The ColladoCollins COVID-19 story
17 April 2020
The CC Covid-19 story so far…
Chapter 2 – Taking the plunge: 15th - 17th March 2020
People were getting worried. Seriously, and understandably, worried.
Spain had followed Italy into a full lockdown, countries across Europe were banning gatherings over a certain size, and for some of our international staff parents and loved ones were already confined to their homes. The tide of the virus was sweeping ever closer.
The first of what would become daily government briefings to the nation was scheduled to take place that evening after a Cobra meeting. Our Head of Interiors, Alia, and our Office Manager, Jola, were self-isolating as a precaution having become unwell over the weekend. Tension and anticipation were building, and our people needed guidance and reassurance.
We hesitated. Not for long, but for a moment. Over the weekend a flurry of emails between the management team had pushed the pros and cons of various scenarios, and various schools of thought had different ideas about how extreme our response should be. Some argued that closing the office to stay ahead of events would be best for the wellbeing of our people, others countered that the continuity of the business was equally important – without work we could not pay salaries and support those same people through any future lockdown. Both points of view were valid, and strongly held, but we needed to reach a consensus.
Monday morning usually sees our management team meet to discuss the week ahead, the projects we are bidding for or have won or lost, what resource is required where - all the usual management stuff. On this Monday, of all days, we couldn’t meet; three of the team were out meeting potential new clients and trying to secure more work. Our staff were looking to the rest for some sort of guidance. What was going to happen? Will we be closing the office? Are we going to have to lose staff? Whispered conversations and worried rumours abounded. The future was in question.
To have to reply: “We’re working on it, and as soon as we make a decision, we’ll let everybody know” is one of the hardest things to do in such moments when there is a clear need for direction. The battleground was set for Tuesday morning, 9am, when the delayed management meeting would at last take place.
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In the end, the Monday night briefing from Downing Street helped sway the argument: Stop unnecessary contact with others, stop non-essential travel, avoid pubs, clubs, theatres… Flatten the curve. While yet to be announced, the prospect of a nationwide lockdown loomed.
We agreed that we needed to act, and that we were ready to do so. The finer points of what would be shared with the wider office were hashed out, and by 10.30am our group of 40 were gathered to hear the outcome.
We would close the office effective the end of the day. A mass test of the VPN software would take place that evening at 8.30pm, a final stress-check to see whether having 40 simultaneous remote sessions running would slow our connection to the point of that it became unusable. Keys would be distributed amongst those that could walk or cycle to the studio, in case there were any problems that could only be fixed by someone physically in the office, and a rota was suggested for initial daily cover and to water the precious plants.
The sense of relief was palpable, a weight had been lifted. This was what everyone had been waiting for, and what they needed to hear. The remainder of that Tuesday was an almost joyful affair as the big questions had now been answered. Moods were lifted by the knowledge that we would not just ‘keep calm and carry on’.
It was the sort of moment that made me really appreciate the strength and cohesion of our team, and our ability to pull together at the right moment. Volunteers popped up to create WhatsApp groups, to brief the office on the basics of using Teams, to join the rota for keeping the office plants alive, to clear the desks for people self-isolating, and to take on all the small and mundane tasks that one might carry out before going on a holiday like emptying the fridge and clearing the kitchen.
That evening we ran the final test. If successful many of us would not need to return the next day. If it failed we would need to radically reconsider our strategy.
It ran like clockwork.
I have not seen my colleagues face-to-face since then, but I am as close to them as ever, and we are working as hard as ever. After all, with lockdown fully in place now, what else is there to do with our time?
We are the lucky ones – friends and former colleagues at other practices have not had such a smooth transition, continuity, and security – but when it comes to luck, you make your own. It is thanks to the efforts of our IT team, the discussions within our management team, and the strength of our staff team that we retain coherence and remain productive, keeping in the back of our minds that one day we will emerge again, and we’ll need to be ready for that, too.
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Over the coming weeks we will be talking to different members of the ColladoCollins family and finding out what life is like for them now, how they and their families are coping with isolation, where they find moments of positivity and reassurance amongst the barrage of dreadful daily news of death tolls and PPE shortages, how they are encouraging the business to contribute in areas outside of simply maintaining the practice, and what their thoughts are on the future of business and of working. On a wall in Hong Kong a graffiti artist has painted ‘There can be no return to normal because normal was the problem in the first place’. We intend explore what ‘normal’ has become now, what the Covid-19 pandemic means for the normal of the future, and how we as a small team of architects and designers can contribute positively to a post-pandemic world.
Visit our Instagram page to see our team tell the story: The ColladoCollins COVID-19 story - Chapter 2