Monthly Archives: February 2013

5in4 Initial thoughts – M Lyons, founding partner

As with everyone in the Architectural design industry, I have noted the inexorable rise in the number of hours that individuals in offices are required to work in order to meet deadlines. These deadlines are very often set very unreasonably, to say:

  • Fit into a funding bodies’ end of financial year time scale, to suit their own bureaucracy and funding deadlines;

Or

  • Developers requiring redesigns because the “market” has run counter to their cost consultants’ estimates of schemes’ construction costs.

Or

  • Clients’ changes to designs required on site and the necessity to deal with the fall out, with increased contract administration not to mention redesign time. 

These time pressures are similar in many associated building consultancies such as engineering, but it is far worse, I feel, in architectural practice. Needles to say that this culture is not compensated for with increased fees, reflecting the extra hours worked as fees continue to drop rather than increase.

This ‘extreme hours’ culture eventually takes its toll on individuals’ lives both private and professional, with many dropping out of the profession.

Therefore our 5in4 trial period, is BLA’s attempt to start looking at this phenomenon in a way that – whilst working the hours of a full week – makes the extra hours often required from staff members to be either paid for separately or negotiated with a client, to then be added onto the programme of a commission.

I, of course, have worries about what we are embarking on :

  • Loss of 20% visibility during the week.
  • Inability to meet urgent deadlines as staff will be unavailable for that 5th day of working if needed.
  • Negative perceptions within the client group of part time working.
  • Disproportionate effort by certain individuals to maintain “the safety net” of being available on the Fridays for emergency issues. 

However on the positive side:

  •  BLA will still work a 38hr week, it will just be compressed into 4 days.
  • Individual staff members will have a reduced commute to and from work.
  • There will be an extra day for staff members’ private lives, potentially making family life less pressured.
  • We should be able to manage the expectations of clients and contractors that meetings and queries are arranged in the first four days of the week. 

Going forward:

  • For the 5in4 to truly work we will have to work much smarter. There will have to be less repetition; less pondering re design; less bespoke unique solutions.
  • There will have to be much faster initial solutions, with modelled presentations leading to faster and firmer sign offs of frozen design stages.
  • We are going to have to gauge our clients needs in how bespoke they wish to be in design, or in fact how they want to simply have a standard solution.
  • We are going to monitor and possibly scale back the “service” we provide to inexperienced and under-resourced contractors and clients.
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Wk03 – LC

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What makes life richer? Friends, be challenged, be part of your community, live the city and be surprised by it [through my lens]

End of Wk03

As I’m about to begin Wk04, I’m starting to realise that even my 4in3 is proving tougher than I thought. Perhaps I was being too optimistic?

With the 4in3 format I’m working in the office two days a week with one day then worked from home.

I actually really miss that office interaction over three days.

Another thing I realised is that with the 10hrs day, which means I don’t return home till very late, I’ve been missing simple but important things in life like friends’ birthdays. In this month alone I missed two dinners because while the others met after work, which for them meant 7pm, I couldn’t make it anytime before 9pm. One may say that missing a birthday dinner is not the end of the world, but life is made special by small things and friends’ birthdays (especially those who are more like family than just friends) are one of those important ‘little’ things that enrich life.

I am also so tired by the time I get home that those two days (10 hours plus commute time) worked in the office, on a private/personal level they don’t exist as I simply.just.’work’.*

I’m starting to appreciate and value even more than before the reasons why a working day has been set as 7.5hours. There is something vital about being able to balance life and work everyday not just on the day ‘off’.

Could the 8am-3pm day (over a ‘normal’ week) that Cedric Price advocated (already implemented in other countries) work better? Or even the good old 9till5 where you are able to truly clock off at 5pm (which has never happened in all my career life so far, due to the nature of the profession).

When I was very young, still a student, I had a classic interview where I was told that ‘you can’t practice architecture part time’. I begged to differ and I’m glad that 10+ years on the conversation is including and extending to the value of part time, yes even in architecture. But at this moment in time I’m not sure the right balance lies in the 4in3 model.

I’m learning that the 4in3 and even more so the 5in4 may render ‘flexibility’ even harder if not impossible to achieve. Because once you’ve worked 10 hours, there’s little flexibility left in the day to ‘play with’.

I may change my mind again as we progress with our trial. And this is what this trial is about, challenging ourselves to find a better life-balance that the current set up may or may not offer us.

*I am aware that this is unique to my situation as I’m the only one of BLA that lives the furthest from the office.

Notes:
– two days in office only also makes it hard to cross with directors, as they have the busiest schedule. This makes it harder for project and design reviews to take place in good time for meeting deadlines.
– the two-days only spent in the office, make time feel very rushed.

Links & articles /// Wk01/02

These are some of the articles, debates and papers that have caught our eye lately:

Britain’s happiest places to live:

Good to bookmark:

Wk02 – Adjusting [LC]

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This week has consisted of more snow (!), teaching at Sheffield School of Architecture and good, productive meetings (a nice change).

2nd week is nearly over already. At this pace, before we know it, the first month of this trial period will pass us by in a flash!

So far (but these are still very early days), I’m finding this new set up positive overall.

Because I get up quite early anyway, the earlier alarm clock hasn’t bothered me at all. I am actually finding that getting up at 5.30 is much easier than 6.30am. I enjoy the quietness  before the hustle & bustle of the day commences.

On the other hand getting home much later than ‘normal’ is not being very easy nor pleasant. BUT it is compensated with the days that I don’t travel, because as mentioned previously, I work part time.

One thing that makes the longer days/condensed week harder for me is travelling in bad, winter weather! Today for example, Leeds has been covered by few cm of snow. You can imagine the chaos! I am writing this post on my slow train home. Tonight I won’t get home till long gone dinner time. But at least, I hope, these are rare occasions, so it’s important not to dwell on it too much.

I am picking up good vibes from my colleagues. Certainly there seems to be a general good mood in the office. I haven’t yet asked whether this is because of the longer week end.

Amongst the projects I am working on, one is an invited competition with a very interesting brief, but I expect the next few weeks to test and challenge our 5in4 format quite a lot. Will we manage our time effectively within a ‘shorter’ week? Will the tight deadline be just too tight?

Will our Fridays be truly off? In all honesty, I don’t know. But at least we are trying and we are not sticking our heads in the sand pretending the current culture in our profession is ‘just fine’. The architectural profession has a serious, latent problem with unhealthy long hours, which must be challenged (a global problem, not just for British architects). Similarly with another latent issue which is still pervading the profession.

Onwards & upwards!

///
Crunching those numbers!
My 4in3 means I now travel to work one day less than ‘normal’ and I found that:
– I save 4 hours a week in train travelling;
– I commute 80 miles less a week;
– I save approximately 7kg of CO2 from travelling, a week (calculator used and its assumptions);
And… (wait for it…)
– I save approximately £80 a month in train fares!

Wk00/01 – RJ

Experiences so far:

– Shifting my sleeping pattern by an hour and a half made the first morning a little tough, but since then I’ve felt much livelier again as the new working hours are becoming routine.
– The additional working hours of each day have so far remained productive and haven’t yet given me that ‘it’s been a long day’ feeling. Neither do I feel that my evenings have been significantly shortened; there’s still plenty of time for me to relax and refresh for the following day.
– Starting work at 7:30am has encouraged me to be more efficient with my time in the mornings before I leave for work and I’ve so far managed to cut down my morning routine by roughly 20-25 minutes!
– The most frequent question I’ve been asked regarding the 5 in 4 experiment has to be ‘won’t people just work on the Friday anyway when a deadline is approaching?’… At this stage we can only wait and see what the answer will be.
– It doesn’t seem like the local newsagent is too happy about us buying one less paper each week!

Expectations/Thoughts:

– I’m hoping that this long weekend will be one of my most productive weekends to date due to the extra time that I will be able to spend on my personal projects and studies outside of the workplace. I believe that more can be achieved in the one Friday than in the five evenings of the previous working hours.
– As I’m not living with family here in Leeds I won’t experience many of the effects that the new hours have on family life, but I’m certainly interested to see how those living with partners and children find the change in routine.
– Although the first weekend is yet to come, I feel that there will be a positive impact on work/life balance
– I wonder if tea and coffee consumption will increase with the longer working hours, I’ll keep an eye on it!