The other night I had the opportunity to share with the architecture community some tools and recommendations on how to work remotely through a webinar hosted by the Boston Society of Architects (BSA). We were asked to participate as we’ve been incorporating remote working into our workflow for a number of years already so were fairly well prepared to transition our entire staff to remote working when the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated it.
We had initially set up a virtual private network (VPN) on our firewall to create a secure connection for people that needed flexibility to work from home when they had family obligations to attend to during the business day. When the winter of 2015 delivered back-to-back snowstorms every weekend, we increased access and encouraged more staff to connect and have productive days despite the snow-covered streets.
To ensure the security of our client’s project data, everything is stored on our network. When connecting in, the same security and virus protection software we use in the office is installed on the users’ home computer. Over the past couple weeks, we have had our staff test their home connections to ensure that if the time came to work remotely full-time, we would all be prepared. We scheduled a stress test on the system to track how much bandwidth was used to better understand any limits that could affect our productivity.
Along with the hardware testing, we started encouraging all staff to practice communicating internally with Skype for Business, even if the person was within talking distance. We selected Skype because we have about a dozen of our millennial staff who have been using it and they could help share their knowledge with others to facilitate the implementation and it had already been installed with our recent Office 365 upgrades.
Change is tough. Making major changes in how we work and the technology we use are especially tough when your staff encompasses several generations. We wanted to be cautious about making too many new moves when it is already a stressful time. Choosing platforms where staff could get help from others internally was intentional. While we have external IT support, now more than ever, it’s important to encourage supporting each other.
For the generation of staff (and clients) that prefer face-to-face connections, we increased our licenses so that video conferencing is available to anyone who wants to use it. Our internal message board has become an active place to share information on both what is working well and what has had some challenges. Where we have found gaps that needed a new format for remote working, we have started using new platforms. The underlying theme here is to be open to provide alternate solutions that support how people prefer to work and having open communication.
At the close of the webinar we were asked to share our key takeaways. We had covered lots of technical information, costs and comparisons of software and hardware, work methods, communication tools, but my takeaway was much simpler than all of that. Everyone at MP genuinely loves what they do, and we enjoy doing the work we do WITH each other. We need to reinforce these basic principles while we are working away from one another. We need to remind ourselves of the importance of this human connection. It is not just about being connected to share our work and collaborate with one another, but it is equally important to continue to share our lives with one another.
Cynthia Gibson Murphy, AIA
Associate Partner |Senior Project Manager
Architecture Firms and Remote Work’ was a virtual program hosted by the Boston Society of Architects on March 17. The free program welcomed over 375 members of the architectural community from across the country. The recording of this program is available for viewing at www.architects.org