March 30, 2020
Joshua Zinder, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP
Managing partner, JZA+D (Princeton)
2020 President-Elect, AIA-NJ
The COVID-19 crisis has altered how we live forever, and also has transformed how we work. Beyond washing hands, how we work as a core practice is likely to be very different going forward. As the closures spread my partner Mark Sullivan and I discussed our client commitments, our wonderful office team and our concerns for their safety. I have always had hesitations about remote working, believing it detracted from the team building and studio atmosphere that made elevated architecture from a mere practice to a fully engaged, social collaboration. But this new reality is undeniable. On Monday March 16, we informed our staff we would be moving our workflow to a remote platform and everyone would work from home. By Tuesday mid-day we were up and running remotely, with staff utilizing a mix of our studio hardware and some of their own computers. The transition has been largely smooth and successful, and thanks to software like Slack we have maintained some of the camaraderie, sharing design work as well as images from remote workspaces – and more than a few shots of our pets. My aversion to remote work has faded, and I feel enlightened, even excited about the possibilities of this new paradigm.
This successful transition would not have been possible without our outsourced IT team, Network Advisor Q. The worry for many firm leaders is that they will get bogged down in the IT issues, and lose sight of the work they need to produce. Having someone who is dedicated to providing the IT solutions, whether in-house or external, is perhaps the single most important thing for a successful transition to remote work. Steve, the owner of Network Advisor Q puts our minds at ease, because we know someone has our back. We had several extensive discussions with his team last week, from which I have compiled some key points that might help other architects and entrepreneurs in a similar position, struggling in this transition.
Keep in mind that you should have a robust, redundant, tested backup system for your firm’s data, one that has been tested before you even begin to think about remote practice. In our office we have local redundant backup on site, as well as offsite cloud-based and archive backup that is air-gapped, i.e. disconnected from the internet. Make sure backups are secure and tested to make sure you can recover from them if you need. Network Advisor Q, our managed service provider (MSP), runs test recoveries monthly just to make sure the backups are functional should a disaster recovery ever be needed.
Keeping in mind that every business is different and has unique circumstances and requirements, here are some pointers from our recent experience with our IT team.
Even before the need arose to go to 100% remote work we had tested these waters with a couple of staff members, so some of this was familiar to us. We’ve been very fortunate: it’s difficult to understate how very talented and capable our staff are, and how willing they have been to carry on. We’re perhaps not quite as efficient as we were a week ago, but we are pretty close. While many companies are just piecing together solutions to get by, others like ours are ninety percent of the way to putting in place the needed level of security – pretty amazing for a two-day transition period. We will shortly be at 100% with protocols for our future security. A lot of the credit also goes to our MSP, Network Advisor Q, who have been invaluable for achieving stability for our workflow – and my sanity.
As for hardware, we considered getting new laptops for but laptops have a poor return on investment over time – they degrade quickly with the high processing demands of Revit and AutoCAD. For those staffers who need them we are looking into high-performance desktops, which are cheaper and and last longer than high-performance laptops. Those laptops tend to be big and bulky anyway, unless you’re willing to go to an exorbitant price point.
Looking ahead, we may consider reducing our physical office footprint significantly. This crisis has presented us with an opportunity to reassess how we work, and to become more nimble and lean. We may not need 4,000 square feet anymore, so perhaps we can save on overhead. We will still have to consider the specifics: whether to rotate staff in-office schedules or create smaller, more flexible work environments. But our considerations of workplace, bandwidth, security and more will never be the same again. Remote work was forced upon us by COVID-19, but this may simply be the next logical step in workplace design and growth. It has been an enlightening experience to say the least.
Joshua Zinder, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP
Managing Partner, JZA+D
Joshua Zinder is the founder and principal of Joshua Zinder Architecture + Design (JZA+D) and currently serves as President Elect of AIA New Jersey. His diverse design portfolio from 20-plus years in practice includes high-end commercial space, gourmet restaurants, cultural and educational institutions, private residences, multi-family and mixed-use developments, and government facilities.
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