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Working styles in Architecture & Interior Design

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Working Styles

Remote working continues to be a hot topic in Architecture and Interior Design. The pandemic has forced many teams to revert from traditional office-based working to a new remote working style. At the beginning of 2020, only 21% of practices were offering any sort of remote working to their employees, and this was predominantly parttime and offered to the most experienced and longest-serving. We wanted to see how the pandemic had changed this, what style people preferred and how this had impacted their work.

In our Architecture & Interior Design Employment and Industry Review 2021,we asked respondents “before the national October lockdown, how were you working?” 41% were back in the office full-time, 35% were remote working full-time and 24% were working a hybrid between the office and remote. It proved interesting to look at the split between those working in London and outside of London. For those who work in the busy capital, public transport for many is the only option to get into the office. We spoke with employers and employees alike who were not keen to put either their team or themselves at this increased risk of infection. This was evident in the results between the two.

We continued by asking which style they preferred with some noteworthy results. Overall, 69% preferred the flexibility of the hybrid style between office working and remote working. 16% preferred working remotely full time, whilst only 15% preferred traditional office-based working. What was the most interesting was how age and the experience in years of the person affected their answer.

For those in the youngest age group of under 24, 60% preferred working in the office full-time. With no respondents preferring to work remotely. There were also no respondents who had less than two years’ experience who wanted to work remotely full-time.

I would put this down to a few reasons. In my experience, younger employees enjoy the social aspect of the office. They make friends and want the camaraderie it brings. Many will live in smaller homes alone or have little room in shared accommodation that can make remote working difficult. Those who have less experience will not only need the leadership and motivation from their seniors but will also get the best out of work by learning and developing from those around them. It could be very detrimental to their professional development to be out of the office,” explained Martin Bennell, Managing Director of FRAME Recruitment.

In a separate online survey on LinkedIn, only 24% of employees in Architecture and Interior Design were being offered e-learning whilst remote working. We have to think about the impact of what remote working could have on the future of these young and less experienced employees. If they work remotely and lose the training and development they get from an office environment but are not offered e-learning as a replacement, it could become very difficult for them to grow and prosper in the future.

If younger and less experienced candidates do not want to work remotely, how do their senior and older colleagues feel? The top age group of 55 – 64 years old were the ones who most wanted to work remotely full-time (33%). This was mirrored in those with over ten years’ experience with 24% picking this as their preferred style too.

In direct comparison to their younger and less experienced counterparts, these groups of employees may not value the social aspect of the office as much. They are in more senior positions, need less leadership and help in their day to-day work. It is more likely that they are the ones who are inspiring and developing others.

Almost across the board, more employees want the flexibility of a hybrid style of working. In all age groups apart from the under 24s’, the majority would choose the hybrid style. When analysing by the number of years’ experience, all groups voted the hybrid style as the most popular choice.

We considered from an employer’s point of view how they would be able to manage the needs and wants of all of their employees. With most practices being made up of a range of age groups, as well as experience levels, it will be hard to make everyone happy. Plus, with the reliance on the more senior staff to be coaching their less experienced colleagues, the pressure to be in the office is going to be high. Some practices have implemented days in the office for collaboration projects, whilst others have simply split their team into two and asked them to share time working in the office and out. Until a vaccine is widespread through the population, for large practices it is going to be near impossible from a health and safety point of view to have everyone in the office at once.

Whilst employees may see a hybrid model as being the most favourable option, we continued by asking them to rate four statements as true or false concerning their views of remote working.

What we can see is some trends in the perception of remote working appearing. 73% believe remote working makes them more likely to work increased hours. In 2019 we reported that 76% of employees were working unpaid overtime each week and the majority would have been working in the office full-time. With this figure already working unpaid overtime, we wonder how many extra hours this is accumulating today when remote working has been enforced for many? How many more hours can employees work before their work quality suffers and potentially lead to burnout?

73% also agreed that they see in-person collaboration always being superior to virtual meetings. Is this the reason why the majority see a hybrid working style as the most attractive? They may enjoy working remotely but feel that they miss out on the face-to-face collaboration.

We asked for more developed thoughts on the statements we gave them:

  • “When working remotely you are likely to have less distraction from calls, walk-ins, and people who waste time. You can control deliveries better and you can also work to convenient hours with a good work-life balance.”
  • “Some people will be more productive and some people will be less productive when working from home, exactly like in the office: it depends on the individual, not the system.”
  • “I think the question is whether efficiency should be valued over collaboration?”
  • “Remote working is great and can save people time and money from their commute while also giving them the comforts of working from home. At the same time, interactions are key in our industry especially when resolving projects as a team or creating new designs. So a mix of the two would create a good balance.”

You can read the full Architecture & Interior Design Employment and Industry Review 2021 here