Is the home office a threat or an opportunity?

In a matter of days, the crown virus has created conditions in our lives that mark the end of an era. This is what the meteorite must have looked like to the dinosaurs. In this situation, traditional solutions will cease to work and this will accelerate a process that was bound to happen sooner or later, but which many are now caught unprepared.

But to understand what it is, it makes sense to ask the question:

What has happened around us in the last few years?

The first smartphone appeared 10 years ago, and today we are all cyborgs. We connect to collective knowledge via smartphones. The use of apps and the internet search engine has become standard. Our communication has changed, our transport, our industry, the way we work, listen to music or choose a party… The incredible thing is that the construction industry has remained the same. Our world has changed imperceptibly but irreversibly.

Not people’s thinking, of course, and not architecture in capital letters. Neither is the way we perceive spaces and proportions or the way we bring the concept of a good house to life.

Our needs have changed.

Our first perception as designers was that our homes, offices, and factories were becoming more complex. There are solar panels, heat pumps, air handlers, automation, fire alarms, cameras, smart and digital experiences, and lots of technology.

This led to rapidly changing clients and increasingly impatient contractors who couldn’t understand why it wasn’t possible to redesign incredibly complex, interconnected systems in a week.

Yet the architectural profession tried to react quickly with its traditional tools. This led to haste and overnight stays, which led to faulty plans, which led to on-site site visits, and then to the blackout at the end of the day, the extra work. The extra work becomes a cost, the delay a loss. And no one came out of it well.

But why has everyone become impatient?

Because we have gone online. Cyborgs if you like.

We have tapped into the collective knowledge and this
has changed the speed of our communication.

Everything is speeding up. We are used to unlimited knowledge and instant answers. This has become the new standard.

Sound weird? Yes.

But today, when my son asks me what a paradigm shift is, the most natural thing to do is to get out my phone and search online. I am not using my own knowledge, but that of the community.

What’s even worse is that if I don’t know how to get somewhere, I take out my mobile phone and type the destination into an app. It’s not just a map that comes out of the virtual space, but artificial intelligence that makes decisions about where to go. And I accept the AI’s decision because I’ve experienced that if I don’t listen to it, I’m already in a traffic jam.

This is how our world has changed.

It has become more efficient.

But what does this have to do with the coronavirus? And the design office?

So much so that in our profession, in planning, a very similar process is taking place. It’s just that what is familiar in transport is even scarier in planning.

Sadly, those who have failed to keep up with digitalization are now stuck in traffic, drafting a legal declaration that they cannot produce under the changed circumstances and are unable to meet their contractual deadlines.

We were lucky. Years ago, we won a contract to design a very complex building that was beyond the capability of the technology we were using at the time. Traditional methods had given up and it was only at the great sacrifice that we were able to deliver the house plans. We were simply forced to change technology.

The last 3 years have been about this change, the digital revolution in the construction industry.

We saw the rise of technology and believed that the digital revolution would change the way our industry worked.

We have worked to create a design office that can reinterpret the rules. Where we put the work in a new context. Where we think differently about each other and the future. Where we use our digital tools to create new efficiencies and paradigm-shifting services.

So we tested new software live every week, and in the meantime, we evolved, recruited, built, moved, and got used to everything changing around us every day.

We expected many things, but not that one day this routine would ensure our stability and the health of our colleagues and partners.

News of the proximity of the crown virus reached us on a Monday.

On Tuesday, we sent our colleagues at risk home and thought about how we can adapt to the changed circumstances.

At 2 pm on Friday afternoon, we announced
to nearly 40 colleagues that we would be working
in a compulsory home office from Monday.

On Saturday our IT colleague took out a few more devices and on Monday morning he solved a few minor glitches.

By noon the work was going on as before. Half a day slowdown caused by the crown virus.

We build our buildings in virtual space with co-designers, just as before. Planning coordination is also done in a cloud-based distributed data environment (CDE). Within the office, we communicate in virtual video chat rooms and assign work in our web-based project management system in the same way as before.

The plans and the information model are sent to the construction site at the push of a button. What’s changed is that we’ve changed from face-to-face meetings to video conferencing, and not having to travel has made it more efficient.

It is unusual to have an empty office. I miss my colleagues. And not even the morning virtual coffee, the daily 11.11 am plank challenge, and the ever-cheerful chat stream help – but in this situation, it’s inevitable.

Work goes on in the same way. We switched to remote working several weeks ago. After half a day of slowdown, our systems are working perfectly. We haven’t had to miss a single deadline, our efficiency hasn’t deteriorated and we haven’t had any illnesses so far. We are constantly interviewing for jobs and receive requests for applications.

Oddly enough, the crown virus has created a situation that affects many but has given us, who are using the next generation of design technology, a significant advantage.

I now feel that the last 3 years of constant experimentation, full of latent failures, have been worth it.

I am very proud of my colleagues, the way they helped each other, and the way they adapted to the changed circumstances in a few hours. I am grateful for them and for the opportunity to work with them.

Csaba Livjak

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