from their homes and their dual screen desktop workstations.
On reflection, we were very lucky that the practice had quite recently moved away from MS Exchange server for email and onto the Office 365 platform which brought with it access to Teams, OneDrive and Sharepoint. We had retained the Exchange server for data storage with off-site backup and immediately after decanting, increased the access licences from 3 to 9 so all the tech team had instantaneous access to project data.
We found Teams invaluable at keeping us connected and communicating, making us feel part of something larger than just a remote workstation and the novelty of the morning wakeup GIF via Teams chat has still not worn off.
Perhaps the most instrumental tool in our rapid transition to remote working was the cloud-based practice management software that we adopted in early 2018. Synergy now handles all our project data including project contacts, work stage breakdowns, budgeting, forecasting, and invoicing. The platform is cloud-based, so is immediately accessible from smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop in effectively any location so we can instantaneously complete timesheets in real time and generate invoices extremely quickly. Synergy was a revelation when we moved to it well before the lock-down but during this crisis it has been an essential piece of kit in enabling us to accurately predict our real time finances and forecast in close detail for the weeks and months ahead.
Following lock-down, the regular workflow review meeting held on a Wednesday morning every other week immediately became a weekly event. We had to have a clear handle on who was doing what and what staff were going to move onto to ensure that project delivery continued, and that cash flow was maintained. It was a massive balancing act
Soon after lock-down, we realised that we would have to reach out to our clients to reassure them that whilst a seismic change had occurred in the physical practice, their own particular project was in no way affected by the shift of all staff to remote working. Fellow directors and I spent the first couple of days or so outreaching to existing clients to explain that we were continuing day to day activities and that their projects would not be affected by our transition away from the office.
The energy of our team has been astounding during the lock-down period and whilst four of our technical staff were furloughed for varying lengths of time during April and May we are really pleased to say that as of early June everyone is now back and working full time on projects that have started up again or on new commissions.
The practice is now looking forward to returning to the office base and our thorough risk assessments are in place, but we realise that it could be some time before all staff are back working from there. Until that time, our experience of the last couple of months or so has proved that we can continue to maintain our usual high standard of quality service to all our clients with no interruption to workflow. In fact, the next logical step is to consider how the practice could evolve from the more traditional 9 to 5 office base to a more flexible, adaptive, and efficient set-up whilst at the same time maintaining the service that our clients have grown to expect. I can see that there are exciting times ahead.