The ColladoCollins COVID-19 story
08 April 2020
The CC Covid-19 story so far…
A seven year old boy stands at the window of the east London flat he shares with his mother, clapping enthusiastically.
“What are you clapping for?” his mother asks him.
The boy turns to face her, replying simply “NHS.”
It is 8pm on Thursday 26th March 2020 and our whole way of life has changed.
William is the son of one of our staff, Mariya, and within minutes her short video capturing her personal experience of that incredible national moment has been shared with the rest of our 40 strong team via our WhatsApp group, just one of the measures we put in place in anticipation of nationwide lockdown which formally came into effect on the evening of Monday 23rd March.
By that time the ColladoCollins team had already been working from home for three days.
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Staying ahead of the curve (rather than flattening it – different curve) is critical to the success of a business, and our preparations had begun around two weeks before that historic speech from Downing Street on the 23rd. It is fair to say that most of the nation saw it coming, but equally fair to say that not all were prepared.
Now, more than two weeks into enforced isolation, our full complement of staff are working regular hours and staying as productive as ever, childcare permitting, using our laptops, desktops, even iPads to remotely access our workstations which sit in our otherwise silent Fitzrovia office, awaiting our physical return. We stay in touch constantly, using MS Teams to discuss projects, carry out design reviews, host Design Team Meetings with 15 or 20 participants across the disciplines, and plan the steps we need to take to keep the business moving forward. Our informal WhatsApp group is a safety valve enabling our dispersed team to trade gripes, memes, photographs, and jokes almost as fluidly as when we were agglomerated in a single office. Between the two, our cohesion seems as strong as ever.
For all our current success, it was not an easy journey to get to this point, and the management team debated long and hard as to what the appropriate response should be. Inevitably, there are reservations about working from home that are difficult to overcome. The usual tropes surfaces: “Productivity drops by 30%”; “People don’t work the full 8 hours but still expect to get paid the full 8 hours”; “How will we know they’re actually working?”. But is any of that the case? Having not conducted an en-masse home working experiment previously, we had no yardstick by which to measure and compare.
The truth is that until now very few businesses, and practically no architectural practices, have properly engaged with the idea of working from home and understood how it might be possible. There is no denying the synekism of agglomeration in a creative workforce – ideas bounce around, knowledge and experience are shared, questions are asked and something is learned in the answering. Collaborative working through proximity is the backbone of a strong architectural practice. Can that really be re-created with a workforce spread between Kent, Berkshire, and the Isle of Man?
Our message so far is: If needs must, then absolutely yes.
So how did we do it?
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In the fortnight leading up to the closure of our office the Senior Management Team all knew it was coming but, like so many companies and governments, half hoped and wished that it would all be someone else’s problem. As we marvelled at the spread of the virus in Italy and the speed of the construction of temporary hospitals in Wuhan we thought “That won’t be us… will it?”
It is us now.
Our first thought was to consider how we could keep the practice running and maintain an office presence whilst minimising the exposure of our staff – after all, if one person caught the virus whilst in the office then the whole team would have to go into isolation. A procedure was set up and circulated for what to do if you began to feel unwell whilst at work. At that time we knew next to nothing about the symptoms beyond the cough, fever, and headache, and little about how severe early symptoms would be. Every sneeze in the office was greeted with a nervous look, an attempt at a joke, and excuse about a recent cold or spring allergies.
We developed a plan to split the office into two teams – one working from home, one in the office. In the event of an infection only half the office would have to go into isolation, the studio could be deep-cleaned, and the other half could carry on. Obviously if someone in the other team also became symptomatic all bets were off, but it was a plan of sorts.
In preparation, Richard our young technician with an affinity for IT was tasked with preparing for remote working – collaborating closely with our IT support company, Connective Technologies, checking that everybody had a PC, laptop, some sort of device at home they could use, then preparing instructions on how to set up to use that device to access their work PC rather than needing to have a machine at home with enough power to use our CAD program and run memory-heavy applications.
On Friday 13th March instructions were distributed to the team on how set up their home computers and test the software and log in via VPN. They were asked to try it out over the weekend to check everything was working.
By the time the team gathered to compare their successes and failures on the morning of Monday 16th March, everything had changed again.
Visit our Instagram page to see our team tell the story: The ColladoCollins COVID-19 story - Chapter 1